Whose Shoes are You Wearing?
Challenging Women to Look Beyond Their Own Experiences
By Sheri Cole (@bflysmile) for @WomenVotes
As I sit down to write this blog post, I am having trouble focusing. There is too much to say about the election and why it’s important for women to vote and make our voices heard. But then as I tease apart what that statement means, I get lost in contradictory thoughts.
On one hand, if women were to band together and vote as a block, we could sway any election. We are over 50% of the population after all. This was actually one of the arguments against giving women the right to vote during the suffrage movement. Men in power have always feared women connecting and organizing, and this has led to both institutions designed to keep women separate and a political system that disadvantages women.
On the other hand, 20+ years of feminist studies have taught me one thing: there is no such thing as ‘women.’ Just pull up Twitter and click on any Tweet that talks about a “woman’s issue” and see the diversity of opinion. And I’m not talking about political issues like equal pay or maternity leave, but general statements about fashion or beauty or motherhood.
Go ahead… I’ll wait.
Didn’t take long to get to a comment that says – “I’m a woman and I don’t agree” – did it? (And it probably wasn’t that civil, either… but that’s a topic for another blog post!)
Because that’s the crux of it: women and our opinions are not monolithic. And furthermore, there has not been a diversity of women’s experiences and opinions represented in our government or leadership.
The history of the “women’s movement” is a history of diverse thoughts and issues. What is defined as a “women’s issue” to me might not be to another woman.
And that’s okay.
What’s not okay is using that fact to try to divide and discount our opinions. As I write this, a song comes into my head: I wish you’d take a walk in my shoes for a start / You might think it’s easy being me / You just stand still, and look pretty.
Replace the last line with another statement about a woman’s experience. We are all guilty of putting our experience at the center of our politics and opinions, and that’s only natural. But we have to challenge one another to think beyond our own experiences. To walk in another woman’s shoes and try to see the world from her vantage point.
When I feel the crunch at the end of the month of not having enough money, I stop and challenge myself to think what life is like for the single mother who works for minimum wage and can’t afford to stop at the grocery store for eggs and milk at the end of the month.
And what if our politicians did the same thing? What if our Senators and Mayors thought about how every policy would impact not only their lives, but the life of the citizen whose life is different from theirs?
So back to my original question… why do women’s voices matter?
Because not only do my experiences as a woman drive my political views, they are also an experience that has not been a part of our political discourse as much as they should. Sure, there are male politicians who strive to represent people different than them, and there are female politicians who vote in their own self-interest. But I’d submit that the more women who are engaged in the process of voting and running for office, the more “women’s issues” will cease to be defined as such, and just be “issues.”
Imagine a world where we see the following “women’s issues” redefined:
Maternity leave is universally defined as parental leave because not only can a caregiver could be a woman or a man, but all families who have children have to deal with child care issues.
Men stand up for equal pay for women and people of all races because the less money women and people of color make at work, the less money families have to pay for basic necessities.
This isn’t a utopian world of the future. We have examples of other countries that have made this shift in their thinking. And what do they have in common? Women are represented at greater levels in their executive and governing leadership.
In America, we are at a crossroads – regardless of your political views and identity – as we nominate the first woman to potentially lead our country. But even if Hillary Clinton is never elected President, breaking this barrier means that we are now focusing on women’s voices in a way we haven’t before. It will lead to more women being inspired to run for office, and some of these women will win! And when they take their seats at the table, they need to look beyond their experiences and walk in another woman’s shoes to understand her experiences.
And before we step into the voting booth, we need to do the same thing. So, whose shoes will you try on today? And what will they feel like? Will walking around for a while in them change your views?
I think it will. And I think our collective lives will be better for it.