Stilettos have long been a symbol of power for women.

In a famous scene from the movie Some Like it Hot part of Marilyn Monroe’s stiletto heel was intentionally removed. With one leg slightly shorter than the other, Marilyn’s sway became more like a smack across the face by a sock full of biscuits. Men were never the same afterwards.

I’ve posed many questions to my female clients over the years. “What do you think about stiletto heels?” has been among the most interesting.

The jury is out on whether most women love their stilettos or not. Some do, some don’t. Some women find stilettos objectionable, as it turns women into sex objects for men to ogle. While other women argue “and what’s wrong with that?”

One thing is unanimous. Men appear to be more attracted to a woman wearing stilettos versus a pair of running shoes.
Marilyn Halter2

  • 1“Women need to be thin to be attractive”
    Let’s face it. Marilyn Monroe may have been many things – thin she was not. This challenges Myth 1 about women living in a man’s world, that women need to be thin to be attractive.

    I call this myth the “big versus twig” controversy.

    There’s a good reason why women’s hips are wider than men’s. It’s evolutionary.
    Full lady and her slim reflection
    If women had narrow hips the human race may not have survived. Narrow-hipped women might have died in child birth 100,000 years ago. Given that men prefer a “shape” that would make for a genetically superior future generation, as the blues song goes, men may prefer “big legged women” over skinny women. The myth is quite dangerous for some teenage girls who at 15 are already concerned about cellulite and being criticized by their peers for getting “fat”. The irony is her changing physique is what is naturally attractive to the opposite sex. Attraction has much to do with evolution.

    When I work with women on body image or eating disorders my goal is to help them capture a sense of their own beauty, both inside and out. Working with such cases I find women must be able to trust their instincts. Whatever body-image feels right to you and gives you the most joy as a woman, that is your natural body type, big or twig, it doesn’t matter. Men will like you when you like yourself. I have found that learning to love your look, body-shape and size without self-criticism is an important milestone in improving your confidence as a woman.

    This leads to Myth 2 about women living in a man’s world.

  • 2“Women are less confident the men”
    In a new book, The Confidence Code, authors Katty Kaye and Claire Shipman discuss the reasons why women aren’t more successful in a man’s world. They note a gap in confidence between men and women. Slate journalist Amanda Hess comments on Myth 2 in reviewing the book. “Women don’t speak up in meetings, while men interrupt. Women ruminate over their mistakes, while men “simply spend less time thinking about the possible consequences of failure.” “They worry that by trying to act more like successful men, women may be “chasing the wrong thing”—just like we did with shoulder pads.”

    To shed light on this I turn to bonobo apes.

    There is a 98 percent DNA match between humans, bonobos and chimpanzees. Basically, we are a lot like them.

    Bonobos live south of the Congo River and chimpanzees live north. Other than that, they are the same. Since apes don’t swim, scientists speculate that their differences come down to geographical separation.

    Chimpanzees are ruled by an alpha male. They fight and kill other apes routinely in defending or taking territory. This also happens to be the same “kill or be killed” attitude in the current business climate where CEOs and leaders can be psychopaths and narcissists doing anything to get ahead. This is the very environment authors Kaye and Shipman seem to be reporting on. It would appear that women would have to be like male chimpanzees to get ahead.

    BonoboI don’t know about you, but I would lack confidence too if I were a woman and felt I had to act like an alpha male chimpanzee to advance my career. Wouldn’t you? I mean, where is the room for femininity in that world? Hips, emotions, touchy-feely actions are verboten. Robotic, dominant, non-empathic actions are the norm. This doesn’t exactly spell “safety” given my study of women in therapy. If anything it spells invasion, danger and intrusiveness.

    Bonobos, on the other hand, are more egalitarian, and have no real hierarchy. Rather than fight, bonobos have sex and cuddle. Strangers are met with touch and sex, not death. Females are dominant over males. Let me repeat, female bonobos are dominant over males.

    Bonobos are meat eaters, but are mostly seen gathering and sharing fruits, nuts and berries amongst each other in equal share. Win-win is the rule and everyone flourishes.

    Is it that women lack confidence, or is the current corporate hierarchy biased toward an alpha male chimpanzee being on top?

    In a female-controlled world men might not feel that confident. Baby showers, book club meetings, mahjong, afternoon teas and hen parties aren’t exactly designed for the enjoyment of chimpanzees.

    Perhaps we should consider that traditionally female-dominant societies in human history were more gathering-focused, which anthropologists speculate leads to abundant food stores and peacefulness, with less hierarchy and more care. Whereas, traditionally male-dominant human societies (like we experience today) had complex hierarchies, were more hunting-focused, which often leads to starvation and food shortages, war, murder, and rape of women from neighboring tribes.

    Is there really a confidence gap, or is the game to get ahead biased toward a zero-sum way of thinking that favors chimpanzees rather than bonobos?

    legsIf it is a “boys club” at the top and a glass-ceiling exists, from a woman’s perspective, this would make women more pessimistic about getting ahead. The myth of a confidence gap is really a statement about women struggling to find an identity in a world that doesn’t embrace how they think.

    Maybe the solution is to think more like bonobos?

    From a therapist perspective I see my female clients struggling with the excessive demands placed on women in corporate environments. Women are under the microscope constantly, and are expected to think like alpha male psychopaths to get ahead, whilst also expected to look feminine, and walk like Marilyn Monroe.

    What’s their solution to this problem? Wear stilettos.