Other People’s Shoes
No doubt you’ve heard the ol’ adage “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”
It captures the idea that you can’t understand someone until you’ve experienced what they experience.
This notion became clear for me in college when I read the book Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. Published in 1961, Black Like Me describes how Griffin, a white journalist, transformed himself into a southern black man in order to, well, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
Here’s Griffin’s summation of his experience:
“Nothing can describe the withering horror of this. You feel lost, sick at heart before such unmasked hatred, not so much because it threatens you as because it shows humans in such an inhuman light. You see a kind of insanity, something so obscene the very obscenity of it (rather than its threat) terrifies you. It was so new I could not take my eyes from the man’s face. I felt like saying: “What in God’s name are you doing to yourself?”
Sometimes, other people’s shoes are painful.
Meet Kim O’Grady. Believe it or not, Kim O’Grady actually walked a mile…in his own shoes. Sort of.
This article tells O’Grady’s story of coming to grips with male privilege. Here’s the tale:
In a Tumblr post titled “How I Discovered Gender Discrimination,” O’Grady shared his story of job-hunting in the male-dominated fields of engineering and management in the late ’90s. Despite his impressive resume and relevant work experience, he was not offered a single interview — until he clarified his gender on his CV (curriculum vitae). O’Grady wrote:
“My first name is Kim. Technically it’s gender neutral but my experience showed that most people’s default setting in the absence of any other clues is to assume Kim is a women’s name. And nothing else on my CV identified me as male. At first I thought I was being a little paranoid but engineering, trades, sales and management were all definitely male-dominated industries. So I pictured all the managers I had over the years and, forming an amalgam of them in my mind, I read through the document as I imagined they would have. It was like being hit on the head with a big sheet of unbreakable glass ceiling.”
After tweaking his resume, O’Grady noticed how quickly his job “luck” changed. “I got an interview for the very next job I applied for. And the one after that,” he wrote. “In the end I beat out a very competitive short-list and enjoyed that job for the next few years, further enhancing my career.” Male privilege — it’s a real thing.