These boots were made for mockin'

The ever-wise Scout Finch tells us in To Kill a Mockingbird that, "Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them." While there is certainly truth in that statement, I don't think Atticus Finch meant that in order to understand a person, you should literally obtain a pair of his or her shoes and then organize a walk-a-mile fundraiser that purports to empathize with their life experiences.

The organizers of the "Walk A Mile In Her Shoes" campaign took the quote a bit more literally. Founded in 2002, the campaign aims to raise awareness and money toward ending domestic violence against women by asking men to walk a mile wearing high heels. In the 2009 Walk A Mile calendar, men are shown in fraternity houses, on the basketball court, wearing police uniforms, and hanging out at the bowling alley wearing – wait for it – high heels! Guys are so crazy.

firefighter in high heels

Now to be fair, the campaign states that they do "not claim that men will understand all women's experiences by simply walking in a pair of high heel shoes." But the men who are sporting "sassy, strappy sandals" on the calendar's pages are quoted as saying that "it takes guts" to walk in high heels, just like standing up against domestic violence. Says one supporter, "The event is a hoot! And I love to laugh and make other people laugh!" Domestic violence? Hilarious!

Don't get me wrong here; I think the hearts of the people behind this campaign are in the right place. I also think that men should be just as active in speaking out against domestic violence as women. But I just can't get past the tone of the campaign, which trivializes women's experiences with violence and puts the focus on the so-called "amazing" sacrifice being made by men who put on a pair of heels for 20 minutes. Do these men want a congratulatory pat on the back?

While looking at the calendar, I couldn't help but think back to last week's episode of 30 Rock, "Believe in the Stars." If you saw the episode, you remember that Tracy and Jenna decided to see who has it tougher in life, a black man or a white woman, by "walking a mile in each other's shoes" and wearing blackface and whiteface, respectively. In the episode, just like in the calendar, putting on another person's clothing didn't really lend much in the way of insight into their life experiences.

While claiming to raise awareness and support for domestic violence issues, this campaign is actually inadvertently reinforcing the gender norms that make domestic violence such a problem in the first place. The men in the calendar (all shown being very, very manly) are given the spotlight, and they use it to mock women's experiences by wearing something (high heels) that represents the subjugation of women by a sexist culture. Domestic violence is nothing to laugh at. Neither are high heels, for that matter.

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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15 Comments Have Been Posted

Which is worse?

I attended one of these walks a few years ago and I couldn't help feeling uncomfortable about it, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why I felt that way. After reading this, I realize that I felt something was being trivialized and this article did an excellent job articulating the reservations I had about it. I think the people that participate in this event have good intentions, but lack a critical perspective on the implications of the high-heel wearing men. This was in a somewhat small Midwestern city I used to live in and I felt happy that anything was being done to bring attention to women's issues in the public sphere. After my experiences directing The Vagina Monologues in this particular community, I became aware of how conservative the city really is. Are issues that affect women (or any issue really) better off being addressed in an incorrect way or not at all? Which is worse? I'm not entirely sure.


Did you really call her "sweetheart"? I mean, really? Wow. I also think it's awesome how you totally missed the point of this article. Nice work.

Why So Serious.

It's a polite way of addressing a woman, darling.

Ms. Wallace is unfairly criticizing a non-profit organizations efforts to benefit victims of domestic violence. As she concedes herself in her post, the activists don't claim that, “men will understand all women’s experiences by simply walking in a pair of high heel shoes.” Out of genuine curiosity, short of the men beating themselves, what would be an acceptable form of showing solidarity with victims of domestic violence?

Step back and objectively consider what you (feminists) want the end result to be: An end to domestic violence or another reason to arbitrarily blame men for your own problems?

fool's gold

First of all, cheers on hilariously using what you surely know to be condescending ways of addressing a female. Not even remotely charming. Also, way to use foolish cliche subject lines. I offer you a hearty pat on the back, bud.

Secondly, Kelsey qualifies her criticism several times in recognizing that "the hearts of the people behind this campaign are in the right place," and I think that they definitely are.

But I'll also agree that this campaign is overly lighthearted, inadvertently likening the suffering of domestic violence victims to that of a dude wearing a pair of high heels for a walk down the block. Not the same, says I.

A little fight in you...I like that.

I'll simply ask in very earnest terms:

What is the Feminist Approved way of conducting the Walks? In what way would you prefer these gentlemen execute their campaign?

Seriously, I'm not being rhetorical or facetious.


Simply because the walks are organized as a fund raiser doesn't mean they are immune from criticism. While this may be better than a bikini car wash or a wet t-shirt contest at the frat house, it doesn't mean that it's the most non-sexist philanthropic event ever.

I've been asked to coordinate these walks at two different college campuses and at both my answer was the same, why do we have to employ stereotypical femininity (high heels) in order to combat what is essentially a problem with masculinity. And wearing high heels isn't going to make hypermasculinity - rape culture - disappear.

Besides, it doesn't take an idiot to see that many of these men who participate actually do think they are gaining some sort of concrete knowledge about women's experiences by walking a mile in high heel shoes. How utterly stupid. Not only that, but the calendar actually resorts to misrepresentation because in order to ensure that they come off as properly macho, even in high heels, the "models" strike ridiculous poses in ridiculous outfits.

The point of the criticism, it seems, is that there are lines to be drawn around the issue of domestic violence and men can't claim much authority to make fun of it. Particularly not the frat house bunch, who tend to be over-represented in on-campus sexual assault perpetrator cases. Whereas the Vagina Monologues has some very funny moments, it is different because it is a play based on women's words, written by a woman, and performed by women. Men walking around in high heels brings everything down a notch because it plays on stereotypical images of masculinity/femininity, which has everything to do with perpetuating domestic violence, and nothing to do with eradicating it.

And contrary to your own blog posting, the fact that a high heel was (supposedly) invented by a Medici duchess matters little. The use of a shoe to increase stature says a lot about the value we place on height, as well as elongating the leg and so on. The shoe itself is the product of a masculine culture that expects its women to look and act a certain way. And THAT's what's problematic about them, regardless of their popularity within the Sex and the City crowd.

Rock on Kels.


I'll tell you why you're mistaken, for the most part, in the morning, Joshua.

But I reiterate, if high heels are so offensive and masculinity offends you, <b>What do you think is the acceptable alternative for the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes men?</b>

Here's an alternative

How 'bout they just walk a mile in their own shoes? Or do you believe it's necessary to have an absurd gimmick? does need an absurd gimmick. Welcome to Marketing 101.

Thank you. Follow my logic carefully and let us agree to the following:

Our overall goal is to stop sexualized violence against women.

One way to stop sexualized violence against women is to raise awareness and money.

In order to raise awareness and money, people must know about the issue and the fundraising efforts of the campaign.

<b>Unless there is a newsworthy angle on the story</b>, it will not get coverage.

As someone with a background in media, I assure you that men simply walking for a good cause, unfortunately, is not what blood thirsty news outlets are looking for. If you want results in our perverted media environment, you've got to be willing to get your hands dirty and play the game. Otherwise, feminist issues will continue to be the butt of chauvinist comedians jokes and the reason I didn't vote for Hillary.

So choose:

A) Make the men wear something "Feminist Approved" that a large audience won't want to look at, and therefore, won't care.

B) Let these men tactfully do something out of the ordinary that will get attention and will help victims of sexualized violence.

Don't let your animosity towards an imaginary male dominated world hurt the victims of domestic violence. Because that's <b>all </b> you are doing.

Apparently I'm offended by masculinity now...

I love how you've taken my comments and assumed you know enough about me to tell me that I'm offended by masculinity. It says a lot about you and why you might be kind of obsessed with defending this antiquated machismo.

I also love how you've trotted out the typical "Well what's the solution" crap in order to silence objections. I don't need to have a solution in order to voice the fact that I don't like something. It would be kind of like going to a restaurant and commenting on how you don't like their coffee, but not be able to say so because you don't know the name of another coffee distributor to tell the owner. Ridiculous. Sometimes the critique itself is what is needed in order to start the process of change.

I also also love that you've decided to trot out your supposed "background in media" as if that gives you any sort of authority here. Well I'm not going to bow down before the altar of the Commodore and assume you're actually telling the truth. Sheeeeeeet, I'm the f-ing Dalai Lama. Did you buy that? And that's only slightly less credible than your expertise. The double edge to the sword of anonymity. Hell, I have a "background in media" too: I used to write for my college newspaper. Does that qualify me as an expert? How about being a blogger? Or whatever. I'll start to bite on this one when I find out you're employed by CNN.

All that said, I'll play your solutions game. I already mentioned one, the Vagina Monologues. Same issue, much, much better. I know plenty of men involved with V-day, even one or two who have atypically performed at them. Also, there are plenty of other walks, sporting events, etc. etc. etc. that attract large audiences and media that don't rely on stereotyped images of femininity. That doesn't mean they aren't problematic as well, it's just that they're not parading around in heels. (By the way, I love how my choices are narrowed down to banalities as if there were only two options here: yours or the "evil feminist's.") There are countless ways that these men could be helping put an end to DV, and one of the most powerful ways is to 1) have healthy, respectful relationships with the women in their lives, 2) deconstruct their own masculinities and become pro-feminist, gay affirming men who don't have to resort to violence to solve conflict, 3) believe and tell other men that it's ok to judge your masculinity on something other than sexual conquests, quantity of beer chugged, or number of knockout punches thrown.

Speaking as a man, and one born and raised in a violent male culture, I'm pretty sure that I'm not imagining things when I say that men dominate this world. To say the least, I think it's pretty important to take women seriously enough to believe them when they say that this world hasn't been created in their image. To ignore feminism is simply to reify patriarchy. You don't have to buy into all of "their" solutions (as if there is only one feminism), but I think it's kind of impossible to not take feminist criticism seriously. I also think that my standpoint as a male speaking out against these caricatures of femininity that get trotted out to "help the women" actually does more to end DV than to stand by and just let the guys do their thing. So, I certainly won't lose any sleep over you trying to tell me that my voice here is hurting the victims of domestic violence. I'm betting that my years of feminist activism, two years of employment at a campus women's center, and academic work in gender studies has done an awful lot to influence many people around me. I think I'm ok on that front.

To conclude, the point isn't that I'm opposed to masculinity. I'm simply opposed to the kind of masculinity that gets shoved down my throat every day, the kind that makes my loved ones hate themselves because they're gay and constantly told they're not man enough, the kind that makes me worry about the women in my life when they are out late or at a bar. DV is a man's problem, therefore we have MORE responsibility to fight it, and we're not going to do that through vamped up philanthropic events like the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes campaign. the use of the use of the term 'sweetheart' you in fact DO NOT "respectfully" disagree.

I respectfully disagree with

I respectfully disagree with some of the comments made in this article and other posters. Walk a Mile in Her Shoes (WAMIHS) is also an event that is happening here in Bellingham, WA and while I have heard some criticisms of this march similar to the ones brought up in this post, I find the event to be a positive way of increasing awareness.

As an employee at a domestic violence and rape crisis center, I work closely with the Men's Violence Prevention Project at our local university who hosts the march. I am sure every WAMIHS March is coordinated differently, but I have been nothing but pleased with how it is conducted in our town. The men's group that hosts does a LOT of education in our community about men's roles in ending violence against women and the march is used simply as another tool to promote awareness as well as fund-raise for our agency. This march is happening in congruence with many other events they take a role in during Sexual Assault Awareness Month and throughout the year; WAMIHS is just another "type" of event that happens.

If participants truly believed that walking down the road in heels for a half hour was about the same as experiencing the trauma of violence, would I be offended? Obviously, yes!! But from what I have heard at the rallies that are held both before and after the march, men participate for a variety of reasons: they want to feel the support of other men dedicated to the cause, they want to publicly support the women in their life affected by violence, they want to be a part of, yes, an attention-getting campaign that helps turn heads and raise money for our agency. Could they get all of these things without walking in women's shoes and simply walking in their own, as another poster suggested? Probably. Do I think some men go to the march just because they think, "Violence isn't okay, I guess, but I think it'll be fun to wear high heels in public."? Probably. But sometimes just getting someone THERE is the first step, for whatever reason they came. And do I think that once men are there (for whatever reason) they can be moved by hearing compelling speakers talk about why even though this march may LOOK funny, it is part of a deeply hurtful issue? Absolutely. Seen it happen at the march, many times.

In my experience (which is simply that...MY experience), it is difficult to get new people involved in the movement, especially in a smaller community like my own. Many of our awareness events have a "preaching to the choir" problem; the same people who are well-versed in the issues show up every time. I am one of those people myself, and while it is so, so, so important to recognize and uphold these relationships and hard work, it is also important to open the door to others. WAMIHS comes from a different angle and, therefore, encourages new participants to take part. And if the march is done with the beautiful care, intention, and heart I have seen, I can get on board. Seeing men take their first steps into this issue is exciting. Even if it is a high-heeled one.

Good point

I don't entirely disagree Jenn, but mostly because the WWU men's program is pretty excellent and they use the walk in articulation with a broader feminist/pro-feminist program on masculinity. I still don't like the event for many of the reasons above, but I'm more comfortable with it happening at WWU than at many of the other places I've been.

I wholeheartedly agree, though, that getting people there, out, and vocal is key, I just think it can happen in other ways. My own touch with reality came at a Take Back the Night rally, so I understand the power of such events.

Keep fighting the good fight and thanks for reminding us all about the dangers of essentializing. There's always going to be men who take this event seriously and are genuinely moved by it. I'm just not convinced that those men will outnumber those who just won't get it and use it as another event to reify a dangerous masculinity.

What is this place? Who are you people? Is this for real?

Arguing on the Internet is what will stop domestic violence, not going to events such as this and showing your support.

If you stopped arguing here, and <b>went</b> to some of these events against domestic violence, maybe, just maybe you'd be helping the cause. Changing something is pretty easy to talk about; why you're right, why they are wrong, etc. It starts becoming difficult when you actually have to do something.

Something tells me most of you resort to arguing over feminism, and don't <b>do</b> anything about it.

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