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The question: I have always felt sufficiently stylish in flats. Does a woman have to own a pair of heels?

The answer: This is a political question that a man dare not venture an opinion on.

I came of age in an era and a particular (academic) milieu in which high heels were denounced as instruments of male oppression. They hobble, damage the feet, distort the tendons in the leg and are deliberately painful, like corsets and all the other constraining female garb that men, not coincidentally, do not have to wear.

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In my 20s, the women around me would have considered wearing any kind of heel a betrayal of their most dearly held principles. And many of those women still feel that way.

Like most guys, I react powerfully to the erotic charge of the elongated leg and outthrust buttocks that high heels deliver. But to this day I feel vaguely guilty about it, and am thrilled and mildly shocked by the breaking of feminist taboos that I see around me now.

I do know several women who are always fashionable and elegant and always in flats, possibly more because of physical comfort than ideology. Nobody judges, nobody cares, except to note how stylish they look.

Russell Smith's latest novel, Girl Crazy, was recently published. Have a fashion question? E-mail style@globeandmail.com .

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