The other week, I was asked a really difficult question, and that was this one - "What's all this about women buying mountains of shoes?" Naturally, my immediate answer was, "Go ask a woman." However, this was clearly not acceptable, and as such I put myself to reflecting seriously about it.

Thus I reached an answer to this question. And here it is.

Women like shopping. (This is not a horrible sexist stereotype, it's a statement of fact. Ever heard a man talk about "retail therapy?" Now divide that by the number of times you've heard women talk about it. Well then.) And the things that women like shopping for, judging by the preponderance of retail space devoted to these items, are things to wear. However, women are also constantly worried about their weight and ballooning up, etc. etc., I blame celebrity rags myself, but that's beside the point. (Once again, not a horrible sexist stereotype, just divide the number of times you've heard a man fret about being fat by the number of times you've heard a woman do same.) This renders clothes shopping problematic. Why buy something if in three months' time it'll either swamp you or you'll not be able to fit in it? And after you've splashed out vast sums of your hard-earned cash on it? Hmmm, difficult... n'est-ce pas?

Well if only there was a bit of the female body that doesn't fluctuate in size so... like one's feet.

So by buying vast quantities of shoes, you can ensure that you are spending large amounts of cash on something that scratches your retail itch, yet you know you'll get a good service out of. See what I mean?

(Unless someone mentions ankle-swelling during pregnancy, but that's the exception that proves the rule.)

And that, audience, is my theory as to why women have unnaturally large shoe collections.

(Node 7 of 30 of my IRON NODES.)

Counterpoint!!

I have several levels of disagreement with the node above.

First, I have lived with enough women over the years, and while, yes, many loved to shop for shoes, their shoe ownership was not often terribly disproportionate to their ownership of other kinds of clothes. Women have a variety of options for covering their tops for example, from bikini tops to t-shirts to blouses to sundresses. But a dozen blouses hung in a closet or t-shirts folded in a drawer simply takes up much less space than the matching number of shoes, not foldable or flattenable. Like birds with bright plumage, balance has to be maintained, and so the available combinations of tops and bottoms and possibly even hats and handbags demands a shoe range sufficient to match up to the likely combinations of these other articles and accessories. In that light, the number of shoes owned by the typical woman is simply probably not far out of proportion to other clothing holdings (they just take up more space), and so, not "ridiculous."

Now, second, we have evolutionary biology to contend with. Men historically tended toward being hunters, women toward being gatherers. Shopping is gathering behavior, and just as biology compels men to enjoy watching team sports and oggling titties in displays of sociable team-mindedness (good for hunting) and virility, so are women compelled to show what good gatherers they are by making the search and taking the best picks. Tastes vary, naturally, but the fundament remains unchanged. The male ideal of women with red lips and long legs and milk-filled bosums, all features for which survival benefits may be considered, is a call to respond with a well-adorned supply of lipstick, high heels, and silicone implants.

And, third, I doubt that women pass upon the purchase of clothes based on impending body shape changes, but buy shoes with the expectation that they'll keep their fit no matter what. Feet get fat like any other body part. But, shoes also take more of a beating than other articles of clothing because they are walked on all day, and so likely do need replacing more frequently -- and who is going to throw out a good old pair over a scuff? Better just to move it further back in the closet. In case of an emergency.

It is my feeling that this node is in dire need of an actual woman’s opinion. Of course I am unable to speak for all womankind, but I think my commentary is of value on this subject.

I do not enjoy most shopping at all. I am unable to “browse.” When I need something, I go out, buy that item only, and return home. I then proceed to wear it out until it is quite unusable, and replace it only when necessary. (I do “gather,” but in the literal sense. I go out every summer on day-long raspberry-picking expeditions. But the fact that my fellow women are mostly reluctant to accompany me makes me feel less than certain that I’m being driven to forage by my hormones.)

But I do appreciate beauty, and I find it in the junction of embellishment and utility. Think of a good shoe, for a moment: it has to fit almost perfectly, be able to adapt to the wearer’s foot and gait, and be uncommonly resistant to wear. It is also extremely small: even the largest shoes provide only the tiniest surface area as a canvas for style, when compared to a blouse or a dress. Yet despite all this, many shoes for women manage to be remarkably beautiful. They have sleek shape, rich texture and color, and creative detail built around their necessary elements. Men's shoes tend to take the more purely utilitarian route; they are strictly comfortable, or at best polished and businesslike. (There are beautiful shoes for men, but there are so few occasions for their use that owning more than one pair is not usually necessary.)

In order to be presentable and comfortable in most situations, I need my loafers, sneakers, running shoes, and flip-flops. So I have one pair of each. I do not, however, strictly need to own four pairs of dress shoes. But I own them, because they are lovely objects. They were expensive, premeditated purchases which were the sole objects and results of the shopping trips they engendered. They add grace to my walk and style to my outfit, without being unduly uncomfortable. I find them beautiful, and I derive great pleasure from them. In short, my opinion on why women often seem to own ridiculous numbers of shoes is that women’s shoes, being beautiful, are worth owning for reasons beyond those of necessity.

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