The house was silent as I snuck into my mother's room. Everyone had left for the day - my parents for work and my siblings for elementary school. I was left to my own devices.
Over that past weekend, my aunt whom I admired so much, had handed down some clothes to me and I wanted to wear them. Although she was a tiny thing, not much taller than me, all of the pants were too long for me. She had worn them with stilettos. The style of the... early seventies... polyester pantsuits with flair bottom pants. I'm not sure what I was thinking that morning in the early eighties, but for some reason I really wanted to wear that white polyester pantsuit that was smattered with tiny red, yellow and blue flowers. The shirt had puffy short sleeves and a ridiculously large collar. The whole getup was hideous, but I loved it and I was going to wear it. And wearing it meant borrowing my mom's high heels.
As a little girl, I don't remember clomping around in my mom's shoes, but I probably did on the sly. I do remember being able to go through and wearing the hordes of jewelry that my grandma collected over the years and there being "dress ups" (grandma's old, fancy, cast-off clothes) at her house and pumps to put my feet in so I did that with my cousins every now and then. But, at home, for very good reasons, mom was careful with what little belongings she had and that meant no clomping around the house in her good Sunday shoes. So, the fact that I was slinking into her room while the house was empty to stand in front of her open closet drooling over her high heels was a sign that I was breaking a cardinal law.
I went for the wooden heels that were at least 4 inches tall and slid on without a strap to hold them on. Now, keep in mind, I was 13-14 years old, had never had any practice wearing high heels and I was choosing to wear them (with my white polyester pantsuit - eegads!) all day, which looked like me walking almost two miles to school and that same amount home and tromping around the halls of my junior high all day. Looking back on it now, I feel dizzy with foot pain just thinking about it!
I must give myself kudos for even attempting this, but even more so for pulling it off fairly gracefully. After wobbling around the house for a few minutes, I seemed to get the hang of it and enjoyed the feeling of, suddenly, being tall. I don't remember twisting any ankles or falling off my heels because the mortification of other events that day (which I'm not going into here because it's not the point) and the memory of how I must have looked that day and that I actually chose to look like a really big dork outshine the fact that I walked around on trembling toes for nine hours that day.
I felt grown up that day, I think. But, really, I chose to break my mom's rules and don those shoes because I really wanted to wear that white polyester pantsuit (WTF was I thinking??!) and it required I wear heels. Since I didn't have any of my own, I borrowed hers.
I think most little girls, and even some little boys, want to wear stilettos. I know that when my daughter was growing up, I would frequently find her wearing my shoes around the house. She liked my shoes and my jewelry and I let her wear them. In fact, I began purchasing clothes, jewelry and shoes at thrift stores so she could have her own fancy dress ups and for a very long time she had a plethora of clothes that were generally strewn about the house.
As she has grown, whenever we would go to buy her new shoes, she would inevitably end up in the women's section wearing stilettos and giggling as she walked around on wobbling ankles, turning this way and that in front of the mirror to see how they looked on her. Now, she has her own taste in fashion which is usually her converse sneakers, skinny jeans, a cami and hoodie. But, the last time we went shopping for shoes, she pleaded for stilettos. No amount of me attempting to reason with her about that choice would dissuade her from wanting them. She assured me she wanted to wear them to school and that she was certain she could walk up and down four flights of stairs eight times a day and still be to class on time without breaking her neck. So, we got them.
That was back in September. The first time she actually wore them for an extended period of time was last weekend to Ignite Your Spark.
I had once asked Kait why she wanted the shoes and she replied, "Cuz they're fun to walk in."
Then I asked, "How do you feel when you wear them?"
"I don't know," she replied in typical teenage fashion.
"I mean, do you feel happy? Sexy? Weird? Provocative? Fun?"
She smiled. "I feel tall."
She had an opportunity to go with a group of girls to The Hunger Games movie late Friday night. She chose to get all showered and cleaned up, donning her jeans, cami, hoodie and stilettos for the event. She looked beautiful and shiny and happy and youthful. She walks like a grown up girl, but there is something about wearing those shoes that brings out the energy of the tiny girl who wore my shoes around the house, clomping on the tile floors.
On the way to drop her off at her friend's house, we stopped at a gas station and she ran inside. I stayed in the car. From where I sat, I witnessed a man who appeared to be in his 40's stop in the middle of what he was doing at the Red Box vending machine, drop the screen cover and stare at her with a slack jaw and glazed over eyes. Kait was oblivious to his presence, but he was securely fixated on her. She entered the store. He followed her. I went on high alert.
He stood just inside the door, holding his oversized, overstuffed duffel bag and I could see that his vision was completely riveted on her form. She still hadn't noticed him.
She paid for her purchase, came out to my car with a smile reminiscent of her 4 year old self and practically skipping - which she does frequently - even though she was wearing her magnificent stilettos. The man's eyes stayed locked on her. I watched as his vision trailed down her back and focused on the roundness of her derrière. He was totally fixated and completely unaware that he was soon going to be knocked out by a mother grizzly who was tired of him playing with her cub.
He exited the store about five steps behind her, nearly falling off the sidewalk because he was so focused on Kaitlyn. I was gripping the steering wheel because I could feel what he was thinking and I could see what he was seeing and I was aware that he had thoroughly and completely stripped my daughter bare and he was getting aroused. I looked in his eyes and felt completely terrified. There was aggression there.
I wanted to jump out of the car and kick him in the balls. She was an innocent and he had just mentally violated her and judging by the thoughts in his head, had she been alone, it was possible that it would have moved out to the physical realm.
I locked the door as soon as she slid in, before her door was even shut all the way. I exhaled quickly and felt his balloon go flat. He stopped briefly by the door, disoriented because his prey had escaped. He side stepped, turned around and then turned back and lumbered past our car to stand beside the dumpster and wait for us to leave, his eyes focused on Kait the whole time.
It was horrifying and when I told her what was happening, she was terrified. I hated that her moment of innocent joy had devolved into a nightmare. I posted something snappy about it on Facebook, took a couple of deep breaths and released it.
Later this weekend, a man asked me about the post and said these words, "Was she wearing those same shoes that night?" He glanced down to the stilettos she was wearing.
"Ah... that's why then. That's the message she's sending. How do you feel about that?"
All at once, I was enraged and stumped. I understood what he was saying, but I felt angry about it too. I knew the reasons Kaitlyn wore her shoes, "they're fun to walk in and I feel tall," and I had witnessed how she behaved when wearing them. All I could respond was, "We've talked about her reasons for wearing the shoes and she is clear on what wearing the shoes could imply and it is her choice to wear them."
What really gets my goat about this whole thing is the bit about the message that is implied by the shoes. I love the man that said this to me and I get where he was going and that he was only looking out for Kait, whom he loves. But, why is it okay for shoes, for godsakes, to be a sender of the message, "I want you to violate me, please?"
Currently I'm doing an assignment for my layout class about fashion. We have to design an ad for fashion and as I've been doing research, I have been appalled by the images I've discovered. I googled "men's fashion" and these are a selection of the hundreds of images I was greeted with:
Not a lot of skin, fairly business-like and not really very seductive, although the men are generally attractive. Then I searched "women's fashion" and was met with:
Given that a lot of the images were sexually suggestive and images I wasn't comfortable with displaying here on my blog, it took some time and patience to find a grouping that felt okay to display. Notice how much skin is showing, the seductive poses, the pouty faces. All of it spoke to the message of "I'm SEX."
A few days ago, in relation to the Trayvon Martin case, someone posted an image on Facebook stating that a short dress is not an invitation to rape a girl and a hoodie is not an invitation to murder a boy. I couldn't agree more. And after this experience with my beautiful, innocent young daughter, I am enraged.
As a society, we have the messages pounded into our head that "beauty" looks a certain way and girls are meant for having sex with. Society demeans them and belittles them and continues breeding the thought process that wearing stilettos is an invitation for rape.
I remember hearing sometime along the way, after my infamous stiletto and polyester day, that stilettos were created so that when women wear them, it changes their posture and makes it so they stand with their butts slightly turned outward, indicating that they are "ready" for sex at any time. Perhaps, somewhere, nestled in the deep, dark recesses of our DNA is the genetic programming that slender, high heels on a woman means she's ready for sex and she wants it. Nay! She is begging for it.
Damn it! That is not right.
Perhaps there are young women out there who intentionally wear their clothes and shoes to send the message that they want to be violated. I can't imagine that ever being anyone's willing, conscious thought, but I'm willing to be open to that possibility. However, I know that the day I chose to wear those wooden stilettos and tramp around in my godforsaken white polyester pantsuit that the idea of having sex was farthest from my mind. In fact, at that age, I still had no idea how sex actually worked and I had fantastical, ergonomically impossible ideas of how the parts went together. No! Sex was not my intention for wearing those shoes. Nor was it Kaitlyn's.
And it is not right that even the best of men have been programmed to read stilettos as a message that invites them to sexually violate the woman wearing them. Something is wrong with this picture, folks and I'm not sure how I'm going to do it, but I will bring a voice to this and do my damnedest to turn this thinking around. Our women are being violated, demeaned and betrayed at every turn. It has got to stop or this world will bring on its own destruction. When an entire group of people - whether based on race, religion, creed or gender - is continually taught that they are "less than," then we have a serious problem.
And, folks, we have a serious problem!
I was prompted to set up an Open Salon account to specifically post this above article. I'll give it a go for awhile. However, I have a really active blog over on my website if any of ya'all are interested in checking that out... www.angiekmillgate.com