I am a 20-year-old woman.  I am about to be a junior in college, and I have no high heeled shoes.  None.  Zero.  Nada.

Especially not these, why would you put that on an innocent shoe??

Not that I don’t like high heels.  They make my legs look great, and they carry a certain elegance, regardless of concerning undertones.  But I have to walk a couple of miles a day, and if I wore anything higher than a two-inch heel I’d be taller than half the guys I know.  There’s a bigger reason, though, that all of my shoes are sensible, ugly affairs.  That reason is my mother.

I have big feet.  I’m not exaggerating for dramatic purposes – I have US size 10.5 feet.  (The average American woman wears a size 8.)  And my feet are flat.  One of my best friends in the world, despite being a couple inches taller than me, has small feet with perfect toes and perfect, high arches.  I don’t have arches.  And finally, unlike my mother, whose toes descend in order of height from long big toe to short little toe, my big toe is about half an inch shorter than the toe next to it – a dominant phenotype, by the way, but I so rarely saw other girls’ feet growing up that I felt like a freak.

So I inherited my dad’s feet, basically.  The Bigfoot gene goes at least back to my grandmother’s family.  (When I was eleven, I met my great-aunt for the first time.  My feet were already size 10, and being fairly tall for my age, I was hoping against hope that my big feet might mean a tall, graceful figure in my future.  My great-aunt, who never broke 5’6”, told me, “I have size 13 feet,” and that was the end of my dreams of tallness.)

My dad, who was fond of teasing, told me I’d be good at swimming.  My mom, who’d been a dancer in her youth, told me I’d be a good ballerina.  “Big feet are a strong foundation,” she said.  And she sent me to school in white women’s tennis shoes instead of the sparkly pink Converse all my friends had.

Maybe because my parents had had me in their very, very late thirties, I was always sensibly dressed in elementary school.  I wore denim shorts and skirts and souvenir T-shirts that hid what little figure I had.  One of my clearest memories from fifth grade is standing outside, wearing a straight skirt, a big shirt with a cheetah face on it, and the ubiquitous white tennis shoes, while the popular athlete I had a crush on giggled with his friend, occasionally stealing glances in my direction.

(All of my friends were talented writers and artists and I, easily the least talented of the bunch, had about as much of a chance with a “jock” as I did of winning the national spelling bee.  Forgive me, I had only just discovered hormones and was mystified as to what they were and how to control them.)

My very first pair of “high” heels (two inches, tops) was for my sixth grade dance.  I’m still not entirely sure that my parents were happy with me wearing them, but wear them I did.  They were strappy sequined sandals and it was so weird, looking down and seeing my big painted toenails instead of the usual black or white tennis shoes (I went to a school that had uniforms) that even a decade later, they are ingrained in my memory.

Fast forward with me a little to the last few weeks before my freshman year of college.  I was reading all the Facebook posts from other freshmen and came across a thread about what sort of clothes to pack.  Every single other girl (or so it seemed) was talking about packing “formal, semi-formal, casual, and work heels,” and I had absolutely no idea what any of those were.  Furthermore, I didn’t understand why one would pack so many heels if one had to walk or bike everywhere, as most Rice students do.  Would you wear tennis shoes to walk or bike in, and then change once you got to your destination?  Wouldn’t wearing white athletic shoes with a fancy dress seem terribly gauche (this was before the word “gauche” triggered unwanted orgo flashbacks)?  I didn’t know.  And when I went to college I packed exactly one pair of wedges, cloth white-and-blue calico uppers, that I wore to matriculation and then never touched again.  Even at my very first semi-formal, I wore boots and stockings with my lace dress.  Pity my poor date (“date” here means “eating partner”.)

I’m on the right.  Duh.

So what’s the deal?  Anyone who knows me in real life knows I buy and wear my fair share of flashy, trashy party clothes.  Why wouldn’t I wear $15.99 shoes to go along with them?

As I said before, I have my mother to thank (not blame).  Shoes play a more intimate role than other clothes in one’s well-being, and really, social and academic prowess.  You can’t stay as long as you’d like at a party if your shoes are rubbing holes in your feet, and you’re going to have a hard time walking half a mile to class the next day (I’m looking at you, Baker.)  By keeping me in boring, plain, sensible shoes for so long, my mom instilled a love of podiatric comfort in me.  And thanks to friends, style and etiquette guides, and other outside influences, I’ve now learned that it’s entirely possible for pretty flats – and even high heels – to be as comfortable as a pair of slippers.  But those shoes are likely to be expensive, and a purchase I have to consider carefully.  I guess those classy black or nude pumps and flats are going to be ever more representative of my wardrobe as I get older.

But not yet.


Arrogance vs. Truth

I wrote about the problem of arrogance a little bit on my old blog, but lately I’ve found myself having problems with it again.  

Rachel Parent is a fourteen-year-old self-described anti-GMO activist.

I knew a lot of kids like her growing up.  Like, a lot.  And I know many at Rice, too.  After all, intelligence isn’t limited by age.  There is no cutoff age below which one cannot learn calculus/chemistry/vocabulary.  And I will concede that Rachel Parent is very well-spoken and very, very smart.  But does that make her someone I should listen to?

I would argue no.  When I watched her popular debate video, I couldn’t help but think of the invisible power play going on.  Rachel Parent is pretty, thin, white, and young.  If she had lost that debate, or even come off badly in it, the Internet would abound with cries of bullying and misogyny.  I suspect she knows this and is using it to her advantage.  Refuting Parent’s ludicrous claim that one would have to eat 27 bowls of golden rice a day to get the full RDA of Vitamin A – Vitamin A deficiency, which is what golden rice was developed to combat, kills hundreds of thousands of children a year and is a leading cause of preventable blindness – would be easy if she were anyone but aforementioned pretty little white girl with dreams of saving the world.

“But Amber,” some of you are saying, “what about you?  Haven’t you fought tooth and nail for your opinions to be recognized as equal and valid?  How would you feel if someone held your gender, white(passing)ness, or age against you?”

Ah, this is where my old problems with arrogance/condescension come back full swing.

See, I have several very powerful, very entrenched, very controversial (particularly in this part of the country) opinions.  I believe, full stop, in a woman’s right to choose abortion.  I believe in marriage equality.  I especially support GMOs and VERY especially (this is my berserk button if anyone tries to disagree with me) support vaccinations.  When I say I intend to work for Big Pharma one day, I’m only half kidding.  

In the past two years at Rice, having chewed my way through many natsci courses, I haven’t come across a shred of evidence to detract from those last two opinions.  Occasionally, while trowling the Internets, I will come across someone with an opposing point of view who has reasonably good arguing points and is reasonably respectful towards me, and in that case I am not above a friendly, relaxed discussion.  But that happens more and more rarely to the point where I actively avoid any conversations about politics.  If I spot an anti-GMO/anti-vax post on Facebook (for instance), I do my patented bomb-and-run technique – I limit myself to one post and then exit the page.  

There have been several situations in the past couple of years where I’ve had my age/ethnicity/gender used against me – like when an ex-friend of mine told me that “women have it easy,” or when I became an oppressor, a constructed person, skin white as snow, for a whole group of minorities on Tumblr to direct their ill-contained rage at.  And of course, there’s always those who say “Oh, you’ll know better when you’re older,” “You’ll know when you have kids,” “You’ll know when you get sick from vaccines/GMOs,” etc., etc. etc.

And that just sticks in the deepest part of my craw (wait, that sounded dirty) because deep down, I know some of those ad hominem attacks have validity.  Compared to the majority of women on this earth, I do have it easy (maybe not as easy as men, but that is a different story); thanks to some quirk of genetics, I was born with Caucasian features and pale skin (bleached even whiter by long nights blogging) and a French-Canadian sounding last name; and finally, I am young.  I am 20 years old.  I have no kids, nor have I ever been pregnant.  I hold the equivalent of an associate’s degree in biochemistry.  The amount of significant life events I have tucked under my belt is woefully low.  

Is that my fault?  No, of course not.  But it does significantly impact my opinions and knowledge.  And the fact that I am fairly intelligent (relatively speaking) really does me no favors.

Let’s talk about GMOs and vaccines for a minute.  The worst side effect any drug has ever given me was stained teeth.  I do not have ASD.  I do not have a chronic illness that doctors are unable to diagnose.  I cannot fathom the pain that such individuals and their families may suffer, or their relief when they are presented with vaccines/GMOs as a possible cause.  And when I show these people studies from the NIH and WHO, and start talking about ACh, and different strains of E. coli, and proper laboratory methods for lysing bacteria, I usually get a blank face and/or a plea to “stop being so condescending!”

Which I am.  I act like my ability to understand just a little more science than the average person is a superpower or a blessing when really it is neither.  And really, compared to actual scientists in the field, or professors at Rice, or even the rest of my class, I am pitiably undereducated.  

I’m at that age where I’m old enough to want to save the world and young enough to think I know how.  And that’s the source of this strange feeling I get when I watch or read Rachel Parent – although I would never accuse her of being arrogant (that would be like the pot calling the kettle black) she explains GMOs and golden rice like they are the easiest things in the world to understand, when really biotech is an incredibly complex and ever-changing field.  I sympathize with her.  I was her, six years ago – although on the other side of the aisle – and I still am, a little bit.

Knowledge is only a part of the puzzle.  Experience is only a part of the puzzle.  The biggest piece of all is understanding … understanding the other side(s), their fears, concerns, what drives them, and maybe even more importantly, understanding oneself.  I think that’s the only way to move past pointless, circular Internet arguing and on to real life solutions that will make most of us happy and all of us healthy and safe.