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Subject: Sexy Shoes

Julie Wilson
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Date Posted: 15:40:31 05/24/16 Tue

Summer is the time for going almost barefoot in flat sandals. Why are these shoes so sexy? Clearly because they reveal the foot, and feet are themselves sexy.

Male supremacist church leaders know this, and they have always been against women baring their feet. The famous fourth-century church father St. Jerome said that women should wear shoes which completely covered the foot, in order to “subdue the carnal inclinations lurking in men’s eyes.” An even earlier church father, Clement of Alexandria, forbade women to show their toes in public and denounced “the mischievous device of sandals that evokes temptations.”

The biblical tradition also recognizes the erotic character of women’s feet, but unlike the malestream church leaders it does not condemn women for showing their feet. In the book of Judith, the heroine sets out to assassinate the enemy general Holofernes who had blockaded her hometown Bethulia. She wins him over, does the deed and saves her town. At the end of the book, the townspeople sing that “Her sandals ravished his eyes, her beauty captivated his mind, and the sword severed his neck” (Judith 16;9).

No condemnation here. So why is a naked foot so sexy when say a naked elbow is not?

The Freudian tradition tells us that the foot is a phallic symbol: The foot is shaped like a penis, and so it reminds the viewer of a penis. But there must be more to the story than that; after all, feet are sexy in a way that other potential phallic symbols, such as the hand or nose, are not. Why are there foot fetishes but not nose or hand fetishes?

The answer lies in the way the human brain processes sensory stimuli. There is a small region lying on the surface of the brain called the sensory homunculus which receives such stimuli from all over the body. The word homunculus is Latin for “little man,” and this region actually looks a bit like a man, only upside down.

Not entirely like a man, though. For one thing, the part that receives stimuli from the face lies below the part that is connected to the hand instead of being by the neck. And the feet are next to the genitals.

The feet are next to the genitals. We now have evidence that the part of the brain which receives stimuli from the genitals is partially crosswired from the part receiving stimuli from the feet so that sensory impulses from the feet result in a partial activation of the bit of the brain that registers stimulation of the genitals and vice versa.

We know this from the research of Dr. V. S. Ramachandran, a medical school professor who studies phantom limbs. Quite often when a person loses a limb, she or he feels sensations from it as if it were still there. Dr. Ramachandran, while investigating this phenomenon, discovered that some amputees actually were having orgasms in their phantom feet.

One such amputee was a medical student from Boston. She had lost her left leg below the knee and acquired a phantom limb. “Something really strange happened to me after the amputation that didn’t make sense,” she told Dr. Ramachandran. “But when I saw your diagrams [of the sensory homunculus], that in the brain the foot is next to the genitals, it became instantly clear to me.”

The next day an engineer called Dr. Ramachandran from Arkansas. “I read about your work [on phantom limbs] in the newspaper,” he told him, “and it’s really exciting. I lost my leg below the knee about two months ago but there’s still something I don’t understand. I’d like your advice.”

Dr. Ramachandran asked him what it was. “Well. i feel a little embarrassed to tell you this,” said the engineer. “Doctor, every time I have sexual intercourse, I experience sensations in my phantom foot. How do you explain that? My doctor said it doesn’t make sense.”

“Look,” Dr. Ramachandran told him, “One possibility is that the genitals are right next to the foot in the body’s brain maps. Don’t worry about it.”

“All that’s fine, doctor,” said the engineer. “But you still don’t understand. You see, I actually experience my organs in my foot. And therefore it’s much bigger than it used to be because it’s no longer just confined to my genitals.”

This man’s foot had been amputated, and as a result the sensations from his genitals had expanded to fill much of the area that formerly had received sensations from his foot. His brain then concluded that these erotic sensations must be coming from the missing foot.

“Have you ever wondered,” asks Dr. Ramachandran at the beginning of his book “Phantoms in the Brain,” “why you feel erotic sensations when someone sucks your toes?” By now the answer should be clear. It is because of the way our brains are wired, a fact which probably explains a number of other things including why Judith’s sandals could ravish Holofernes’s eyes.

So why are our brains organized like that in the first place? One theory comes from Martha Farah of the University of Pennsylvania. She points out that in a curled-up fetus, the arms are bent and the hands touching the cheek, while the legs are bent so that the feet touch the genitals. Then as the brain develops, she suggests, the sensory homunculus takes shape with the hands next to the face and the feet next to the genitals.

Dr. Ramachandran’s book appears to be selling well as science books go. It is certainly readable enough. But there is an even more prominent author who has been disseminating his research: fashion historian Valerie Steele, chief curator of the museum at the Fashion institute of Technology in New York and editor of the prestigious academic journal Fashion Theory. She summarizes his findings in her elegantly designed book “Shoes: A Lexicon of Style.”

We began this article with a look at sandals, and now at the end let’s take another look. Dr. Steele writes that, although sandals go back to 3000 BC, they were rarely worn Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. The real resurgence of the sandal came only in the twentieth century. “In more general cultural terms,” she writes, “sandals were one aspect of the movement toward social and sexual liberation. Their significance parallels women’s new freedom to wear trousers, short skirts, and revealing swimwear.”

So much for freedom. Now for its opposite. Dr. Steele quotes fashion historian Anne Hollander of the New York Institute for the Humanities on a sandal with an ankle harness as presenting the foot “as a beautiful slave,” thus suggesting “untold erotic practices.” Interesting thought.

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Re: Sexy ShoesMichael09:16:47 02/22/18 Thu

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