Men in heels illicit two emotions, either absolute jealousy at how amazing their legs look or comic relief. Very rarely will men in a pair of patents ever make you stop and think, “You know what, gender-based violence is the worst.” Not often will it make someone think, “As a man, do I engage in street harassment?” I doubt very much that it will make another person think about leaving their husband after he has broken her arm for the third time in as many years.
This did not stop Marie Claire from kicking off a campaign that put men in very nice heels and even nicer suits, proclaiming that by doing this they were highlighting the issues surrounding gender-based violence.
Raising debate apparently.
Raising debate about women who have had men force their legs apart and force themselves inside, about street harassment, and about black eyes, broken bones and death at the hands of intimate partners — by having men wear a pair of heels and making them walk in them till they “pinched”.
Basically, the #MCinHerShoes campaign was the equivalent of bringing a clown to a funeral and wondering why everyone was not instantly clapping and in high spirits. Their efforts may have been well meaning, but it completely missed the mark and did not read the room. The eternal judge that is Twitter came down on them like a ton of bricks and comments could be summed up thus: weak sauce.
Now the problem with jumping onto the tried and tested (and often failed) “He for She”-themed campaign is that in this case it cheapened the absolute hell that is gender-based violence by making it a fun photo-shoot in which men got to show that they are “down with the struggle”. This, coupled with the fact that many of the men used in this campaign have been called out on their less than stellar track record in terms of women, made the whole debacle even more upsetting. Two were called out on continuous misogynistic behaviour and one has even been embroiled in a domestic violence incident.
Their standing in heels making funny faces and waxing lyrical on social media was not accompanied by any form of actual engagement on the part of the men, other than, “I wore heels, what a hoot!”
I doubt the women they are supposedly standing in solidarity with went, “Oh my gosh, I feel so much better about the man who sexually assaulted me because these men are in fabulous shoes. I am sure this will change the minds of people about victim blaming.”
Unfortunately, feeling “the pinch of heels” (as one man put it) does not equate with watching a loved one hospitalised by her husband and having to stay with family members as a result.
The campaign also greatly limited the idea of who is a victim of GBV.
The way the campaign is framed makes it seem like those who fall into this realm are hyper feminine, handbag-touting, heel-wearing, fashion page-devouring women who live in the suburbs and lunch at sushi spots. It makes you wonder about the lesbian in the township who was a victim of corrective rape, and the woman who is the only source of income for her household and the thanks she gets from her husband is a broken collarbone and her money spent at the local pub. I am even sure the magazine’s own readers who have been victims of GBV found solace in the idea of heels representing their experience.
Maybe checking in with people who the campaign is meant to be fighting for would have been a good idea. However, it would seem, like many ideas that don’t achieve their potential in terms of demographics, the decisions to do this were extremely insular. Consulting with any women’s organisation that worked within the realm of GBV would have had the Marie Claire team scrapping the idea, downing a few espressos and burning the midnight oil.
Furthermore, by focusing primarily on the bravery of the men for wearing heels, the bravery of the women they are meant to be supporting is erased and silenced. Simply wearing heels in a photo-shoot does not make you “brave”, what makes you brave is going out every day into a world that terrifies you because you do not feel safe in it. Going to court to face the man who raped you while a lawyer rips you apart to try and make you lose credibility. Not donning an expensive suit on a very quirky photo-shoot set.
This will sell magazines, no doubt, but the fact that magazines are being sold by trivialising the experiences of women and then clapping yourself on the back is a problem. Sometimes when you cannot do something with substance, then do not do it at all. Marie Claire and other women’s magazines often fall short in the pursuit of empowering women, often looking too much to the glitz, glam and marketing.
Women’s magazines are not often known for their depth (and there is nothing wrong with that) but this lack of depth is borderline reckless in the face of heavier issues than the latest fall line and how to make him holler like a howler monkey in bed.
Marie Claire’s attempt at activism had the dual effect of upsetting a great number of people, while allowing others to make light of something very dark. The one thing it did not do was “further debate”. There was no debate had — the subjects of the photo-shoot barely weighed in on the issue, making you wonder exactly how this conversation was supposed to be started and continued. As one person argued, this oversimplification of an issue is not helpful. Maybe next time stick to selling the shoes rather than a moral stance. No shame in knowing what your hustle is and, as one person says, it is also okay to say, “Whoops, we f**ked up.” Because in this case, you really did.