Nubia DuVall Wilson
Red Flats, Feminism and Lockdown Parenting Lessons
Updated: Jun 10, 2020
When I was around seven or eight years old, I had a pair of flats that were red dressy shoes without the strap across the top (which meant I had upgraded from "Mary Janes" to "big girl" dress shoes) and I was so proud. My mother let me buy them after I begged her and I was so excited to wear them with my dresses to school. One weekend, I asked to wear my new shoes to the Mosque as my parents practiced Islam and I was always covered head-to-toe in traditional garb when we went, but this time I wanted to wear something I had picked out. Unfortunately, my father was not happy about this decision and on the way to and from the Mosque (a rather long drive since it was in Washington, D.C. from where we lived in southern Maryland), he and my mother bickered about the situation. I was so confused. Why did my shoes create so much chaos? My mother defended me. My father defended the pillars of Islam. What I did next shocked them, and as an adult, it continues to teach me about the biases we as women must endure with respect to our appearance.
I threw the shoes out. I put them in the trash can in my bedroom. My father didn't notice them that week when collecting the trash around the house because I strategically buried other things on top of the shoes. When my mother discovered what I did, she was shocked and upset, a wave of complicated emotions probably overwhelmed her. I felt shame and suddenly felt like I had wasted my parents money--and we didn't have much of it growing up. But I also felt something else...defeated. I showed them through my actions (because I didn't have the words) that I didn't want to be in the middle of a tug-o-war with respect to what I could and couldn't do in the outside world, so I just gave in to keep the peace in the home. I loved my mother so much and the thought of her getting in a fight with my father to defend me crushed me.
As I raise my daughter who is now six, I constantly question if I am making the right decisions by giving her the freedom to pick the clothes she wants to wear. I let her wear leggings (a big no-no when I was growing up) and she wears dresses that come to her knees (heaven forbid, haha!). I think about the prevalence of sexism and misogyny in our world, and that I am building her character and teaching her self-expression. During the COVID-19 lockdown, I've been thinking about isolation and that so many of the things I have worried about as an anxious paranoid mother were not worth worrying about at all. I need to take my own advice--I constantly tell the kids how lucky they are to have a loving home, clothes, food on the table, a TV, etc. Now I am being more mindful to be thankful that I have a loving, beautiful daughter to raise and inspire to be a proud, strong woman.