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Those are not MY shoes you are walking in!

    UPDATE: 27 September, 2010

I had taken this post down because I did not feel comfortable engaging with this topic with an online community before I had a chance to let the organization I worked for know how I felt about it, particularly as the comments here got heated.

I have since left that organization, due to irreconciliable differences in our feminisms, and am eager to continue the dialogue around the problematic actions that are peppered throughout our social movements.

I have a couple of interesting points to add about this issue, including reporting on the dialogue that is happening among certain feminist circles about the event. More to follow... Watch this space!

~~~

I work at a women’s sexual assault center where the majority of the work is counseling and advocacy. The staff listen to and validate traumatic stories from women daily, and strive to maintain a safe space for them at the center. Only women are allowed to volunteer, and to serve on the board. The team I lead does slightly different work. We focus on prevention. We encourage young people to break free of constricting gender roles. And the only male on staff works on my team.

The vast majority of all sexual assaults are perpetrated by men. My job is to find ways to engage with men to stop male violence. By the very nature of my work, I cannot see boys and men as the enemy. The main prevention strategy I use is to find the boys and men who do not themselves initiate misogyny, but are too afraid to challenge their peers. We give them the tools and motivation to do so. Thankfully, there are many such boys and men and I am privileged to work and play with men who call themselves feminist and break out of gender roles. These men are queer and straight and only some of them were born male.

When the center I work for organizes an event called Walk A Mile in Her Shoes to fund-raise, I cringe. This is an event where men are encouraged to walk in flamboyant women's high heeled shoes for a mile and pledge funds to the sexual assault center.

I cannot ask my friend who transitioned from female to male just a few years ago to participate. I feel it would mock his journey.

How do I explain this event to my friend who is saving money up to transition from male to female. And in the meantime, faces harassment and violence every day for wearing makeup and women’s shoes in a male body.

And what of my male friend who plays both music and sports and meticulously paints his nails a bright red every week?

I have male friends who challenge gender norms in meaningful ways everyday. They share housework, childcare and financial decisions with their female partners. They do not need to show their support for women through this trivial exercise.

The event somehow seems to give the false impression that walking a few steps in high heels helps men understand the sufferings, deprivation, incredible courage and resilience of women around the world oppressed by patriarchy?!!

I have heard that men who participate in the event bet among themselves about who can raise the most money. The person who loses has to wear bright pink shoes with the highest heels in the group. The message these men seem to be taking away is that a real man always wins. Losing identifies him with femininity or weakness and is to be laughed at.

And finally, at the end of the march, the men get to take off their shoes, and go back to their lives where they never have to question their male privilege. If that is not an example of systemic power, I don't know what is. None of the men in the march would be walking in my shoes, because I never wear high heels. I do not wear make-up, and I hardly wear any jewelery. Because of my personal history, it is empowering for me to reject these symbolic markers of femininity. I am aware, though, that I have enough agency in my life to make that choice. Of course, many women wear high-heeled shoes, jewelery and make-up as a style choice. However, there are also many situations particularly in the life of working-class women, where there is no room to express personal style. These women may not have the agency to wear flats even if their back, knees and feet are injured by wearing high heels. I will never forget the tall, strikingly beautiful woman that I met who had worked as a model and a television newscaster in her home country, Guyana. She casually showed me the long surgical scars on both sides of her two feet due to a condition caused by wearing high heels for her career.

It seems to me that what the march demonstrates is that men can ‘kick off the high heels’ whenever they choose. How does this help the women who can’t?

~~~~~

Comments

Maria de Chirikof's picture

Excellent points

Excellent and so true. It does seem to me sometimes that a lot of these social workers seem to either think we have 5 year old mentalities or that they themselves do by some of their actions.

I felt this same idea strongly in a book called 'Dance of the Dissident Daughter' (something like that) where it seemed she was playing at Goddess worship as a sort of teen rebellion against her church "father" when I was partway into the book. I stopped and wrote her a letter about it but never heard back and said I loved the beginning but was getting the feeling that it ends with her turning back to her church and it did...

I find it insulting at best and like it is meant to keep us back while pretending to be helping at worst. While I was thankful for the woman's resource center here in town it seemed to cater to their idea of what would help rather then what I felt I needed. A lot of the workshops were ones you could not bring your kids but they also had no childcare available and I thought what is the point of this then???? If I had support from friends would I be here in the first place? Why do these programs where to get help you need to do these workshops then make it impossible to attend them?

I think that is why this place is extremely good since it gives people like me a voice and ones like you one too! While I will always be grateful that they did actually care about me and encouraged me to get out I mostly ended up doing it on my own which was scary!

Even the Native one we went to stay at before the other shelter had a white lady running it. She loved woman who had big dramatic stories to tell and rushed the ones who were quiet out quickly. There were a ton of rules like you could not burn a candle or spray air freshener and once when she came to do a check up to make sure we were following all the rules we were so worried we would get kicked out because we had the unlit candle on the tv.

Oh funny, like this I can go and on but in person I would probably only say "I think so too." and then sit back and hope no one notices me!

What was that phrase in "Much Ado About Nothing"? That is what I hope to find here...

BEATRICE
He were an excellent man that were made just in the
midway between him and Benedick: the one is too
like an image and says nothing, and the other too
like my lady's eldest son, evermore tattling.

I just need to figure out how to get these thoughts to go to my mouth instead of my pen!

I can't wait to read more of yours, please keep posting!

Maria

JaniceW's picture

So powerful!

It's hard to believe this is your first official post as you write so naturally and eloquently with great conviction, passion and insight. Like Maria, you have a way of condensing sometimes complicated and multi-faceted issues into bite-sized comments that are easily understood and grasped. I can almost hear you as I read your words, hear the modulation of your voice as the ridiculousness of the situation fires you up. I can't wait to read more from you as not only have you informed us of the weaknesses of this event but provoked us into wondering what are the best ways to help our sisters, without demeaning anyone or minimizing the issue. Keep writing....

ShukThi's picture

thank you

... for yor kind comment, Janice. I tried very hard to bring my speaking voice to the writing! I have so many ideas and reactions to the things I see around me running through my head. I mostly just rant to my partner and close friend about it. I would love to be able to engage a wider audience with my thoughts, and I am grateful for this opportunity to do so.

Thanks
soumya

Emie Zozobrado's picture

Wow!

Hi ShukThi! I adore your eloquence! Sister Janice is absolutely right about the way you express your thoughts. apprehensions and insights. It's very encompassing! It really amazes me to read something like this from someone who is so far away - someone whose life is far removed from my own, yet speak the very language my soul speaks! You see, it pays a lot to express our thoughts and feelings to each other! It brings about a bonding which only us women know about! Now that we are here, we will hold on and hold fast to each other. We know, of course, that right here and now we have sisters who really need the courage and wisdom some of us - the likes of you - have mustered so well. I am sure this kind of post that you have will encourage those who are yet afraid to express themselves .... my salute, ShukThi!

Always,
Emie Zozobrado

zotterk's picture

Thought-provoking

I feel like many of the questions you raise are ones I have been examining as well lately. For one thing, I would love to start a conversation that there are other kinds of shoes besides high heels can be feminine and sexy and powerful. Maybe shoe companies will continue getting this idea and start making more nice looking shoes that are also comfortable. I have feet that get in a lot of pain if I wear high heels, so much so that it can make it hard for me to walk for a while. I am fortunate enough that I have been able to find relief through orthotics and excercises for my feet, but I know a lot of women who aren't so lucky. I also have felt the pressure to wear heels to dress up, especially for certain kinds of dancing. It is the social norm. I find I dance much worse than when I wear really comfortable shoes. Maybe I will ask a club to have a casual shoe day? It sounds silly, but might be a start. When I was walking around Vietnam recently, I noticed that most of the women I saw were wearing high heels, even when they were driving their motorbikes and walking on very uneven streets. I was sometimes barely managing in my tennis shoes. I was amazed. Anyway, it seems like on the topic of shoes, for me there is a whole can of worms, as the saying goes. What fun it would be to have a movement geared at something as specific as shoes. Maybe we could empower women to find a way to 'kick off their shoes', as you say. I think it would take educating men about it though.

I have a feeling that many people just don't know what it is like to go through wearing heels, so I can see where the idea came up for this event. I can see how it puts people in an awkward spot and doesn't really provide any shift in thinking or empowerment for people. I will be very curious to see what other people suggest as ideas. My first suggestion, which you have probably already done, is to talk directly to the people who organize their event. It always helps to talk to someone who can do something about it. I'm sorry I don't have any other great ideas yet! As I said, this is thought-provoking and I will keep thinking on it...

There are more and more conversations here on the west coast of the USA for breaking free from constricting gender roles. Great to hear it is happening around the world!
Karen

ShukThi's picture

Shoes!

Hi Karen,

Thank you for reading my journal entry and engaging with me. I think you are absolutely right that any kind of footwear can be 'feminine' or sexy, not just high heels. I try to encourage youth that I work with to question everything. I don't think that as adult women we do nearly enough questioning of our gendered behaviour and see if it matches our values. And as for high heels being powerful, isn't it funny that footwear that severely restricts the motion of the human body can be termed 'powerful' for a woman? I think of the idea that has been sold to women in the North American continent lately, for example, through shows like "Sex and the City". We are told that being a strong powerful woman means being able to walk conidently in the highest of heels, without tripping, presumably while clutching a Gucci handbag!

You are right, there can be so much pressure to wear certain kinds of shoes for certain occasions. It is instructive to seehow sical norms develeop to the point where we cannot imagine breaking them, as if they were the law! I don't think your idea of "casual shoe day" for clubs is a silly one at all. It's a great place to start changing attitudes at a community level, and giving permission for individual women to exercise more agency, in the face of societal pressure.

Appearance is after all one of the keys ways in which soceity constructs gender. How else can we tell if it is a woman or a man approaching us, as we walk down the street?!! I believe you are right, when you say that there are lots of stories around footwear and women's feet, not just about high heels. It is no accident that a common characterization in the popular pornographic imagination in North America and Western Europe is one of women in limited clothing and very high heels. After all, the reason high heels are supposed to be sexy, is that they raise and push out a woman's backside as she stands or walks.

I also agree that the Walk A Mile event does help in planting that first seed of awareness in a man's mind, if he has never thought about what it means to walk in high heels. I think the event can be made more powerful if there is accompanied discussion of how beauty practices are constructed from the outside.

thanks for your comments.
soumya

Nusrat Ara's picture

I don't wear high heels

I don't wear high heels either or wear makeup.I think I have done this too to break free of the mould, the stereotype. I think you have raised a valid point. Many a times I have also seen and felt the hollowness of such events. What is really more important is what is really happening on the ground. What do men actually do in their homes rather than wearing heels for a few hours.

Love
Nusrat

Nusrat

ShukThi's picture

I agree

Thanks, Nusrat. That was one of my poins of critique. Although if we can use an event like this to start that conversation going with the men who participate, that would be great. But how dowe do that?

soumya

prabisha's picture

Boundries set for women

I wonder why make-ups, high heels and jewelary come in our mind when we talk about women. I beleive these thoughts are so entrenched in our mind since ages, it is really hard to uproot from the minds of people, even from women.

I really liked how you illustrated the march "Walk A Mile In Her Shoes" to show how those things really doesn't impact on men. That is merely an effort they want to prove themselves as feminist, which they really are not.It is really hard to change their minds to make them believe that women are not only limited in their make-ups.

I really appreciate how you have voiced almost every woman's voice through your experience.

With Regards,
Prabisha

Peace
Prabi

ShukThi's picture

Some men

are feminists. Thank you for your comment, Prabisha. Fortunately, I have met some men (very few!) who are feminist and workalongside women to change an oppressive culture. But, this event is not for them. And as for the majority of men who are on the other side, I am not sure this event helps them come to a better understanding, either!

I certainly do no intend my post to be anything other than my thoughts on my own experience of this event. It would be presumptous to try to voice every woman's experience, no? But I a happy you feel that there is something here that speaks for you :-)

You said you "cringed" when your Centre organised the walk entitled: Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.

I cringed (...as I always do...) when you chose to be at obvious pains to point out that, [QUOTE:] "...By the very nature of my work, I cannot see boys and men as the enemy."

If it is not NOW - as it ALWAYS was, BOYS and the invariably abusive MEN-BOYS-GROW-INEXORABLY-INTO... who then are to blame for CRIMES AGAINST UNIVERSALLY-VICTIMISED GIRLS and the WOMEN-VICTIMS GIRLS-GROW INEXORABLY INTO? Little green "persons" from outer space?

Nope. And I don't even need to tell you WHO, since you got it right yourself the first time, [QUOTE:] "..The vast majority of all sexual assaults are perpetrated by men...."

So. Let's get HONEST here: if MAJORITY-MALES are the ones who RAPE, MURDER, BULLY, BEAT-UP, BURGLARISE and GENERALLY TERRORIZE their UNIVERSAL-SOCIETIES (....with a SPECIAL EMPHASIS UPON THE SEXUAL-ABUSE OF WOMEN/GIRL-CHILDREN WITHIN THESE SOCIETIES...) who then is HONESTLY to be blamed for such unchanging, globally-inclusive acts, carried out by MEN IRRESPECTIVE OF WHETHER COVERED IN WHITE-SKIN, BLACK-SKIN or BROWN-SKIN?

In closing, I must say that while I admire your obvious empathy for the transgendered community, the fact that your article OSTENSIBLY started out as an essay highlighting WOMEN'S DIS-EMPOWERED PLIGHT, only to very quickly become swallowed-up in all of the problems attendant to transgendered people, was instructive.

Hence, by the end - when you perhaps recalled WHERE you started off from (i.e, highlighting WOMEN'S EVER-PRESENT, NON-DISCARDIBLE PLIGHT AS MEN'S INSTITUTIONALISED VICTIMS....!) I must confess that I ...perhaps JUST LIKE YOU...had lost any REAL interest.

Poor Women! When even SISTER-WOMEN can sling them on the back-burner to piously clamour over a "new" victim....!!!

Maria de Chirikof's picture

Hi

When I was reading it I got the impression she was showing us how not all men are the enemy by telling us of a few she knew personally. When she said her job was to educate and empower these men who were not against woman but never corrected other men I was glad someone was doing it!

I do not think all men are bad but those who are decent really need to speak up. It is probably the only way to reach some of these men we need to reach the most since they would never listen to the voice of a woman. But when it is a man, one they can respect, they are forced to at least listen to what they say.

It is like one lady on here said where all woman are different and with us all speaking in our own voices that they can find one they can relate to. In order for real change to happen we have to help the men find their voices so other men can relate to them.

But I can understand how frustrating it can seem when it seems we are never quite achieving the equality we want. But glancing around the posts here at Pulsewire you can see how we are bringing about change, one that is real so will last and makes all our other efforts have deeper meaning.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts since it is good to have opposite opinions about things since we are not creating one mold to force all woman into but letting each be as she wants to be.

Maria

ShukThi's picture

Thank you

Dear Maria...

... for responding. See what I mean by how hard blogging is? !!

soumya

ShukThi's picture

thank you for your comments

Hello World Citizen,

Thank you for engaging with me by reading my journal entry and by posting a comment. I must confess that I was taken aback by the tone of your comment. I felt attacked. I would not be true to myself if I did not let you know that I felt disappointed that the safety of this space on Pulse Wire had been broken for me on reading your comment.

AS you will know if you have read my other journal entries, one of the reasons I have never written a blog entry is because I do not wish to offend or hurt someone who is reading it. It is hard to explain the precise nature of one's meaning through language. It is even harder when you are writing and being read by a stranger across the world!

I tried very hard to make my meaning clear, and my words non-judgmental. I want to clarify again that I do not think there is anything wrong in women wearing heels. In fact, i think that men should wear heels too if they want to, whenever they want to, and not just for this march!

I also do not think that femaleness or being a woman is defined by such external markers of so-called femininity.

I do believe this event is appropriate to raise awareness and funds in certain contexts. I was critiquing parts of it that do not appeal to me.

oh, and yes,I do support my fellow queers, gender warriors, and trans people!

Thanks for listening.
Soumya

Hi, again; Soumya:

I am surprised to learn that your reading of a COMMENT not in agreement with your own, would make YOU feel "attacked." Are we just supposed to just verbally NOD OUR HEADS to everything we read, or TAKE FOR OURSELVES THE FREEDOM OF EXCHANGING our OWN, PERSONAL IDEAS here on Pulse Wire?

After all, WHO, WHERE and WHAT in the rest of this wide, wide world appears to be in TOTAL AGREEMENT WITH WOMEN? Law? No! Society? Nope! Religion? Hell, no! So then: WHY do Women STILL feel - as the World's Perpetual Victims, that they must ALSO perpetually adopt the ROLE OF VICTIM? Even when they know - in their hearts, that they are NOT being victimised? I THINK - as a Woman, that I know, intuitively and otherwise, when I, or other sister-women are being victimised! What I ALSO think, is that to think, feel and act as the Perpetual Victim is to COMPLICITLY add insult to a LIFETIME OF OTHER-INFLICTED INJURY.

Take as an instance - in the HARSH, COLD WORLD WITHIN WHICH WOMEN LIVE AND MUST FIND THEIR OWN WAY OUT - NOT MERELY HIDE FROM THEIR JOURNEY: I was reading my Sunday newspaper this weekend, and between being nauseated by one report of a young woman found...hands and feet tied.....head secured within a PLASTIC bag...unconscious - but luckily still alive where her assailant had dumped her, I turned a few pages, and read the latest tidbit about Afghanistan so-called "law." Another of the PLETHORA OF MAN-CONCEPTUALISED, MAN-ENFORCED and MAN-RATIONALISED "Laws," where IN TODAY'S DEVOLUTION OF THE WORLD THAT MEN GLOBALLY CALL "THEIRS," Afghan President Hamid Karzai is - publicly accused of supporting a law ...AS A LEADER, BUT ALSO AS A MAN HIMSEF...that EVEN MORE dramatically limits the already INHUMANLY MALE-CONSTRAINED Rights of Afghan women TO VIEW, RESPECT AND THEREAFTER CALL THEIR OWN BODIES THEIR VERY OWN. According to this Karzai-backed "Law..." Afghan MEN are no longer satisfied with UNILATERALLY DEMANDING, but have with mind-bogglingly straight faces, FURTHER attempted to WRITE INTO LAW...the following SICK, SICKENING, BAREFACED DESIRE TO USE/ABUSE WOMEN'S BODIES - NOT AS LIVING, INALIENABLY-HUMAN BEINGS, BUT INSTEAD AS SUB-HUMAN EXTENSIONS OF MEN'S WHIMS/WILLS/DESIRES:-

[QUOTE:] ".... The law, passed last month, says a husband can demand sex with his wife every four days unless she is ill or would be harmed by intercourse, and regulates when and for what reasons a wife may leave her home alone.
"It is essential for the woman to submit to the man's sexual desire," the law says.[" UN-QUOTE]

And so, my Dear Soumya-whom-I-really-did-not-mean-to-offend, EXAMPLES JUST LIKE THAT LATEST EVIDENCE OF A...DE-HUMANIZING...DE-GRADING...MALE-OBSESSION WITH TAKING-SEX FROM WOMEN, AND WIELDING-POWER OVER WOMEN is STILL alive and VERY, VERY well within the REAL WORLD that Women like YOU and I LIVE AND (..."TRY!"...) TO HAVE OUR HUMAN, DIGNIFIED "BEING" WITHIN!.

A so-called 'MODERN, PROGRESSIVE, CIVILIZED World which - almost half-way through 2009 as we are, MEN WHO STILL SEE, CALL AND CLAIM THIS WORLD AS "THEIRS," are not (...unlike Women..!) SHY, ASHAMED, BASHFUL, SOFT-SOULED, EASILY-WOUNDED, QUICKLY-HURT, etc, etc., etc. ABOUT KEEPING WHAT THEY SEE, CLAIM AND FIGHT BRUTALLY TO SUSTAIN AS "THEIR" PLACE...LIVED ARROGANTLY ABOVE BOTH LAW, LIVED CALLOUSLY INDIFFERENT TO WHAT SOCIETY THINKS, LIVED ALWAYS RIGHTEOUSLY-RIGHT LIKE GODS OF RELIGION - AND MOST IMPORTANTLY...LIVED RELENTLESSLY CROUCHED ABOVE WOMEN'S BODIES AS SEXUAL/ABUSIVE MASTERS!

And THAT kind of filth, my dear, will ALWAYS provide the energy that fuels my POINT. ...."sparks" and all!

Nelly2.0's picture

I don't wear make up

I don't wear high heels and I don't wear make up. Sometimes I don't wear jewelry. I reject gender roles vehemently and I understand why you call this exercise silly. It is like what happens in Cameroon on the 8th of March every year. While women parade in beautiful fabrics, men sit and say 'let's give them today. Tomorrow it will be us again'.

On this day, the women eat and drink and celebrate and shout the whole day "eh Woman eh". The next day they go back to being the same women they were on the 7th of March. The women's empowerment drive has been reduced to this farce.

You raise very excellent points. I agree with you entirely. Is there something you can do about this excercise? Please try to suggest to organisation.

Nelly

ShukThi's picture

Soon.

Hi Nelly,

Thank you for your comment. I will bring this up with the organization soon. There has not been an opportunity or space for feedback yet. I am waiting to talk about it as they plan the event again for the next year. It does bring a lot of money in for the center, which is needed to serve sexual assault survivors, so we have to strategize about it.

On another note, I hear what you are saying about your country. Was it yo who posted about International Woman's Day in Cameroon?

looking forard to exploring your journal.

soumya

amhb's picture

Appreciated

I really appreciate your blog post. I am inspired by your important reflections; you make very important points that are very crucial in moving towards longer-lasting change in communities. Thank you!

ShukThi's picture

thx

for the support, amhb ;-)

S

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