Feb 12, 2013

an anti-empathy campaign?



The video above is part of the "not in her shoes" campaign by Planned Parenthood.  The video ends by calling for conversations based on "mutual respect and empathy".  But I think many viewers will think that the slogan "not in her shoes" is an argument that you can NOT empathize - that there is no way you can understand what a woman who chooses an abortion is going through.  I think what they are trying to go for instead in the video is that you should not make decisions for her, but because the phrase 'in her shoes' has been so closely tied to empathy, it causes confusion and I was surprised when they then ended with a call for empathy.

I've blogged repeatedly before about how this turn of phrase 'in her shoes' is problematic. To play with the metaphor, if you are in someone else's shoes, there is no room for them  - you put your reality on top of theirs, you step on them.  That is to say, you run the risk of thinking you really know what it's like to be them, of engaging in appropriative empathy.  I agree with planned parenthood, you are not in her shoes.  But rather than emphasize that, I continue to think it's more powerful to imagine walking alongside her, in your own shoes - in this case, working together for safe and legal access to all reproductive health services for all. 
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