Posted by: MC | April 14, 2013

Don’t Rape.

as long as she can't run

This photo and related article just showed up on Facebook.  The article was about all the ways women should, according to rapist themselves, avoid assault by doing their hair, forgoing attention to cell phones, choosing clothes that are not easily ripped, etc.  Absent in this advice is any mention of high heels.

I’ve been unhappy about high heels for as long as I’ve been aware of fashion fluctuations for female feet.  From the beginning I’ve associated my unhappiness with the phrase, “As long as she can’t run.”

Now, before you get the impression I’m extending the rape-avoidance list let me clarify a bit.  I enthusiastically endorse the sentiment that women ought to be free to adorn themselves as they choose, so long as there’s no harm done — and regarding harm, I’m talking actual detriment not mere “distraction,” “temptation,” “jealousy,” “fashionist offense,” and not anything linked with hijab or other head covering.

I also agree with the obvious wisdom (of the self-evident, common sense DUH! variety) in focusing the primary social message thusly:

DON’T RAPE. 

Rape is never about what a woman is wearing or otherwise doing – EVER. 

Certainly personal safety is a good thing to keep in mind (e.g., don’t hang out on bare mountain tops when lightning storms are underway, don’t dress like a deer during deer hunting season).  In that spirit, I’m going on record here that we women have a role in perpetuating dehumanizing images and values when we participate in them.  More profoundly, we have a role in stopping the insanity.

I realize this is potential dynamite, but here’s what I mean.  Following the logic of DON’T RAPE are similar logics that go something like this–

  • Men do not determine women’s value – women do.
  • Any particular woman does not determine any other woman’s value (or any other person’s for that matter) – each person is in and of herself (himself) valuable.
  • People are worthy of recognition for the astonishingly precious being each one is (that, for example, is why DON’T RAPE has unquestioned authority).

I must admit that I write these words from embarrassingly direct experience.  I don’t wish to catalogue my own experiences with objectification and the violence that too often follows.  There are stories, but the pinch of socialization into “don’t complain,” “you’re exaggerating,” “buck up buckarette,” and all the related overt sexisms that imply “you’re nothing without the approval of men” is what we women and our allies must see and overcome.  Still and all, it’s tricky business.  The inducement is great to give up in the face of relentless patriarchy.  Just this week there’s glaring evidence of my having no recourse but to accept that even as a well-established professor, I am (like near all women in near all jobs across our country) salaried at a level lower than my male peers.  Fight it, and lose.

So here over the edge of 50, I am troubled to find excruciatingly amplified the tape loop in my head that says, “look as young as you can for as long as you can because, baby, your rapidly being colored invisible.”  Just signing on with that belief perpetuates the ravaging chemistry where ageism and sexism meet.  And when I buy this line, I participate in disrespecting all women, particularly those my age and older.  More immediately, I disrespect myself in what is inescapably a practice of self-abandonment.

On the other hand, if I pay attention (which deep socialization of course conspires against), I have to get it that as long as I abandon myself I’m not available to this life of mine.  I’m not available to friends and loved ones, to the environment, to my community, to my heartfelt values and passions.

Yeah, I can rationalize with the best, “well, I’m mostly available, just a little distracted by this lookism-sexism-ageism bit.  I’m still pretty available for being a good friend, citizen, mom, colleague, lover.”

And that’s how oppression works so horrifically well.  We abandon ourselves and buy into putting on the “look good” so that even when my thoughts of myself and my value are crushing I always encounter the public with the appearance of having it all together.  To do otherwise is to admit vulnerability.  To do otherwise is to say out loud to the authors of “honey, your job is rape avoidance” that their message itself is violence – violence I am writing about here as a way of rejecting it – on my own behalf and in solidarity with the dignity of all women and all people.

So, high heels.  I can’t tell if a campaign calling out, “as long as she can’t run” would be a positive thing.  The fact is she shouldn’t have to be worried about running.  Her choice of footwear should have to do with the comfort of her feet.  And if that comfort is at times secondary to some less comfortable adornment choice, it’s hers.  It’s never license to rape.

DON’T RAPE. 

Check your arrogance in presuming to judge the value of any person, even yourself – because the fact is your value and theirs is beyond all imagining.

Now, let’s get to the business of walking the integrity of that fact.

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