Feminism isn’t really a space—but it’s certainly an ideological terrain of sorts. It’s an identity people “adopt,” a stance people “take,” and insult people “hurl,” a set of theories people “cite,” a part of a movement people “join,” and more. British suffragist Rebecca West famously stated: “Feminism is the radical notion than women are people.” Feminism—to me—is the revolutionary idea that gender inequality exists, but that it doesn’t exist of necessity or inevitably.
In my research on men’s participation in marches dedicated to raising awareness about issues of violence against women (here), I came to think of feminism as a gendered space—as gendered ideological terrain. Men’s adoption or support of “feminist” views or issues often seemed to be implicitly understood as a gender transgression. This was all the more interesting, because, at the particular events I observed, men were required to transgress other gender boundaries as well—they dressed in drag.
“Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®” marches require participants to walk one mile wearing “women’s” shoes—which are almost also understood as high heels. The event is gender segregated by design: men walk, women watch. Playing on the adage that to truly understand someone else’s experience requires walking a mile in her/his shoes, this event makes literal that which was perhaps never meant to be taken literally. The movement-sponsored shoe is a 4-inch, red, patent leather, heel. Men (not all, but some) at all of the marches I attended referred to these shoes as “stripper heels”). Some men wear traditional masculine attire aside from the shoes (business suits, sports team uniforms, jeans and shirts, etc.). But many men take the event as an opportunity to dress in drag. And when these–primarily heterosexual–men dressed in drag, they often also performed stereotypes of women and gay men that seemed directly opposed to the message organizers sought to send with the event. Although I did see examples of women (and less often men) uncomfortable with some of the men’s behaviors, the majority of marches and audience members laughed with and at them.