Women for a cause

Today’s AllEyes collection of news photos included two groups of women raising money for female-oriented causes with big group events.  But the actions chosen by the two groups of women could not have been more different.

Raising money for City of Hope Breast Cancer Research were 181 women skydivers from 31 countries who set a new world record for women’s formation skydiving on Saturday. Forty years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to even find 181 female skydivers, let alone women who were skilled enough to pull of this kind of stunt.  I can’t tell if the carefully coordinated pattern of colored sky diving outfits forms a particular symbol –  a pink ribbon? – but it is certainly evident that these are  no amateurs!

This event exemplifies the fruit of the second wave of the women’s movement.  Beginning in the 1970s, women took up many sports that had previously been men-only events — usually because people thought women were too frail or too timid to be successful in them.  While I’ve never had a desire to be a sky-diver (it’s not very friendly to the environment, and sure costs a lot!), the evidence seems solid that there are plenty of women who have the strength, nerves, and verve to carry it off.

This jump raised over $900,000 to fund research into breast cancer.  Who knows how  much it cost the women to organize the jump, but the photo is certainly invigorating.

On Sunday, another group of women held an event to raise money and awareness about the issue of Child-Trafficking.  These women were, in their own way, just as athletic as the skydivers.  But their chosen sport is much harder to understand from the perspective of that second wave of the women’s movement.

They were running an 80-meter race in stilettos.  In 1975, when I worked at the Center for the Continuing Education of Women at the University of Minnesota, high-heeled shoes were a hot topic of conversation.  Two theories vied for supremacy.  Some held that stilettos were a form of oppression, causing pain and even foot malformations simply to make women a more worthy sex object.  Others held that the conspiracy was more deep seated:  stilettos were designed to render women vulnerable to attack and rape by making it impossible to run away, especially across uneven ground.

Both sides agreed, however, that stilettos would be a thing of the past as soon as women designers broke the glass ceiling and took control of the fashion world.  They could be counted on to end the hegemony of this oppressive, sexist footwear.

The current craze for heels – not just moderate pumps but shoes that click like a stick on a wrought iron fence and boost women into the stratosphere – is incomprehensible to me.  Some of my students wear them to class – even at 8:00 a.m.  I cannot imagine the thought process by which a person who will spend her day hiking from class to class, up and down several flights of stairs, would want to wear spike heels to do it.  But there they are.

And so these dozens of women – and, it looks like, a few men – are out running the streets of New York on a rainy day in the shoes that, they all agree, are designed to be sexy.  And this will make people aware of the problem of Child Trafficking.   My mind is boggled.

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