fitness · inclusiveness · running

Are women’s feet special?

I shared the following article to Facebook, Finally, Women’s Running Shoes Are Being Made for Women’s Feet, not sure what to think about it.

On the one hand, what’s special or different about women’s feet? On the other, if all running shoes–even women’s running shoes–are based on models of men’s feet, that may be a problem.

I’ve written about gendered cycling shoes in this post here on the blog, Is women’s specific anything just a bad idea? What’s the issue? If women’s cycling shoes are narrower then some men, those with narrow feet, will end up needing to buy women’s shoes. Some women, those with wide feet, will end up buying men’s shoes. But, I asked in that piece, why even bother with the gendered labeling? Why not just call them wide and narrow shoes?

I love my Pride Hunter rainboots which come just like that, no gendered sizing, just wide and narrow.

I came to this point because I’m a woman who rides a men’s bike. A men’s bike just fits people with short legs and long torsos better. And guess what? That’s me.

And you know, I wouldn’t think it would bug me but it does. Each time I go to buy a bike someone in a bike shop, or a well meaning friend, recommends a women-specific frame. I have to tell them that it won’t work. As far as bikes go, I’m a dude since all women’s frame means is longer legs WHICH I DON’T HAVE. Grrrr. It’s a very minor exclusion in the grand scheme of things but it grates.

I don’t mind that the men’s and women’s bikes sometimes come packaged with different components and the men’s bike is the better deal.

What about running shoes? How different are men’s and women’s feet really?

“Shoes are designed around foot-shaped molds called lasts, which dictate the fit and feel as well as the aesthetics and proportions. For a long time, those lasts were based only on molds of men’s feet. But “female feet … are not algebraically scaled, smaller versions of male feet, as is often assumed,” a study in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association declared way back in 2009. As a result, more and more brands started using female lasts based on the mold of a woman’s foot. For what it’s worth, some have opted for unisex lasts—an approach Katie Manser, the Supervisor of Research Operations at Heeluxe Footwear, an independent shoe research lab, dismisses. “There’s no such thing as a unisex foot—it’s anatomically a man’s foot or a woman’s foot,” she explains.”

But again, I’m not sure this gets it right. There may not be a ‘one size fits all’ foot but it seems unlikely all women have similar feet, or that the difference between men’s and women’s feet will be larger than the differences between different women’s feet.

The article I shared goes on to describe all of the different ways in which women’s feet differ from men’s but in each case there’s likely lots of variability between women. Also worth noting that some women were assigned male at birth and lots of people don’t identify as male or female at all.

In the end that article acknowledges that it’s not really about gender, it’s about variety and fit.

“The more knowledge you have about your body, the more empowered you are to make a decision regarding what you put on it. At the end of the day, the best shoe for you—no matter your gender—is the shoe that feels most comfortable on your feet. “

And with that, I think we can all agree.

Thanks to Christopher Sardegna @css for making this photo available freely on Unsplash 🎁

4 thoughts on “Are women’s feet special?

  1. Sam wrote “Also worth noting that some women were assigned male at birth and lots of people don’t identify as male or female at all.”

    Sam, reality doesn’t care how anyone “identifies.” Biological women and men are different. Period.

    And no one is “assigned a sex at birth.” Biological sex is determined at fertilization, observed in utero, and conformed at birth by a medical expert (the physician) using empirically-derived criteria.

    As an academic, you should not promulgate misunderstandings of reality.

    Thank you.

  2. First, LOL at the nonsense comment above saying no one is assigned sex at birth and then describing how a physician assigns sex at birth. Second, WHAT? People with short legs should ride “men’s” bikes? I’m a woman who’s been riding my whole life, never found it easy to get a good fit, and spent a fortune on the least-worst bikes – no one ever suggested a men’s bike instead. I have very short legs proportionate to the rest of my body. (I also have wide feet and am in bliss wearing my comfortable – if ugly – men’s shoes). Third, because apparently it needs repeating, I hope other readers know that most of us living in “reality” know that everyone who identifies as a woman is a woman.

  3. At least now you can get running shoes and cross-trainers in women’s sizes. When I was an undergrad in the early 70s, I needed some good shoes after developing shin splints (I had been running in canvas sneakers). It took a long time to find a pair (Adidas), because there were no running shoes in women’s sizes. I finally found a men’s 6.5 that fit. How ridiculous was that?

  4. I just bought “men’s” cycling gloves, because apparently even size-large women have thumbs the size of my pinky.

Comments are closed.