A Mile in Her Shoes

“Walk a Mile in her Shoes” is a one-mile march meant for men who, encouraged to wear heels, march to raise awareness about violence against women. According to the events national webpage the march is meant to be “a playful opportunity for men to raise awareness in their community about the serious causes, effects and remediations to men’s sexualized violence against women.” These marches occur in many places in the world and now one is being brought to Chapel Hill as a student organized event.

The attempt by both the original creators of Walk a Mile in Her Shoes and the organizers of the Chapel Hill event to bring new and creative ideas into the work against sexual violence is commendable, and I’m happy to see people getting amped about the cause. Perhaps though, it’s that excitement that has made it difficult for people to look beyond the surface and to think about the implications and possible problems of this event.

Sexual violence is a threat to women everyday. Whether we are wearing heels or not doesn’t change that. In fact, what a woman is or isn’t wearing plays little role.  The assumption that something as small as putting on a pair of heels will serve as a way for men, even as a first step, to understand what it’s like to be a woman, especially in the context of sexual assault, is devaluing and belittling.

I understand that the use of heels use is meant to be a fun play off the expression, but it’s impossible to ignore the way it works to perpetuate gender roles, and to disregard the experience of women that don’t conform in even the smallest ways. Furthermore, it ignores the experience of trans* and gender non-conforming people. Although the event claims its goal is to challenge one gender norm, it’s severely misguided.  A core part of the “fun” is that it’s supposed to be funny and ridiculous that men are wearing heels. In reality, challenging gender roles is not. People in our society that dare to challenge or defy gender norms are treated with disdain, aggression, and often, physical violence.

What does men wearing heels for 20 minutes do for survivors of sexual assault or for women that are scared to walk alone outside for fear of being harassed? It seems that the event will serve solely as a way for men to wave their ally flag, and go home feeling like they’ve done their part in ending violence against women. I appreciate that that the event will be followed by small group discussion, and I think the organizer’s hope that these conversations will result in significant change are virtuous. The event will also serve as a fundraiser for the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, which is a wonderful cause. However, I am skeptical to believe that conversations about such a serious and painful issue had after such a lighthearted, comical, and flippant event will truly hit home.

It is undoubtedly true that the eradication of violence against women has to include men. But maybe, an event that is catered entirely to men and the celebration of their mile-long commitment to an issue woman are forced to face every day of their lives can inadvertently serve to promote the male-centered, world that plays such a large role in the occurring, perpetuating, and allowing of sexual violence toward women.

Overall, I’m excited to see the issue of sexual assault highlighted, especially by students and community members that may have not been previously involved. I’m hopeful that the event will serve a purpose in raising awareness about sexual violence and in expanding the reach of the movement. However I believe that these are serious and important issues that need to be brought to light and considered.

Stephanie Nieves

Class of 2014