walk a mile in her shoes shoes

Every spring, one of my old university’s fraternities would set up an event known as
“A Mile In Her Shoes,” wherein the young men would slip their feet into some high heels, sometimes in dresses and wigs, then walk approximately half a mile to signify the increased social risks women experience simply by being a woman.

Here is the gist of it, according to the march’s home page:

Each year, an ever-increasing number of men, women and their families are joining the award-winning Walk a Mile in Her Shoes: The International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence. A Walk a Mile in Her Shoes Event is a playful opportunity for men to raise awareness in their community about the serious causes, effects and remediations to sexualized violence.

There is an old saying: “You can’t really understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” Walk a Mile in Her Shoes asks men to literally walk one mile in women’s high-heeled shoes. It’s not easy walking in these shoes, but it’s fun and it gets the community to talk about something that’s really difficult to talk about: gender relations and sexual violence.

Here is their promotion video:

Haha, get it? They’re “man enough” use the phrase “man enough,” commonly used to degrade or criticize guys who do not embody stereotypical masculinity! They’re hip! They’re cool! Look at them represent women, all of whom wear patent red leather heels with pointed toes! They’re “man enough” to wear heels because — wait, what? Never mind, they’re just guys wearing high heels while the beginning of that ridiculous Shania Twain song plays over and over and over.

Wearing high heels doesn’t signify the fundamentally different way women and men are treated by society with regard to sex and violence. Higher rape rates, higher rates of molestation, street harassment, workplace discrimination, domestic violence…I could go on, but we all have heard this before, and you are a busy person with things to do.

My issue with these marches isn’t that they are meant to help raise awareness (although many, many events that use the phrase ”raise awareness” are ludicrous and primarily used by pseudo-altruistic groups with self-involved leaders). I’m frustrated that they use pathetically stupid humor, alienate the trans* community and compare clumsily wandering around in high heels to the bemusement of a general community with, say, a single moment of what it’s like to experience violent or threatening behaviors of sexual nature.

walk a mile in her shoes run

Unfortunately for women, it’s not quite as entertaining to have somebody yell at you, chase after you, become irate if you ignore them or get aggressive when you reject them. Do I think men should have to experience that? Hell no, that’s absurd. The answer is never “let’s make things equally terrible.” But do I think they should take it seriously? Yes, and the incredible lack of seriousness for an event surrounding the ”raised awareness” of rape (for the, oh, three or so people who are not already aware of it) is disheartening and unsettling.

I realize I am probably coming off as a humorless jerk who just doesn’t see the contributions that these events do, but I can’t help it — rape isn’t amusing to me, sexual violence doesn’t tickle my fancy and I passed the fifth grade, so men in heels isn’t something I still find craaaazy enough to notice.

walk a mile in her shoes man

As I’ve mentioned many times, because it is relevant and I believe in fully disclosing my biases toward particular issues, I have been raped. Obviously, those instances were awful, and describing them isn’t really something I feel that needs doing since I am absolutely positive there will be readers who already know what I am talking about.

I fully appreciate that people, including many excellent men, are trying to increase awareness of sexual violence, but please, friends, do not tell me you are walking a mile in a rape victim’s shoes because you wore a pair of high heels (for the record, I do not even wear high heels, as they are the devil’s work). To walk a mile in my shoes — and again, this is just me, and every single rape victim is a different person with different experiences — then somebody would have to experiences those attacks, be blamed for them by the people they love most, barely sleep for ten years, get anxious every time there is a loud noise and cry whenever deep voices are heard. This is impossible, which is good because I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, and there are far worse experiences than mine that people go through that I would also never wish on anybody, even for understanding’s sake, but I am still frustrated at the idea that some high heels are somehow going to translate into experiential empathy.

While I am glad that people are paying attention to rape in universities and cities across the country, I am still dissatisfied with how. I don’t believe we should “take what we can get” when it comes to preventing and critiquing rape; we should always strive to do better, to do more.

We shouldn’t need gimmicks to “raise awareness.” Men should be as aware of rape as women are, but as with many of humanity’s issues, things tend to not bother you unless you’re directly affected. Even though it is something that happens to an incredible number of men and women each day, it is still not considered as significant an issue as, say, gun violence or sexting.

Looking at these guys goofily running around in dresses, wigs and stilettos — which also trivializes and increases the stigma against transwomen, who are some of the most frequently-assaulted women in the world — makes me feel like most of these guys have no idea why they are even participating; they’re just doing it for the giggles. Obviously, this is just an assumption and not necessarily true whatsoever, but if somebody were at a funeral and giggling their heads off, you’d have to assume that person didn’t really care about the one in the coffin.

There are, of course, better and more to-the-point things you can do.

How To Actually Help

Yes, I get it: this is a “playful” means by which men can get in on the anti-rape action, but here’s a clue of how to really do that: don’t rape people. Teach your kids not to rape people. Don’t make rape jokes. Don’t laugh at them, either. Withdraw your support from companies and organizations who fail to report rape, don’t fire people for sexual harassment, blame victims, empathize with rapists or use misogynistic marketing. Do not renew contracts for people who have ignored rape.

Call out people on the subway who are making kissing noises or suggestive poses. Stand up for people who are being bullied. If somebody is being bullied, especially by her rapist(s), tell somebody. Tell your friends not to make fun of transwomen or call them “trannies.” Don’t make comments to a woman about whether or not her outfit “sends the wrong message.” In all likelihood, she’s not sending any message; she’s just wearing clothes, and they’re being interpreted by people as messages, which says more about those people’s brains than hers.

Do not hit your partner. Do not justify hitting your partner, or anybody hitting their partner. Do not shoot bleeding targets that are supposed to represent a promiscuous ex-girlfriend. Do not make light of domestic violence.

When you see something wrong happening, say something. If you are afraid to say something to the perpetrator, call the police. Call your parents. Call somebody. Don’t stay quiet. Do not make fun of rape victims. Do not harass rape victims. Do not be friends with people who harass rape victims; they may be your friends, but you should get new friends because those ones are awful human beings. Do not blame victimsDo not blame victimsDo not blame victims.

I think it is wonderful that these men feel it’s important to talk about sexual violence, but we need to do it in a serious way because it’s a serious topic with serious implications, culturally and individually. The cause is good, the intention is good, the efforts are misdirected.

Photos: Flickr