(David Belt is the Program Coordinator for the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault’s Man Up! Program. He recently participated in the UMKC Women’s Center’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event on September 25 and wanted to share his thoughts on the event in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.)
Being mindful of the daily experience of many women as being the overwhelming majority of the victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault is not an easy task while walking uncomfortably (and awkwardly) in high heels across a college campus– but this was the challenge several men took on during UMKC’s second annual “Walk A Mile In Her Shoes” march. Of course men in high heels is an odd sight, but on this day it was an opportunity for men, including myself, to get a better understanding and appreciation of women’s experience as well to provide a greater perspective by broadening our awareness. It was a march of solidarity as men came together to show their willingness to support those affected by and struggle against sexual violence.
In my personal experience with the march, I found friends and family members curious but also quick to poke fun due to the uncomfortable topic (sexual violence) as well as the idea of taking part by donning a pair of heels themselves. Frankly, I’m not surprised by their reactions as society, in general, are embarrassed by men taking on feminine stereotypes and would prefer to keep the issues of sexual harassment and sexual violence hidden and voiceless. Even among families and friends there is space to discuss the economic crisis, the presidential race, the energy crisis, or the United States foreign policy, but many would prefer to pay lip service or simply brush under the carpet issues dealing with race, poverty, violence and sexual violence.
The opportunity to take part in this march did provide me with the courage to probe deeper with friends and family in discussing how we can improve gender relations and decrease potential violence in our community. Several of these conversations led to places that I never imagined – both good and bad – but all led to greater understanding of the importance of ending sexual violence in our community and our role, as men, in that struggle. I’m hopeful that this was the experience of many of the participants of UMKC’s march as well as those that participate in the over 1000 other “Walk A Mile In Her Shoes” across the country.
David Belt, MSFT
Man Up! Program Coordinator