‘I found myself thinking about high heels’
Photograph by Adam Jones
From The New Yorker:
How long can I keep wearing it? I found myself thinking, as the bus lurched into motion and cars honked around us. The rest of the day? Forever?
I wondered why it hadn’t occurred to me sooner to try wearing a head scarf—why nobody ever told me it was something I could do. It wasn’t difficult, or expensive. Why should I not cover my head here, if it made the people who lived here feel so much better? Why should I cause needless discomfort to them and to myself? Out of principle? What principle? The principle that women were equal to men? To whom was I communicating that principle? With what degree of success? What if I thought I was communicating one thing but what people understood was something else—what if what they understood was that I disapproved of them and thought their way of life was backward? Did that still count as “communicating”?
I found myself thinking about high heels. High heels were painful, and, for me at least, expensive, because they made walking more difficult and I ended up taking more taxis. Yet there were many times when I wore heels to work-related events in New York, specifically because I felt it made people treat me with more consideration. Why, then, would I refuse to wear a head scarf, which brought a similar benefit of social acceptance, without the disadvantage of impeding my ability to stand or walk?
And yet, when I thought about leaving the scarf on for the rest of my stay, something about it felt dishonest, almost shameful, as if I were duping people into being kind to me. Those girls who smiled into my eyes—they thought I was like them. The guy who helped me on the bus—he thought I was his sister.
At that point, another thought came to me, a kind of fantasy, so foreign that I could barely articulate it even to myself:What if I really did it? What if I wore a scarf not as a disguise but somehow for real? I was thirty-four, and I’d been having a lot of doubts about the direction my life was taking. I had had an abortion the previous year, with some reluctance, and everything—every minor defeat, every sign of unfriendliness—still hurt a little extra. I had never felt so alone, and in a way that seemed suddenly to have been of my design, as if I had chosen this life without realizing it, years earlier, when I set out to become a writer. And now a glimmer appeared before me of a totally different way of being than any I had imagined, a life with clear rules and duties that you followed, in exchange for which you were respected and honored and safe. You had children—not maybe but definitely. You didn’t have to worry that your social value was irrevocably tied to your sexual value. You had less freedom, true. But what was so great about freedom? What was so great about being a journalist and going around being a pain in everyone’s ass, having people either be suspicious and mean to you or try to use you for their P.R. strategy? Travelling alone, especially as a woman, especially in a patriarchal culture, can be really stressful. It can make you question the most basic priorities around which your life is arranged. Like: Why do I have a job that makes me travel alone? For literature? What’s literature?