IT was with an amount of dismay, and then disgust, that I read about “In Her Shoes,” the National Youth Commission (NYC) campaign for Women’s Month, one that they started last year and which they continue in 2015.
Because apparently a year hence no one in that commission thought there was anything wrong with using the high-heeled shoe as a symbol of woman power. No one reassessed the notion that walking in women’s shoes literally would be akin to experiencing figuratively what women go through every day.
No one asked: are we being sexist by imagining that uniting with women, that paying tribute to our mothers, wives, sisters, daughters for Women’s Month is about wearing high-heels for fun?
You know the answer to that one, gentlemen.
The (non-)challenge of heels
According to NYC Chairperson Gio Tingson: “To walk in women’s shoes is a challenge for men to understand and reflect on the daily plight of women, rethink attitudes toward them and to realize the bias against women that is inherent in our culture, practices and values” (NYC Website, 6 March).
Tingson, along with NYC Commisioner actor Dingdong Dantes, walked with a hundred Filipino men in high heels “to celebrate Pinay Power” on March 6. They called “In Her Shoes” a “fun walk.”
The point being this, according to Commissioner Perci Cendaña: “For a man to truly understand how it is to be a woman in our society, he should walk a mile in her shoes. We aim to call attention to the plight of women which normally men, consciously or unconsciously, do not take notice of. We hope that through this event men would reflect on the plight of women in our country. We encourage Filipino men to take a few moments to put themselves literally and, more importantly, figuratively in the shoes of women.”
The questions of course are multiple: Will a man wearing high heeled shoes for an hour or two mean any understanding at all of the daily plight of women in this country? Will this “fun walk” in heels force a man to think about his attitudes and biases against women? Will a pair of wedges or stilettos change a man’s mind about the role his mother or his wife plays in the home? Will it make him think, ah, how difficult a life the women in my life are living, playing multiple roles, and living with oppressive expectations, whatever shoes they might be wearing?
Fun fearless males
This is nothing but a novelty, and as the activity gains media attention, one can’t imagine that what it shines a light on is the plight of our women.
Because “In Her Shoes” has become about the man’s performance of walking in heels. This campaign that is supposedly about promoting Pinay power, has become about the men who do it, because look at Dingdong Dantes in red heels! And then read about why he did it: to pay tribute to his mother and sisters and wife, to understand better the sacrifices that his wife has made and will continue to make for him (Dantes’s Instagram Account, 6 March).
Yes, he also mentions that wearing those red heels was about NYC promoting the social protection of women. But what dominates this conversation is the image of Dantes in red high heels and nothing else. Were we to look at the heels as a symbol of his wife’s sacrifices for him, then it might make sense for men like Dantes: after all, for Marian Rivera, wearing heels is about the job that she keeps, about the image that she maintains as celebrity. But one can imagine more oppressive things that she has to deal with, like baring her body, or being judged for the way she speaks, or the way she thinks. Certainly it is more oppressive that Marian is judged on how she looks, and not who she is as a person.
Certainly it is more oppressive for the Pinays who are bombarded with images of celebrities like Marian, all perfected by photoshop and Vicky Belo.
The image that dominates this campaign is not just the photographs of men walking in heels, but of a high-heeled shoe that’s filled with the words: “malikhain, matalino, bida, lider, matapang, matatag.” Beneath the shoe are the words “for Pinay Power.”
Cendaña says that “In Her Shoes” is “also a call to understand the at times latent and often times blatant sexism in various spheres of society and culture. Realities of life that men often overlook because of the advantage and privilege that their sex affords them.” It is also about “breaking down the barriers of sex and engendering a culture <sic> sensitivity and equality” (NYC Facebook Page, 6 March)
Well, this campaign might be the best example of latent and blatant sexism really, an act that overlooks the realities of living as a Pinay in this country, and the oppressive images and symbols of our purported power. High heels included.
Who cares about shoes?
The stereotype of women and shoes to begin with is so class-based I cannot even begin to explain why it’s so wrong for a government office to think this a correct campaign to stretch to two years. Yeah, last year it must have been so much fun within NYC. But to make it national this year? How unthinking.
Because there is no celebrating women’s month in this country, no talking about Pinay power, without grounding ourselves in the class differences that exist among women. And as certain as I am that many-an-educated Pinay will take offense that men imagine wearing heels to be symbolic of celebrating women’s month, I am sure that there is a majority of women who don’t even have the energy or time to think about their shoes. Let alone imagine spending on Dantes’ expensive high-heeled red shoes.
And yes there is value in men paying tribute to our women. But there are so many other ways to do it. Say, show Dantes and every other government official doing household chores for the day, letting their kasambahays, wives, mothers rest.
Say, find Congressmen and male Senators who will switch jobs with their female secretaries and chiefs-of-staff for a day. Have male government officials do the clerical jobs that they designate to the women in their staff; give these women a break for a day. Ask female politicians to switch jobs with their assistants, or go a day without their yayas and kasambahays – give them all a paid day-off from work.
Encourage all of us, daughters and sons, to give our mothers a day-off, keeping them from worrying about what to cook, how to run the house, and letting them decide on what they want to do including just lying in bed and watching TV all day.
Have these activities trend under a hashtag like #TakingOnWomensRoles or #IAmPinay and reveal how so many of our fathers and sons, boyfriends and husbands, are being changed by the task of taking on what the Pinay would be worrying about on any given day.
No one needs to wear high heels. No one needs to wear women’s shoes. In fact, a real campaign for Pinay power, a real campaign that pays tribute to our women, would know that the last thing we should be equating with being woman is the shoes they’re wearing. Because that’s about as superficial as judging us about the way we look, and not actually talking to us about who we are, how we feel, the complex lives we live.
C’mon men of NYC. You can do better than that.