You’ve undoubtedly heard about the amazing state senator from Texas, Wendy Davis, and her day-long filibuster of SB 5, Texas’ anti-choice omnibus bill that would have shut down 37 of the 42 abortion clinics (and which is now being considered again, under a different name, during a second special session of the state legislature). Her bravery and eloquence took the country by storm.
And, on the internet at least, so did her shoes. The hot pink sneakers that Davis wore during her filibuster have become the focus of memes everywhere. Activists have even taken to Amazon to write reviews of the particular model she wore. Buried in the hundreds of reviews, some of which are very funny, are also some stories about abortion and reproductive rights.
Two stories really struck me, the first an allegory about rape and the shame forced upon survivors:
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I was in the market for new shoes a few years back. One night I went to the shoe store and ran into this very pushy salesmen [sic]. I told him that I was browsing and not quite ready to buy yet. He wouldn’t let up on his sale tactics and forcibly put a pair of shoes on me. I ran out of the store crying, not sure what to do.
Every time I would try to take them off, a man would show up out of nowhere and tell me that if I didn’t want them I shouldn’t have put them on in the first place. When I tried to explain they were forced upon me he would say if they were legitimately forced on me, my body would have rejected them. And if that was the case, I should have taken them off sooner. Luckily I had the means to leave the state. At which point I could finally take those shoes off.
I was squeamish about buying new shoes for many years after that incident. After much thought and deliberation with my family, I decided that the time was right. It was time to buy new running shoes. I wanted a pair I could stand in. Be proud of. That say “this is my choice and it is the right choice for me.” I tried on the Mizuno women’s wave rider 16. They were perfect. The fit, the style, the longevity. I feel like I can stand all day long and fight back against all the pushy salesmen when I have them on. They are the perfect choice for me and I hope you can find your choice too.
The second is about lack of access to abortion services and support:
My partner who shares my Amazon.com account hit the purchase button without my consent. I found these expensive shoes that I can’t afford on my doorstep. I just recently lost my job, and I needed the money instead to pay for basic necessities for myself. The money can be better spent to repair and care for the other shoes that I would need for job interviews. Additionally, I have problem feet that require special shoes, and these shoes while amazing and beautiful put the health of my feet at risk.
I tried to return them and explain what happened, but Customer Service said they are not allowed to do returns. The state now requires that they have to upgrade their facilities to become both a warehouse and shoe repair (not just a warehouse) and their service reps have to get cobbler privileges to do a return. They mentioned that I can try to return the shoes to other facilities in other states but those facilities require FedEx. I live in a rural area where there are NO FedEx’s nearby to pick them up and the closest FedEx is almost 200 miles away (requiring an overnight stay at a hotel and gas money I can’t afford).
I am now forced to keep a pair of shoes that I never intended to purchase, cannot afford, and have caused severe deformities in my feet. My other shoes are not getting the care they need due to the expense of these. I tried to sell these shoes on EBay to get others to adopt and enjoy them. Nobody wants them because they are seen as ‘used’ and hence ‘defective’ and are not the popular pink color that everyone wants.
I believe that these stories were shared on Amazon for one simple reason: because Wendy Davis shared her own pregnancy story. She didn’t just rattle of data points and statistics; she shared a vulnerable piece of herself. She told us of the ectopic pregnancy that threatened her life. She spoke about being poor, a young mother parenting alone, and not having enough money to get to work or back home again. She explained that she knew what many of her constituents were faced with, because, as she said, “This has been my life.”
Surrounded by support, Davis continued to share more testimonies that had been left unspoken from previous committee hearings. She was brought to tears reading about individuals who chose abortion because of health risks, fetal anomalies, poverty, rape, and the desire to no longer be pregnant. She invited people from all over Texas to share their stories on her website so they too could have their voices heard on the state senate floor. She reportedly received more than 13,000 testimonies about personal reproductive health experiences.
Many of us have had abortion experiences, and many would like to share them, but we often don’t for fear of rejection, shame, stigma, and isolation. I share my abortion experience publicly in an effort to end the stigma and let those who also have experiences know they are not alone. And each time I share, someone whispers, “I had one too.”
When we hear abortion stories and see those who stand up proudly to share the truth, others know that they can do so as well. They see that the culture is a bit safer to share. Not everyone is able to share their story publicly—many people tell me they just wanted to tell one other person to get it out in the open and off their shoulders at that moment. Sometimes, people share stories with family members, friends, or on a confidential abortion talk line like Backline. But by simply creating the space for stories to be heard authentically, it encourages more story sharing and allows us to step out of isolation. Their voices are empowered.
Undoubtedly, as more states push for abortion restrictions that leave poor and rural people without access to health care, many will come forward to speak on the impact this will have on their lives. More will feel safe enough to share a piece of their lives with us. What those of us on the outside can do is to create a culture of love to support them. Let’s create more spaces where stories are not only shared, but also valued, respected, and heard. Let’s not just stand with Wendy, but with all who share their abortion stories too.