You can measure the pace of women's liberation any way you want. You can delve into college enrollment figures and notice that the gap with men is closing. You can count women in elected office or you might choose to note the increase in female corporate executives. None of that means much to me, though. I measure the progress of the women's movement by what I see on their feet. I detect the death of the high-heel shoe.
This comes too late for me, of course -- not that I have ever worn high-heel shoes. But, starting with my mother, including my sister, going on to my dates and ending (or so I hope) with my present and last wife, all of them have worn high-heels and made my life miserable for it.
Few women are truly happy in high- heel shoes. I take it that some high- heels fit well, that some are comfortable, but these are in the distinct minority. Most women, it seems, are in pain wearing the things, and since women, as opposed to men, are not selfish, they share the pain with whoever is with them.
They complain and grouch and sometimes take off their shoes. They make you walk slowly or, sometimes, not at all. They occasionally sprain or twist their ankles. They even bleed at the heels or the toes. But they wear the things even though it takes them years just to learn how to walk in them. The indelible image of prom night is of young women walking at the beginning of the evening like they're on stilts, and coming home at its end with their shoes in their hands. When it comes to making men uncomfortable simply by osmosis, nothing since the days before air conditioning when car windows had to be closed so a woman's hair wouldn't blow compares to high-heel shoes.
To strike my Henry Higgins pose, let me state that no man would wear a shoe that hurt his feet. This is a scientific fact. Men have from time to time indulged in idiot fashion trends -- Nehru jackets, for instance -- but these have been fleeting and confined to a trendy minority. In fact, most men pay no attention to fashion at all. They seek only comfort.
But now, women are discarding high heels. I see the evidence on the street, where many women have taken to wearing running shoes. I grant you that they carry other shoes with them, maybe even high heels, but the handwriting is clearly on the wall. It is only a matter of time until women start wearing comfortable shoes in the office (many already do) and even when going out at night.
That will be true liberation -- not just from pain and discomfort, but also from catering to men no matter how uncomfortable the consequences. There was a time, not so long ago, when just about the worst thing you could say about a woman is that she wore what were called "sensible shoes." This conjured up the image of Miss Grundy, teacher to both Archie and Jughead, and meant that the woman in question clearly had no interest in men. But no longer does a heel say everything about a woman.
There's no doubt that high heels flatter the leg, but so, for that matter, do corsets flatter the waist. Discarding high heels would signal that women are finally willing to be judged on who they are and what they do -- rather than by the taper of their leg. Men already do that, which is why they are mostly so blas,e about fashion. Clothes may help make the man, but what really makes him is who he is and what he has done with his life.
Someday people will look back on the era of high heels and wonder why women ever wore them. High heels will be compared to corsets and to the foot binding of the Orient, even to the panty girdle, which did more than the Moral Majority ever did to discourage promiscuity. As for men, they will never know what it's like to have a moonlit night spoiled by a date whose tootsies hurt, who whined that she couldn't walk another step.
So look at what women are wearing on the street. High heels are heading toward extinction. In their place is coming, first, the running shoe and then, the all-purpose comfortable shoe. The feminist in me applauds this as a step in the right direction, and even the male chauvinist in me likes it. Nothing, after all, kills romance like a broken heel.