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.
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.