“Different though the sexes are, they inter-mix. In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male or female likeness, while underneath the sex is the very opposite of what it is above. ”
― Virginia Woolf
The following was posted to the MFB Facebook page by a reader the other day:
“My school, George Washington University, is holding a “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event. While I understand and support the point that this event is trying to get across, I have an issue with the high-heeled shoes part. According to the website “men will literally walk one mile in women’s high-heeled shoes (from Mid Campus Quad to the Lincoln Memorial) in order to help them gain a better understanding and appreciation of the experience of being a woman in today’s society.” High heels play a very very (very!) small part of my life as a woman, and I think that the mere symbolism of high heels can be seen as more of a sex-symbol than empowerment for women’s rights.”
This is what I deem to be a case of “their heart is in the right place but the idea’s very half-baked.”
As a matter of fact, the idea is detrimentally half-baked. To quote the aforementioned MFB reader, “I understand and support the point that this event is trying to get across,” but the inference that wearing high-heeled shoes is somehow intrinsically, or perhaps even innately, linked to “womanhood,” or is somehow a fundamental aspect of being a woman is not helpful. It’s actually quite harmful.
In fact, it’s predicated on a very gendered and somewhat sexualized notion of what it means to be a woman. That is to say: femininity does not equate being a woman, nor does being a woman mean being feminine.
One more time:
FEMININITY DOES NOT EQUAL BEING A WOMAN / BEING A WOMAN DOES NOT EQUAL FEMININITY.
A straight woman can be masculine, a gay man can be masculine, a gay woman can be feminine, a straight man can be feminine, many of us can, and do, express both masculinity and femininity, perhaps even simultaneously, and let’s not forget the factual presence of androgyny among us humans, as well. In addition to this gendered notion of womanhood, this “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event also speaks to a sexualized (think: “male gaze“) concept of being a woman due to the inherent sexuality ascribed to the high-heel. It is, after all, a piece of sexual symbolism in itself.
I have to here stop and say, once again, that I applaud the young men that take part in these events across the country. Their hearts are in the right place, as are those of the people that created it. However, it does unfortunately propagate gendered and sexist notions that we women would do better without, and moreover, it doesn’t really accomplish anything in the way of helping young men “see what it’s like to be a woman.” But then I have to ask: Can such a goal even be accomplished? Can a man ever truly understand the experience of what it is like to be a woman?
Something to ponder, from the amazing Cherrie Moraga:
“…a gay male friend of mine once confided to me that he continued to feel that, on some level, I didn’t trust him because he was male; that he felt, really, if it ever came down to a “battle of the sexes,” I might kill him. I admitted that I might very well. He wanted to understand the source of my distrust. I responded, “You’re not a woman. Be a woman for a day. Imagine being a woman.” He confessed that the thought terrified him because, to him, being a woman meant being raped by men. He had felt raped by men; he wanted to forget what that meant. What grew from that discussion was the realization that in order for him to create an authentic alliance with me, he must deal with the primary source of his own sense of oppression.”
(Taken from Moraga’s essay, “La Guera.” Bold added by me, for emphasis)