WASHINGTON — Washington.-- On the heels of recent debate concerning the value of the women's movement, I would like to offer a footnote in gratitude from my feet.
Thanks to footwear advances inspired by the demands of women in the workplace, it is now possible to buy stylish shoes that you can run in to meetings or stand around in once you get there without your dogs barking in protest.
No longer is it necessary for women to chose between the flimsy, the painful and the ugly. Life is decidedly more pleasant, and probably more productive.
Of course, men have long had the option of comfortable shoes that look good, and the smart ones took full advantage of it.
Maryland Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, who's been hotfooting it across the state for longer than anyone else can remember, not only wears sensible shoes but carries a change of both shoes and socks with him in the trunk of his car.
Nothing sparks up a sagging soul after a long day on the road, he says, like fresh footwear.
President Bush puts such a high priority on his feet that he sports those wing-tip style Rockports to formal occasions, including the 14 inaugural balls he danced through on his first evening in office in January, 1989.
Aides sometimes wince when the president crosses his legs in meetings with foreign leaders, allowing the rubber treads on his shoes to show in photographs. But most of the Bush team has adopted the president's trick of pampering sensitive tootsies that otherwise tend to ache and swell during travel.
Not all women let themselves get kicked around for the sake of fashion, either. Some opt simply for slacks and flats, or boots, or clogs, or sandals -- even at work.
"I won't wear high heels unless I get taken out to dinner," said the proprietor of a shoe store that caters to the comfort crowd.
At the dawn of the Yuppie era, many women sought to solve the work shoe dilemma by wearing sneakers of one sort or another to and from work, saving the pointy toes and spike heels for the office and business appointments where they wanted to appear more professional.
But that effort was destined for defeat. Shoes became just another burden to carry in a life already so loaded down with shoulder bags and briefcases most of us permanently list to one side.
I heard a better idea from a veteran White House reporter when I started covering that beat four years ago. In order to cope with the long hours staking out visitors to the Oval Office and making mad dashes from the press plane, to the press bus, to the presidential appearance and back again, she advised putting those Dr. Scholl's cushioned inserts in all my dress shoes.
The technique served me well. I even got a bit more spring out of my running shoes with that extra layer of cushion. But while this makeshift arrangement worked in a pinch, it couldn't compare to delight of shoes actually designed to be comfortable.
The step-up was immediately apparant last year when I bought my first pair of those pumps the ads say you can pay basketball in. They were a little clunkier than the rest of my dress shoe wardrobe, but I soon found I was wearing them exclusively because they felt so good. Now, this type of shoe has a real foothold in the market, and there are lots of versions that aren't clunky at all. I recently picked up a sleek pair in black suede that feature a bit of toe cleavage suitable for evening wear.
None of this pitter-patter is meant to belittle the broader contributions of feminism and the women's movement.
I just wanted to wriggle my toes in blissful appreciation for their emancipation from the tyranny of fashion without function.
Now, if someone could only figure out a way to dress for success without pantyhose. . . .