Women are born with a treasure between their thighs that some men are willing to commit horrible acts of violence to dominate. Walk A Mile In Her Shoes is a high-profile event designed to make men think about the threat of violence all women (and many gay men) face every day of their lives. Today, Mars and Venus collide, and Walk A Mile In Her Shoes is On Our Radar.
I remember going to the movies one evening at the local upscale mall with an average guy who was not by any stretch of the imagination, Mr. Macho. The entrance we chose was next to Lord and Taylor, where they offered valet parking. As we passed, a well-dressed woman exiting a silver Beamer was handing over her keys to an attendant in a green vest with the mall logo on the back, even though the parking lot offered many vacant prime parking spots. “Can you believe that?” My date asked. “Rich lady’s too lazy to walk thirty feet?”
I was startled by his assumption, because my mind went in a completely different direction. I thought, “It’s lucky the rich lady is able to afford the valet parking, because it will be dark when she comes out, and this way she will be safe.” I could tell my date was genuinely surprised when I ventured my alternate explanation. “I never thought of that!” He admitted. “I guess I’ll cut the rich lady some slack.”
Men and women. Mars and Venus. We can go to the same place to do the same thing and have two totally different experiences. Running to the store a half hour before closing to pick up a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread for a man is a simple errand. Pull into the first empty parking spot, hurry inside, whip out a twenty to make your purchase, wander across a couple rows of cars in the parking lot until you remember where you parked yours, done.
A woman on the same mission circles the lot trying to find a spot near a well-lit entrance. She looks around for any sign of trouble before she unlocks her door, then makes a beeline for the entrance. Once she has her purchase, using her debit card because she doesn’t ever carry much cash lest she make herself a robbery target, she hurries to the exit and….stops. She looks out at the parking lot, fingers crossed that some kind of security will be in view. Many women will call someone on their cell phones at this point. Some do this hoping any undecided attacker might be discouraged, thinking she might be able to give out a clue to his identity before he can subdue her. Others feel if they are attacked, at least someone will know right away and call the police. Many women will smile and wave as they open the door to leave, pretending they have just spotted the friend they have been waiting for to bring the car around. Many others wait patiently for a couple or better yet a family to leave, and travel in their wake, trying to give the impression they are part of the group. Women have many “safe” strategies, but young or old, black or white, Republican or Democrat, pretty or plain, straight or gay, we all have this in common; we breathe a sigh of relief when we’re in the car, the doors are locked and the engine starts.
In an odd way, gay men, who also live with the threat of violence, might be the most attuned to how vulnerable women often feel. Because the average woman’s experience is so different from the average man’s, Venture Humanity, a nonprofit group dedicated to nonviolence, has come up with a unique way to bring the attention of men to the threat all women live under. Walk A Mile In Her Shoes, The International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence, says its mission is to “create a unique and powerful public experience that educates individuals and communities about the causes of sexualized violence, (and) provides them with prevention and remediation strategies.” To that end, they invite groups of men to gather in their own communities and literally walk a mile together in women’s high-heeled shoes .
Part performance art, part social gathering, part street fair, Walk a Mile In Her Shoes recruits men, including local celebrities, to walk a mile in women’s high-heeled shoes, hoping the metaphor will open a conversation about women and sexual violence, and the things men can do to lessen the threat. Police officers, sports stars, local TV newsmen, even a few elected officials have donned a pair of red high heels and toddled down the road to cheers and laughter in a pledge of support for their wives and their daughters, their sisters and their mothers.
Walk a Mile In Her Shoes travels to communities all over the U.S. and many other countries, staging the walks, and starting a discussion at the community level about how men can change their own behavior to keep women safe. Yesterday there were high-heeled walks in Winona, Minnesota, Vero Beach, Florida, and Center Valley, Pennsylvania. Today they will be walking in Albany, New York and Auburn, Alabama. If you would like to discover if a walk is scheduled for your area, you can check out the Walk A Mile In Her Shoes calendar, and if you would like to learn about organizing an event, there’s a link for that too.
Learning about the Walk A Mile In Her Shoes events made my mind go immediately to the Tea Party’s “war on women.” How I wish we could set up a walk for every male in the Republican Caucus! Who needs to “walk a mile in her shoes” more than the senators who refused to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act? I’m sure you remember when Republicans blocked renewal of the 1994 law because Democrats wanted to extend its domestic violence protection to same-sex couples. I think it would be an excellent idea for these gentlemen to walk a mile while they give some serious thought to why they think it’s ok to hit gay or transgendered women but not straight women?
The Republican House Caucus should also take a nice long high-heeled walk while they think about what might have been the consequences of their attempt to change the “rape exception” in the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits Medicaid funds from being used to pay for abortions. House Republicans, including Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, wanted to limit the exception that allows Medicaid to pay for an abortion in the case “rape” to “violent rape”. Maybe the walk would make them realize laws have consequences in the real world. Their change would mean a 13 year-old eighth grader who gets pregnant when Daddy tells her “This is what all Daddies and their little girls do,” would have to carry her own brother to term.
Since so many of our Republican officials seem willing to neglect our country’s pressing problems while they spend their time making life harder for women, I would like to suggest we hold an annual Congressional Walk A Mile In Her Shoes Fundraiser. (It’s Washington, everything’s a fundraiser.) Each male congressman must walk his mile alone, in high heels, with a $10,000 bill sticking out of his fly. If he makes it a mile with the money intact, it’s donated to his favorite charity. If he is ”legitimately” robbed, the money will be replaced, and he can keep it for his campaign. But if he loses his money in a manner female officials decide the congressman should have been able to prevent, he has to donate his own $10,000 to Walk A Mile In Her Shoes, which is a non-profit group. If that seems harsh, (I do know how much politicians hate parting with their own money), remember, these are members of the party that during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings, openly scoffed at the concept of empathy. How else are they ever going to learn?
As I envision the event, each Republican can use his mile walk to ponder whether the officials will consider the 250 pound man in the hoodie who is following him to be a “legitimate” thief only if he puts the congressman in the hospital, or if it will count as “legitimate” if the robber just bloodies his nose and blackens his eyes. There is much for the walker to consider. What if he threatens me with a gun? A knife? A hammer? What if it’s just a piece of broken glass? What if I give up my money because the robber has his hand in his pocket, but it turns out I only THINK he has a weapon? What if he’s put a drug in that bottle of water a spectator offers me as I pass by, and then takes my money while I’m unconscious? If I shout for help will he kill me? If I don’t shout will the judges believe me if the robber says I gave him the money willingly? What if he threatens that if I don’t quietly hand over my $10,000 he will take my 10-year-old son’s money instead? By the end of the mile, I am betting our Republicans will be angrily wondering just what gives these female officials the right to decide what is or is not a “legitimate” robbery?
Walk A Mile In Her Shoes reports that each year more and more men around the globe are participating in their events, learning about the threat of violence all women live with and what men can do to help. They carry signs that say “For My Mother” or “For My Girlfriend,” but even though I looked at hundreds of Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event photos, I never saw a single sign that said: “For My Female Constituents.” (And incidentally, even though rape continues to be a horrendous problem in the armed forces, and in our military academies, I didn’t see anyone in uniform with a sign that said “For My Female Soldiers,” or “For My Female Cadets” either.) Still I dare to dream.
Today, Men and women, Mars and Venus, and Walk A Mile In Her Shoes are On Our Radar.
Jean Ann Esselink is straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.
Event Photos from the Walk A Mile In Her Shoes Facebook Page
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