Now that I thoroughly went off topic, back to ‘Walk A Mile In Her Shoes’. Like I said, I had reservations, but I went in hoping for the best. But it was not too long into the walk before that uncomfortable feeling began to surface. Maybe since I have seen a lot of drag performances and genderqueer individuals, I have been desensitized to the novelty of men in heels, but I felt like the ‘hilarity’ of men in heels should have waned after a few minutes into the walk. Instead, as many people act and behave whenever they are outside of their comfort zone, the ‘hilarity’ of the walk seemed to grow as the walk progressed, and the comments by the participants around me grew more and more sexist and homophobic to ease their own discomfort with doing something ‘gay’. I found myself thinking very specifically of men, of all sexual identities, that are physically and sexually assaulted by other men for the simple fact that they are wearing heels (or other feminine clothing). I thought of my friend, a transwoman, who is routinely heckled whenever she wears a pair of heels. At first, I thought that ‘complaining’ that the walk supported domestic violence and sexual assault while simultaneously reinforcing homophobic masculinity was insensitive of me and distracting from the true reason I was even there. But I realized that the issues of sexual violence and homophobia at its heart have a very common vein: trivializing and devaluing femininity. And although the walk does raise money and awareness for the cause and although it certainly grabs attention, there are issues with trivializing the experience of women (and some men) to wearing heels, even if it is inadvertent. It is one of those ‘do the ends justify the means?’ questions, and I still feel weird critiquing a good cause, especially when I am not really sure I have a better solution or method to getting men to actively advocate for victims of sexual and domestic violence.
After the walk, a friend and I decided to continue wearing the heels for the rest of the afternoon, I guess just as a social experiment. We walked through the main student traffic area (our HUB) just to get lunch, and I lost track of the number of catcalls and comments we received. Some people were genuinely interested in why we were wearing heels; most were content with just laughing and making sexist/homophobic comments. After that experience, I realized that a more thought-provoking way of delivering this message and raising awareness would be to have men walk around in heels for an entire day AND to see if they could do it without cracking jokes at the expense of women or gay men just because they are uncomfortable. I think explaining the issues of domestic violence, sexual assault, and even the devaluing of femininity to complete strangers who are more interested in laughing generates a lot more thought and discussion about a sexually violent culture than just a 20-minute walk with your buddies where you are less likely to have to be confronted individually. Asking men to take the initiative to go solo and try and wear heels for a day might generate just as much thought on rape-supportive culture and homophobia and actually give a lot more insight to what it would be like to actually ‘walk a mile in her shoes’.