It was a quiet Saturday and Lynne was catching up on errands. She stopped at the bird feed store to pick up seed and a new feeder. As she stood there considering her options a woman came up to her and said, “You’re very brave.”
Lynne turned to look at the woman, baffled about what she could have meant, seeing nothing brave about feeding birds. She glanced at the woman’s name tag. ‘Jean’ the store manager clarified her query, “It takes courage to wear red shoes at your age, she said.”
Now this was news to Lynne.
All her life she had been told to follow rules regarding fashion and bodily decorum: don’t wear white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day; don’t wear a skirt with the hem higher than an inch above your knee; sit like a lady; don’t wear tight sweaters; always wear a bra; suck in your abdominal muscles; don’t show cleavage; don’t wear overalls; don’t tie your hair back in a ponytail (the latter two to avoid being grabbed by a random rapist).
These rules were added to earlier behavioral instructions for girls: don’t talk back; don’t contradict anyone, especially a man; always hide your light under a barrel; and, Lynnes favorite, girls should be seen and not heard.
There were even rules about shoes: don’t wear patent leather, boys can see the reflection of your underwear in them; don’t wear high heels, they make you look too sexy; and conversely, don’t wear work boots they make you look like a ‘dyke’ (meaning not heterosexy enough, she supposed).
Lynne had broken most of those rules. She squinted at the woman who found wearing red shoes ‘courageous’.
Words were difficult to formulate as a lifetime of brave living passed before her eyes.
She had left home at sixteen, pregnant and without a penny.
She came out in the late sixties as a lesbian mother, and had to fight for her right to raise her child.
She had marched for social justice for multiple causes, breathing tear gas and staring down riot police holding bayonets.
She had returned to school when she was impoverished, earned a GED, and went on to complete a doctorate in just eight years, rushing through fearing if she slowed down the opportunity might slip away from her.
She had taught classes that challenged racism, sexism, homophobia, and economic injustice during the Reagan and Bush administrations, knowing that could threaten her job.
She had traveled to scary places; she had raised children and grandchildren; and she had slept alone in a tent in bear country.
These things took real courage. But wearing red shoes ‘at her age’?
She looked at the woman standing before her, prim in her buttoned-up blouse. Had she known courage or merely compliance in her life, Lynne wondered.
“I admire your courage,” she told Jean, “thank you for telling me about age and the red shoe rule.”
From then on, at any age – when a situation called for resistance – Lynne wore those red shoes for Jean.