Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Jessica Bennett (00:04):

It is taking the most feminized object of all objects, the heel, and a spike stiletto heel at that, and it is masculinizing it to show that she is tough by making it a weapon. I’m Jessica Bennett.

Susie Banikarim (00:21):

And I’m Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (00:22):

And this is In Retrospect, where each week we revisit a cultural moment that shaped us.

Susie Banikarim (00:27):

And that we just can’t stop thinking about.

Jessica Bennett (00:29):

Most of the time we talk about the past, but sometimes the past and present collide. That happened this week in politics when an age-old dispute about high heels made its way onto the Republican debate stage.

Susie Banikarim (00:43):

Jess, it might surprise some of our friends to know that late last week we were texting well into the night about high heels, and so I thought we should bring it to the podcast because I feel like I learned a lot of things and laughed a lot during that text exchange. High heels had come up in the most recent Republican debate and you’re writing a story about it, so that’s why we were making all these jokes. Do you want to tell us a little bit about the story?

Jessica Bennett (01:12):

Yes. So I’ve been working on this piece that is out now about Nikki Haley, who is one of the Republican candidates, and the debate that is occurring that really came to a head at the actual debate, it was the third Republican debate, it was in Miami, and there was this moment that immediately went viral, was making all the rounds where Vivek Ramaswamy, he is the tech entrepreneur candidate, he’s sort of brash, he’s one of the younger-

Susie Banikarim (01:42):

He’s so smarmy.

Jessica Bennett (01:44):


Susie Banikarim (01:44):

Yeah, he’s a know-it-all. Whenever they do a poll after the debates, everyone’s like, “He’s such a know-it-all.”

Jessica Bennett (01:49):

Yes, so him. There was a question from the moderator about the US role in Israel and Gaza, and he was trying to differentiate himself from what he believes is the old guard, the other people on stage. And so the way he does that is he says-

Clips (02:03):

Do you want a leader from a different generation who’s going to put this country first or do you want Dick Cheney in three-inch heels? In this case, we’ve two of them on stage tonight.

Jessica Bennett (02:13):

So Haley takes a beat to respond. She lets this question play out. She waits until the next question, and then she first corrects him. She says-

Clips (02:22):

Yes, I’d first like to say they’re five-inch heels and I don’t wear them unless you can run in them.

Jessica Bennett (02:28):

And then she says-

Clips (02:30):

I wear heels. They’re not for a fashion statement, they’re for ammunition. What we need to be doing…

Susie Banikarim (02:35):

Okay. I have a lot of things to say here. First of all, five-inch heels are impressive. I do want to say that standing at a podium for hours in five-inch heels is impressive and that she says she can run in them at some point. I think that’s great. But what is she talking about? What does it mean they’re not for fashion, they’re ammunition? Is she going to use them as a weapon or is she going to bludgeon someone with the heel? I don’t know what that means.

Jessica Bennett (03:03):

I was just like, “Isn’t that inevitably going to bring up bad single white female references?” Remember how she truly bludgeons someone with her stiletto heel in that movie?

Susie Banikarim (03:13):

I did not remember that. But-

Jessica Bennett (03:15):

In retrospect.

Susie Banikarim (03:16):

Wow, in retrospect. I mean, we talked about this last week, I did remember that cover with Hillary Clinton’s heel with a little man dangling from it. That was in the 2016 election. Right?

Jessica Bennett (03:27):

Yeah, that was actually in 2014. It was before she was running. But high heels are so symbolic in many ways. And if you look back at what they have represented over time, and particularly for women in politics, yes, Hillary Clinton was pictured on the cover of Time Magazine in 2014 with this sort of stiletto heel, except it was more of a sensible-

Susie Banikarim (03:49):

Pump. It’s what it felt like.

Jessica Bennett (03:50):

Like it was maybe meant to be kind of dowdy.

Susie Banikarim (03:52):

Yeah. Well, because in D.C., the women don’t wear stiletto heels, or at least they didn’t used to in my day. They wore a sensible pump.

Jessica Bennett (03:56):

They didn’t use to.

Susie Banikarim (03:58):


Jessica Bennett (03:59):

Exactly. And on this cover, like you said, there’s this tiny little man underneath the heel and she’s supposed to be squashing him. And then also there’s that Ginger Rogers quote. She was a famous actress and her dance partner was Fred Astaire, and she had to do everything he did, but backwards and in high heels.

Susie Banikarim (04:18):

It’s true. I mean, high heels do represent, it’s kind of an interesting thing because they represent a sort of female power, but they also do have sort of a sexual connotation. So there’s something interesting about the imagery because it’s not actually a powerful thing to have to be in five inch heels. I mean, there is something that feels powerful about being in heels, but then if you have to walk in them, you feel much less powerful because you have to be so careful.

Jessica Bennett (04:45):

I was reading something recently about Sarah Palin who had complained about how in 2008 when she had to debate Joe Biden, she and Biden had to stand up there, but she was of course in heels. And how in the previous VP debates, they had all been seated.

Susie Banikarim (05:00):

I mean, fair.

Jessica Bennett (05:01):

So standing in heels for many hours, not super comfortable. But the other element of this that is relevant is that this diss by Vivek was not just targeted at Haley. Obviously, Haley is the only one in heels. She’s the only woman on stage. But I don’t know if you’ve been following this whole thing-

Susie Banikarim (05:19):

Oh, I’ve been following. You know I have been following.

Jessica Bennett (05:19):

… about Ron DeSantis, his cowboy boots, and whether he’s wearing lifts in them.

Susie Banikarim (05:26):

I mean, it seems to me, again, I’m not a shoe expert, it seems very clear that he is wearing lifts and essentially walking on tiptoe all the time. So I do think this was a practice line that was supposed to have two meetings.

Jessica Bennett (05:40):

Oh, absolutely. And he was so pleased with himself.

Susie Banikarim (05:42):

Get it? Haley. But it was also like a subtle dig for everyone who knows, because Vivek is very much of the online troll generation. He’s very in those communities and on X and on TikTok. So I feel like he was throwing them a little subtle Easter egg that they could use for all the memes about DeSantis and his heels.

Jessica Bennett (06:05):

Well, and the meme. So then I went down this rabbit hole of the memes. I mean, they’re not even memes, they’re actual images of DeSantis in his cowboy boots in different scenarios, in different media appearances where they’ve actually diagrammed the bend of the foot, where the toe pops out, where you can see the line of them through his pants, how they make him walk. Every single element of this man walking in these cowboy boots has been dissected to the point that Politico actually sent a menswear writer to go interview shoemakers about what they thought. And so this writer finds this shoemaker who’s a bespoke boot maker who specifically makes cowboy boots for Texas politicians with lifts.

Susie Banikarim (06:49):

Oh, my God. Great find.

Jessica Bennett (06:50):

Who then goes on and says, absolutely this man is lifting his shoes. And then he goes on to say, what that lift does is it gives you the equivalent of five inch heels.

Susie Banikarim (07:03):

So him and Haley were wearing the same size heels.

Jessica Bennett (07:05):

So they’re on a level playing field, except that they’re not.

Susie Banikarim (07:09):

I mean, also, I think what’s interesting about this is how much stigma there is around the idea that DeSantis would be wearing lifts. Right? Well, there’s just obviously this clear sense that it’s feminizing or somehow shameful that he would be doing this and that he must also feel that himself. It’s not like a projection from other people because I mean, I think he has denied it. Right? Has the campaign officially denied it?

Jessica Bennett (07:47):

Yeah. So I mean, what you do, if you are a man running for president in 2023 and someone lodges some silly critique at you is you go for their balls. And so what he did was he immediately attacked Trump who had been mocking him over this and said, “I dare you to have the balls to show up to the next debate, and if you do, I’ll wear a boot on my head.”

Susie Banikarim (08:13):

What? The second.

Jessica Bennett (08:15):

And then his campaign began actually selling golf balls that say, Ron DeSantis has a pair, he shows up.

Susie Banikarim (08:23):

Okay. That is really… The state of the Republican primary is in and of itself a really sad state of affairs.

Jessica Bennett (08:29):

Right? We’re literally living in a boy’s locker room. But I think what you’re touching on is something really important and that this is actually why we’re talking about this, which is that the gender dynamics on both sides of a male candidate who may be padding his heels, and a woman candidate who is wearing high heels is so intertwined and complex, and while she’s trying to take her high heel and show that she can use it as a weapon in a masculine way, I guess, I’m feminine, but I’m tough also. He, while knowing that tall men do in fact get ahead, there are studies showing that most presidents have been above six feet tall. So he knows this is an advantage, but he can’t possibly admit to it because that would be gay.

Susie Banikarim (09:15):

I guess that’s the thing is it’s like he’s afraid that it somehow puts his sexuality in question. But also, it’s interesting because he must have occasionally appeared not in his cowboy boots. It’s like, who is he fooling? He’s going to get caught.

Jessica Bennett (09:33):

He seems to be wearing them all the time. I mean, I think a little bit, honestly, now he is stuck in his proverbial boots.

Susie Banikarim (09:39):

Let me ask you a serious question.

Jessica Bennett (09:41):

Can I stop making puns?

Susie Banikarim (09:43):

You think he wears those cowboy boots to bed?

Jessica Bennett (09:45):

Oh. Well, I wonder if you have lifts in them or they’re very hard to get off? Boots are hard to get off like that.

Susie Banikarim (09:51):

Oh, yeah. I mean, maybe easier to get off because you’re basically on tiptoe, you’re just sliding that leg right off.

Jessica Bennett (09:57):

Oh, they’re already off your feet. No, I mean, it’s so funny. And then of course, Trump is having a heyday with this, and he’s saying like, “Well, I don’t know. Why don’t you get platforms and go on RuPaul’s Drag Race?” And it’s become this total spectacle. But meanwhile, Haley is sort of using it to her advantage in a way.

Susie Banikarim (10:16):

It’s so weird because it’s so rooted in sexism and homophobia.

Jessica Bennett (10:19):


Susie Banikarim (10:20):

So I guess not surprising coming out of this particular group of GOP candidates.

Jessica Bennett (10:25):

There’s a long history of masculinity in politics in this country. And I don’t just mean literally because men have been politicians, but the way that you’ve had to show your masculinity, whether it’s hunting or cowboy boots, or when there was that whole thing about calling Jeb Bush a wimp or Trump and Marco Rubio talking about the size of their hands, just disgusting, stuff like that.

Susie Banikarim (10:47):

Well, also, there’s clearly some weird underpinning under all the crowd size conversations that Trump has. He’s constantly arguing about how big his crowd is, and it feels very much like a metaphor or euphemism for something else. And there’s also that whole thing about female politicians have to lower their voice. They have to literally lower the timbre of their voice when they give speeches because it’s seen as more masculine or just more authoritative.

Jessica Bennett (11:14):

Yeah, Margaret Thatcher famously did that.

Susie Banikarim (11:15):

Yeah. And also actually, not in the political realm. There’s the whole thing about the woman who ran Theranos, right?

Jessica Bennett (11:21):

Yes. Elizabeth Holmes.

Susie Banikarim (11:22):

She had that Steve Jobs look and then the deep voice, and now her voice doesn’t sound anything like that at trial. So there is this kind of subconscious sense that things that are masculine, have more authority, are more serious. So for a politician like a Hillary, I remember this was a big issue when she was running because on the one hand, she didn’t want to come off as too feminine. She was criticized for being too masculine too. She was like, oh, the pants suits and that she was too tough. And then she had to have that moment. Do you remember she had that moment in New Hampshire where she teared up and everyone was like-

Jessica Bennett (12:00):

Yeah, the tear.

Susie Banikarim (12:01):

… “Oh, it’s humanizing”? So it’s kind of like an impossible thing, right? It’s like you can’t be too feminine. You can’t be too masculine. It’s like you’re constantly having to perform your gender in a political sphere, which is kind of interesting, just given the climate around gender in this country.

Jessica Bennett (12:19):

Exactly. That’s what I was going to say. It’s like, yeah, sure, gender progress may be happening culturally, although you could argue that both ways, but certainly there’s a more expansive view of it. But when it comes to politics and the people who are growing up on stage, it’s the same old square box to the extent that, yeah, of course the female candidates have to wear high heels. They have to show that they’re appropriately feminine and they have to balance the idea that they’re likable with also being able to run a country, which you’re probably not going to be very likable when you’re having to make hard decisions. We all know that. But it is so interesting what you say these costumes for men and women. For men, it’s like blue or black suit, and that crisp white shirt with a tie that’s probably silk. And you always have the jacket on, and the suit. Unless you’re on the road talking to real people, and then maybe you take the jacket off and you roll up your sleeves.

Susie Banikarim (13:18):

Sleeves, because you’re getting to work.

Jessica Bennett (13:19):

… Your arms. That’s like, “I’m a man of the people.” But a woman could never do that. And for a woman, it’s like, okay, you have to make the choice. Am I a pantsuit gal or am I a skirts woman?

Susie Banikarim (13:30):

Well, and also it says so much about you. Even, do you remember when Obama wore the tan suit?

Jessica Bennett (13:35):

Oh, I don’t remember this. I forget.

Susie Banikarim (13:37):

Oh, you don’t remember this? This was a huge scandal. He literally wore a tan suit-

Jessica Bennett (13:41):

A tan suit.

Susie Banikarim (13:42):

And that was the scandal. The scandal was that he wore the suit, and the Republicans were like, it’s undignified for the president.

Jessica Bennett (13:47):

Oh, wow. Okay.

Susie Banikarim (13:48):

And I felt like there was a tinge of racism in that, right? Because it was like he has to perform a certain version of what it’s like to be president. If he makes any choices that veer away from that, he’s roundly criticized. And then Trump got into office and did all sorts of crazy things.

Jessica Bennett (14:02):

Oh my God.

Susie Banikarim (14:02):

It made the fact that that was a scandal seems so ridiculous. Right? And so there are these ways in which the men are examined too, but it does feel like Haley in particular in her race, has had to walk a real tightrope because the men get really down and dirty with each other as proven by this story you told about Ron DeSantis and his golf balls. But she also can’t do that because that would also be seen as unladylike and undignified.

Jessica Bennett (14:34):

She has to be like dignified.

Susie Banikarim (14:35):

She has to be careful. Yeah. Her zingers have to be lady-like.

Jessica Bennett (14:38):

Yeah, appropriate.

Susie Banikarim (14:39):


Jessica Bennett (14:40):

Yes, I know. Well, and that’s why so many people after she gave that retort about her heels being ammunition, and then she actually liked the retort so much that she went on Twitter or X and posted it again, and all of the responses were like-

Susie Banikarim (14:54):

Again, nonsensical, it doesn’t make any sense.

Jessica Bennett (14:55):

But I feel like maybe it is a good line because, I mean, it’s not-

Susie Banikarim (14:58):

It’s objectively very confusing.

Jessica Bennett (15:00):

Objectively a bad line, but it is doing something which is, it is taking the most feminized object of all objects, the heel and a spike stiletto heel at that, and it is masculinizing it to show that she is tough by making it a weapon. But then she’s also doing it in a way that’s like she’s got humor about it. She didn’t immediately jump into correct when this exchange was happening. She gave it a beat. She didn’t come off as emotional. She waited and then she delivered this line that in fact, she has practiced many times. She’s been using a version of this high heels line for many years.

Susie Banikarim (15:39):


Jessica Bennett (15:40):

It turns out, yeah. This is-

Susie Banikarim (15:41):

She just loves this line.

Jessica Bennett (15:41):

She loves it.

Susie Banikarim (15:42):

That makes no sense. But I do have to say that all I keep thinking about in this conversation is how Exhausting it is to be a woman. I just have to say this. I feel this way even when I was going in the office every day, it’s like a guy can just take a shower and put on a button down and some nice pants and he’s good. But if I’m going into the office, I have to think about a million different things. My hair can’t look crazy. I have to be in an appropriate outfit. I have to put on makeup. I just think that we expect so much of women, and then there’s so many ways in which women are criticized. It’s like this constant thing that you have to be on guard for. So I’m kind of happy DeSantis is getting a tiny taste of that medicine, honestly.

Jessica Bennett (16:27):

Yeah, he is. And actually, that reminds me of something that Barack Obama said in 2008 after he had beat Hillary Clinton. It was after he had been inaugurated, and he was complimenting her essentially on running a tough race. And he used the Ginger Rogers line about having to walk backward in high heels, because he’d been talking about how he would go to the gym and be able to relax, and she’d have to spend hours and hours and hours in hair and makeup. At the time, I remember thinking, is that a degrading comment? It was a little flip. It was akin to your likable enough Hillary. But it was also pointing out a real double standard in that way.


When I was thinking about this and researching it, I actually learned that heels were invented for men originally.

Susie Banikarim (17:29):

Oh really?

Jessica Bennett (17:29):

Did you know this?

Susie Banikarim (17:29):

I don’t think I did know that. It’s like vaguely familiar.

Jessica Bennett (17:31):

So I’ll just give you a little history of the high heels. So back in the 1600s, they invented high heels for men because in particular, they were good for horse riding. They would stay in the stirrup and secure your foot in there.

Susie Banikarim (17:43):

Oh, that makes sense, yeah.

Jessica Bennett (17:44):

And so then during war or battle or whatever men did back then, when you were standing up on your horse to fire your musket, your heel would stay in the stirrup. And so for years and years and years, this was considered a manly thing. Kings in Europe would walk the cobblestone streets and wear their tights in their heels. I’m sure you’ve seen photos of men from that era in their tights and their heels.

Susie Banikarim (18:10):

It feels very Renaissance era to me.

Jessica Bennett (18:11):

Yes, very much so. And so I was like, when did this thing become the most feminized and eroticized thing for women in a way? And as it turns out, women eventually were like, “Well, men have all the power. They’re wearing the heels. We want to try out these heels.” And so initially, I found this amazing fact in this textbook written by a sociologist, Lisa Wade, where it explains how in the 1600s in Massachusetts, if you were a woman who was caught wearing heels, you would be subject to the same punishment as a witch.

Susie Banikarim (18:47):

Oh my God.

Jessica Bennett (18:48):

That’s how much they didn’t want women wearing heels. But then of course, at some point, women were doing it in mass, and so the men gave up. And so then suddenly it became like, well, we don’t want those heels. Those are stupid and silly, and why would we want to be associated with those?

Susie Banikarim (19:03):

So it’s like women adopted them and that’s why they went out of fashion for men? That is so interesting.

Jessica Bennett (19:08):

Isn’t that fascinating? And so then fast-forward hundreds of years, I’m sure I’m egregiously skipping over tons of history, but then it’s like the flapper era and the pin up era, and they become this really sexual thing up until now.

Susie Banikarim (19:20):

And the other part of that history that’s interesting is such a image of the eighties was women taking off their heels, putting on those white sneakers to go to work-

Jessica Bennett (19:30):


Susie Banikarim (19:30):

And then changing into their heels.

Jessica Bennett (19:32):

I think of Maria Cantwell, who is from my state of Washington, and she was the mom in heels and tennis shoes, and that was the famous image of this politician. But now it’s interesting because they would never admit to wearing tennis shoes. It’s like, I am in my heels and I keep them on.

Susie Banikarim (19:49):

Yeah. Well, I bet you that the squad, that the AOCs and the Ilhan Omars, they’re probably just wearing sneakers. I mean, when they can, I know there’s a lot of issues about decorum, the whole thing with John Fetterman or whatever, but it feels like it’s a very dated idea that heels make the woman. There’s this idea that your shoes have to be a certain way to represent a polished presentation. And so I don’t think heels are fashionable the way they used to be, but I do think that if you’re traditional in your views, you kind of have to embrace that look.

Jessica Bennett (20:32):

Yeah. Well, it sends a message about your femininity, still. We could sit here and do an entire episode unpacking what the size of the heel says about you because it’s too low and it’s dowdy and too sensible, ala Hillary Clinton. Too high, it’s like Melania Trump. I don’t know if you remember, there was at one point when Donald Trump and Melania were going to visit a hurricane site in Florida, I believe, and she was wearing these stilettos, and the press was like, “There’s a literal hurricane, you’re going to wear those stilettos? And it made her seem unserious.

Susie Banikarim (21:06):

And it’s actually interesting because when you go to a concert, one of the things I remember noticing when I went to see Beyonce for the first time, that’s a humblebrag ladies, I’ve seen Beyonce twice, is that she’s dancing an entire routine in heels. And I remember being like, wow, that is so wild. I mean, she looks amazing, and she does it in a way that makes you feel like it’s easy, which I know it is not. So it just is also interesting that even in situations which are really athletic, a concert is an athletic performance as much as it’s a singing exercise, women still feel like that’s part of the look. That’s part of the vibe.

Jessica Bennett (21:43):

I just find it so fascinating how these fashion objects are viewed with so much symbolism, whether it’s a single white female villain, predator jabbing her lover or whoever he was, I can’t remember, in the eye or strength, and drawing attention to the fact that women in a lot of ways still do have to be able to balance-

Susie Banikarim (22:05):


Jessica Bennett (22:05):

Literally and figuratively.

Susie Banikarim (22:06):

Backwards and in high heels. Right. I mean.

Jessica Bennett (22:08):


Susie Banikarim (22:09):

Well, so the interesting thing is, or at least to me, the interesting question remains is what is Ron DeSantis going to do with all this hubbub? Is he ever going to come forward and admit it?

Jessica Bennett (22:21):

I don’t know.

Susie Banikarim (22:21):

There must be an actual record of his height somewhere, right?

Jessica Bennett (22:25):

Well, it’s supposedly 5’11. I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know.

Susie Banikarim (22:29):

Oh my God, it must be so uncomfortable.

Jessica Bennett (22:32):

It’d be interesting to see.

Susie Banikarim (22:32):

It must be so uncomfortable to walk around on tiptoe all the time. I don’t envy a man who is so insecure about his height, who has to do that. Because as someone who’s had to do a lot of things in high heels, that is not a choice I would make if I could avoid it. So he must really be sad that he got himself into this mess.

Jessica Bennett (22:49):

Well, I’m not defending Ron DeSantis in any way, but it’s a bit of an impossible situation for a man in a position like that because you can’t admit to it. You’re trying to be seen as masculine and tough, and that’s why you’re lifting your heels in the first place. You know that there’s a real actual truth to politicians being taller. And yet you had to literally just stand there uncomfortably during this exchange and probably hope that the mic was not going to come to him at that moment.


But there was one funny thing that I discovered after we started texting when I couldn’t sleep late at night, which was I wanted to examine her exact heels. And so I saw that they had been in some article and I found the name of the photographer, the heels from the debate I mean. And so I went on to Getty Images, and I searched this photographer, and then I found a couple of different images, and there was one close-up up shot of the exact high heels, and they’re really beautiful blue suede, like royal blue suede or darkish blue suede. And so then I was examining them, and then I found these shoes that were for sale that looked very, very similar. And anyway, I’m getting to a point, which is by my feminine analysis, they really look like four inch heels to me, not five inch heels, which like, okay-

Susie Banikarim (24:11):

So you’re fact checking heels? I love it. I love it.

Jessica Bennett (24:15):

I mean, this is inconsequential. Who gives a shit? However, I just think it’s funny that in a political dick measuring contest, she too can play this game where she is exaggerating her height.

Susie Banikarim (24:29):

Yeah. Okay. I like that. That feels like a good place to end it actually.


This is In Retrospect. Thanks for listening. Is there a cultural moment you can’t stop thinking about and want us to explore in a future episode? Email us at [email protected] or find us on Instagram @inretropod.

Jessica Bennett (24:58):

If you love this podcast, please rate and review us on Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen. If you hate it, you can post nasty comments on our Instagram which we may or may not delete.

Susie Banikarim (25:08):

You can also find us on Instagram @jessicabennett and @susiebnyc. Also check out Jessica’s books, Feminist Fight Club and This is 18.

Jessica Bennett (25:17):

In Retrospect is a production of iHeart podcast and The Meteor. Lauren Hansen is our supervising producer. Derrick Clements is our engineer and sound designer. Sharon Attia is our researcher and associate producer.

Susie Banikarim (25:29):

Our executive producer from The Meteor is Cindi Leive. Our executive producers from iHeart are Anna Stumpf and Katrina Norvell. Our artwork is from Pentagram. Additional editing help from Mary Dooe and Mike Coscarelli. Sound correction and mastering by Amanda Rose Smith. We are your hosts, Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (25:47):

And Jessica Bennett. We’re also executive producers. For even more, check out inretropod.com. See you next week.