May 12 2014, 1:15pm CDT | by Forbes
Every other year or two, I attend a graduation. This year I was at the graduate ceremony of a very large university and I sat in the middle of it all in a huge sports arena. It was a long ceremony with thousands of graduates, but it did not feel long–it was interesting. I could see all the faces of the graduates, the professors, deans and other officials.
My feminist antenna were not particularly high that day, but I noticed something that may be profound. As I watched the young people walk to get their diplomas, I saw almost no pants on the women. Every single female graduate, except for a handful, were wearing dresses. But that was not the most surprising thing to me. Ninety percent of the women were wearing stiletto heals, or platforms of the same height. Six or seven inches or more. What does this mean?
In my commencement address that day, I spoke about how it is important to understand others in other countries, to fully comprehend how to communicate. Cultures are different, so we need to listen carefully. In retrospect, I now wonder about my own country. I spoke about how I draw cartoons about my own culture because I know it. Do I? Am I, as an advocate for feminism, really aware of the women in my own country? I often say we are making progress in the field of women’s rights, and I believe that to be true. The fact that there were so many women receiving higher degrees is one such sign of progress. But frankly, what I saw made me pause.
I wonder if, like hemlines, the height of high heels is a good barometer of anything. I love fashion, and I wear high heels from time to time (although not as high as what I saw). I am not against them, by any means. It was just the preponderance of them, one after the other, and the height of the ones that I saw at the graduation that frankly alarmed me. Many of the young women could not walk well at all, they were hobbled by their footwear.
When I was twenty-two, entering the world after college, I did not feel I needed feminism. I was happy that Ms. Steinem and her radical colleagues had fought for the advances we had at that point. But I thought it was over–little did I know. That’s why I think we desperately need to keep talking about it with each new generation. Particularly since, unlike when I was leaving college, the internet is now a strong force to be reckoned with. It is often a destructive and sexist force; but it can be used for good. Everyday, I see the good in the feminist activity from men and women on social media. But it is an uphill battle to combat a consumer culture and entertainment conglomerate that perpetuate stereotypes of all forms.
In my commencement address, I suggested that we all strive be who we want to be and not who others–society– expect us to be. Yes, that means if you want to wear stiletto heels, you have the freedom to do so. But we all would do well to push away the noise, and listen to ourselves from time-to-time, to try to understand what it is that we really want. And whether or not we can walk forward in them.
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