Open Letter from WSAC 2012
About our involvement with Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®
Over the past five years, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® has been a great opportunity for the Women’s Sexual Assault Centre to raise funds for our services and raise awareness about sexualized violence - we have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the Victoria community and beyond. Each year the amount of money raised has steadily increased along with the number of people in attendance, and in 2011 the event engaged over 600 people who raised an amazing $34,000 in pledges. As an added bonus, an anonymous couple in Victoria gave $28,000 as a matching gift bringing the grand total raised to over $62,000. Along with the obvious benefits, this event has been problematic in other ways.
Throughout the years of hosting Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®, we have received varied feedback about its impact and efficacy. This feedback is important to us and, after much thought and dialogue, we would like to share with you some of the many conversations and where it has brought us to date. We realize that the issue of sexualized violence is complex and rooted in our society and it is important not to simplify or minimize the complexity of this issue.
The goal of Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® is to have fun and engage the community in raising awareness about an issue that is often not talked about. However, we are aware that the event hasn't always felt safe or comfortable for everyone. Issues that have been brought forward include:
- The use of the women’s shoe perpetuates gender stereotypes and gender boxes (what is socially acceptable for women and men to wear). In our Project Respect prevention education workshops, we draw attention to these stereotypes and how they can be tied to sexualized violence. By putting on an event such as this, our messaging is sometimes seen as contradictory and confusing.
- Although this event is intended to be “fun and not funny”, this is not always what happens. Laughing at men wearing heels or acting “feminine” can engender homophobic and transphobic behaviours – another cause of sexualized violence. Some allies have expressed discomfort in attending our event because of these ridiculing comments.
At the same time, in the past, some men have come to the event excited to be part of the solution, but left feeling uncomfortable because they felt:
- the messaging viewed them as part of the problem and not the solution;
- the event had an “activist/protest feel”.
We acknowledge that it is true that many people attend Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® in response to the idea of men wearing women's shoes. This is sometimes because they find the concept something that they can have fun with and is beyond the scope of the usual fundraising walk or pledge-a-thon. It can also be the case that the event challenges gender norms in an environment that feels safe to do so.
Whatever the reason, it is clear that the majority of people attend because they care and because they want to walk in solidarity with members of our community to show their support for anyone whose life has been affected by sexualized violence. They want to help break the silence and this event enables them to do so in a very public way.
It is partly because of this that we have made the decision to continue with the event this year and share the following thoughts with you:
- We believe that many of the inappropriate behaviours at Walk a Mile in her Shoes® come from a lack of awareness, rather than hatred. Being part of the solution means becoming aware of these beliefs and behaviors and consciously changing them. We feel it is our role to bring awareness to the impact of these actions and, at the same time, to be allies to those who are affected by ignorance and violence in our community.
- We see the use of the shoe as a door for further conversation about gender stereotypes and violence in our community with an audience we don’t generally have the chance to engage. Our aim is to encourage people to look at how or why they have chosen to be involved with the event, what stereotypes we are perpetuating by focusing on the shoe, and how, by putting people in these boxes, gender violence can happen.
- We feel that change is a process and recognize that we are all at different stages of understanding the complexities of sexualized violence. Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® is an invitation for all people to be part of the ending of sexualized violence – regardless of the depth of their understanding – and our hope is to offer opportunities for thought, dialogue and critical reflection.
We believe that a diversity of tactics is important to help our communities better understand sexualized violence. Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® offers us a venue to broaden our reach and engage people we normally don’t. It provides people who care about this cause, but who may not see themselves as “activists”, a venue to get involved. Although we would like this event to feel comfortable to all of our community allies, we worry that this may not be possible. It is our hope in writing this letter that you will respect our decision to go forward with the event and support us in a way that feels comfortable to you.
One goal this year is to better emphasize the education and awareness potential for this event by offering a variety of opportunities for our supporters to engage in dialogue – both online and in person – about the root causes of sexualized violence in the months leading up to the event. As well we are critically reviewing the messaging and framing of the event, while abiding by the requirements of the registered trademark guidelines.
If you have any ideas or activities that you think would help to address our goals and to make this event more inclusive, fun, safe, thoughtful and engaging - please share them. We look forward to hearing from you and seeing you at the event on Saturday, May 12th from 2pm-4pm at Centennial Square.
Gagan Leekha, Tracy Lubick