more sensationalist analogy, to far greater pressure than a four-tonne elephant standing on one foot.2
In case the evidence above presents as somewhat flippant, National Geographic weighed into the argument in 2006 by citing a professor of physics at the University of Virginia as confirming that “the heel of a walking woman [or, surely, a man] weighing 100 pounds (45 kilograms) can exert a pressure up to 2,000 pounds per square inch (140 kilograms per square centimeter)”.3 And the distinguished British fashion historian Colin McDowell writes: “A woman of average height exerts two tons of weight per square inch on a stiletto heel”.4
While all these statistics do not necessarily tally with each other – McDowell, for example, is apparently using a heavier example of humanity for his figures – the message is clear. Although death by stiletto heel is not a common cause of mortality among males, the National Geographic feature writer, Cathy Newman, assures us that “[t]he slim point marked up wood and linoleum floors and punched through carpets; for decades, stilettos were banned from museums and public buildings”.5
This piercing potential of the stiletto heel once again reminds us of its namesake, the stiletto dagger, which, in turn, brings us to the human preoccupation with death – not necessarily as morbid as it may first
appear. It points to the classical interplay between Eros and Thanatos – the tension between the life drive and the death drive – not so much in opposition to each other, but reconciled in the very embodiment of our fascination with the mysterious, with the potency of sophistication, the unknown, and of dreams lurking around the shadows of existence, waiting for the opportunity to be realised.6
Put another way, symbolically, the stiletto heel raises the profane body to sacred heights. Particularly when combined with the accoutrements and symbols of power, or of willing submission to power, such a heel can raise the wearer’s stature with a dramatic, erotically charged style. The drama involved can be literal and can reflect, simultaneously, personal expression, a sense of fashion, glamour, and danger.
Appropriately, stiletto heels – which may, of course, adorn shoe or boot – are virtually synonymous with the femme fatale, and with the dominatrix. However, as suggested above, stiletto heels are not only effective in providing the dominant woman with the means to literally tower both physically and psychologically over the male or female (or other gender) kneeling at her feet, but they often complement the picture presented by that very person kneeling at her feet (whether male or female).