On Thursday, you will see men walking down Main Street in Driggs in high heeled (likely red) women’s shoes as part of Family Safety Network’s 11th annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event.
Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, founded in 2001 by Frank Baird in Van Nuys, California was created to improve gender relationships between men and women and give a platform for men to protest violence against women.
From its inception, as a few men walking in a park, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes has grown into an international march that is attended by tens of thousands of men annually.
This international event has not been without criticism. What message does men wearing women’s shoes send? Are we trivializing very serious issues? Does this event just make it all a joke?
I have struggled with these very questions myself. After some soul searching (and research on line), here are the conclusions I’ve drawn.
First and foremost, in no way do I think that men walking a mile in women’s shoes will make them, during a one-mile walk, suddenly have a clear understanding of what it is like to be a woman or to face the violence many women face at the hands of men. That is not the intent. Men walking in women’s shoes is a symbol of men standing against violence against women.
I equate the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes campaign to the Ice Bucket Challenge campaign to raise awareness of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) also referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. As a woman who was the primary caregiver to a husband with ALS who passed away in 2012, I could choose to see the fun and frivolity of people throwing buckets of ice on each other’s heads and laughing as mocking a debilitating disease, but I don’t. If people pick up a bucket full of ice with the thought of how funny it will be but end up learning more about ALS in the process, then progress has been made and more people understand ALS. I feel the same about the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes campaign.
In the field of domestic violence and sexual assault, agencies are very often “preaching to the choir.” The men who have a connection to the cause and want to see the dialogue surrounding gender violence change are already in our fold. They are already serving on our boards, as volunteers, and as ongoing financial supporters. Organizations like Family Safety Network cannot create change by sending the same message to the same individuals.
Events like Walk a Mile in Her Shoes enable Family Safety Network (and organizations like us) to reach further with the message of change. With a funny hook, we can attract new people in our community to the walk, and then share the reality and impact of men’s violence against women. The fun and frivolity might attract them, but the message, for some, will affect change in their own views of gender violence and dialogue surrounding it.
Will there be people that won’t take it seriously and think it’s a joke? Sure. No matter what you are supporting or calling attention to, there will always be individuals that don’t get it and don’t want to. That’s ok. We can’t affect everyone.
But we can affect some. Maybe a handful of men will show up thinking, “Well, I guess violence against women is bad. I’ll walk in high heeled shoes. It will be funny.” But when they register and prepare to walk, they will hear a few minutes about the walk logistics, and then they will hear from other men in our Teton Valley community. These men will speak about why participating in this event matters to them. They will talk about the impact of violence against women and what men can do to help change the dialogue surrounding it. And just maybe, one of the jokesters will stop and think about their own role in creating this change and what it means to walk a mile in her shoes.
Men wearing high heeled women’s shoes is funny and there might be a bit of hilarity to the process of watching men hobble down Main Street in Driggs, but this attention getting campaign opens the door to a very serious topic. As long as sexualized violence is behind closed doors and in the dark, it will remain unspoken about and unchanged. Only by shedding a light on this difficult topic, can we raise awareness and change perspectives. If it takes a funny hook to reach a new audience and impact change, I say, let’s do it.
Please join Family Safety Network on Thursday, September 26. 4:30pm — Registration opens and live music by members of Balsamroots begins. 5:30pm – Speakers, walk, raffle and free bbq dinner provided by Badger Creek Cafe. Rain (post walk festivities in the Senior Center) or Shine (outside)!