Awareness campaigns like Walk a Mile in Her Shoes make us feel like we are accomplishing something, but fail to address the systemic problems of privilege and oppression these campaigns try to address.
Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, which just happened two weeks ago, is an annual event in which men march up and down Court Street in women’s shoes to express solidarity with female victims of sexual assault. I know a number of men who have gotten something out of the walk and I do not want to completely invalidate that experience, but I think we do need to acknowledge some of the inherent problems with the event.
On the surface, Walk a Mile is incredibly gender exclusionary. Only men are allowed to participate in the physical walk. Women can offer “sideline support” by carrying signs and giving men hive fives along the way, but this still completely erases the experiences of male victims and those who do not identify as either male or female.
Statistically, women are subject to more street harassment and rape than their male peers, but I think the walk contributes to the false binary that “men are rapists” and “women are victims.” Both men and transgender people can also be victims, and events like Walk a Mile in Her Shoes and Take Back the Night generally exclude them.
The walk also reinforces that being a “man” should be associated with toughness and the opposite of being a woman, with signs like “I Am Man Enough to Walk a Mile In Her Shoes” or “Real Men Don’t Rape.” I am skeptical that appealing to men’s masculinity is a sustainable way to talk about a culture of sexual assault.
Ironically, Walk a Mile may also reinforce that it is not OK for men to wear feminine shoes in public. By creating a space once a year where it is socially acceptable for men to wear high heels, it reminds us that it is deviant to do so the other 364 days of the year.
Obviously the event is symbolic, but donning high heels and a dress any other day of the year and trying to walk down Court Street at night without being harassed would probably be a closer approximation to what many women experience on a daily basis.
We often fall prey to looking for easy solutions to complex problems – this column included. Confronting sexual assault on campus will take more than awareness events, but instead focusing on creating a community that cares about each other and is intolerant of sexual assault in all forms.
Easier said than done.
Matt Farmer is a senior studying education and political science. What do you think about Walk a Mile in Her Shoes? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.