Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" Westminster - Then Take Them Off and Call it a Day

While the debate over abortion and the relentlessly false vilification of Planned Parenthood rattled the nation to the point of seemingly imminent government collapse, my little corner of the world here at McDaniel College took a morsel of time out of the monotonous daily grind of campus life to "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" - the "international men's march to stop rape, sexual assault and gender violence."

Presented by the Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County, fliers handed out to the surrounding community read the following:
"Each year, an ever-increasing number of men, women and their families are joining Walk a Mile in Her Shoes . . . Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is a fun opportunity for men to educate the community about a very serious subject and to rally the community to take action to prevent sexual violence." 
"There is an old saying: "You can't really understand another persons' 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."
"It's critical to open up communication about sexual violence. While hidden away, it's immune to cure. Unfortunately, it's difficult to get people talking. People unfamiliar with it often don't even want to know it exists. It's ugly. People that have experienced it themselves want to forget about it. How do you get them talking now, so they can prevent it from happening? And after it's happened, how do you get them to talk about it so they can recover?"
"Walk a Mile in Her Shoes provides several opportunities to get people talking. For preventive education, it helps men better understand and appreciate women's experiences, thus changing perspectives, helping improve gender relationships and decreasing the potential for violence. For healing, it informs the community that services are available for recovery. It demonstrates that men are willing and able to be courageous partners with women in making the world a safer place." 
 As a member of Gamma Sigma Sigma, a sorority lending services to the event, I got a firsthand look at what was taking place, as well as the attitudes of those involved. While I couldn't have been happier that McDaniel College staff, from the president to a few members of faculty, were taking time out of their Spring weekend to tramp around Main Street in hideously oversized high-heels, waving around signs of solidarity, I almost felt as though it was showing more than it could speak for. What would happen if a rape victim had walked up to one of these men after the walk? What would happen if a student had no where else to go, but felt that, after seeing one of her coaches taking part in the walk, she could go to him  and confide in him what had happened to her? Cars lined the streets, the drivers inside with their faces plastered to the windows, eager to see what was going on. A policeman on a segway followed the group along, stopping to give parking citations along the way. But was anyone really thinking about the tragedy of what their were raising awareness for?
To my knowledge, no one involved was made aware of information to give in the case that someone should confront them with the desire to voice a problem from personal experience, or in the quest for help. No meetings were held to better equip these people with tools for becoming a person of support. No connections were made with the local women's shelter or advocacy groups. So while the walk unquestionably raised awareness, did it really open any channel of communication? I don't believe so.

It is commendable that the nation is coming together on the idea that men could better understand women by being put in their shoes. But the goal must transcend the literal representation - which, if you think about it, is a little bit of an insult to what needs to be happening in reality - and really aim to educate men and organize local groups in the name of of all the issues the movement is seeking to prevent.
(Not to mention the fact that the only McDaniel students involved in the walk were either Gamma Sigma Sigma sign-carrying volunteers, or football players that had been appealed to by their coach to wear heels as they walked down the street.

A week-long celebration of the McDaniel Allies club has taken over the campus this past week. Why did something like this not occur in the name of "Gender Relations & Sexual Violence" the week prior to the  walk? Because it's easier to have a "fun opportunity for men" that to truly address what many men are guilty of - possibly even the same men walking down Main Street with their heels duct-taped to their feet.


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