‘Walk a Mile’ is problematic



Opinion columnist Brenna Wolfe pens a response to a column that appeared in the April 5, 2018 issue of the Northern Iowan that called for the return of the “Walk a Mile” event.

BRENNA WOLFE, Opinion Columnist

Last week, Sarah Ritondale wrote an opinion piece calling for the re-emergence of the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event on our campus. The event includes men walking in high heels to raise money for sexual violence advocacy.

As the president of Northern Iowa Feminists (NIF), I personally have worked with the officers of Sigma Phi Epsilon (SigEp) to end this tradition with the Interfraternity Council (IFC).

SigEp and NIF have had open discussions about why “Walk a Mile” is problematic. SigEp communicated these concerns with the IFC, discussing the reason Walk a Mile is not happening on our campus and why it should stay that way.

“Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” makes light of sexual violence, makes fun of gender expression and continues inaccurate assumptions about sexual violence.

Sexual assault can happen at any time to anyone wearing anything.

The fact that the “Walk a Mile” event includes stiletto heels is perpetrating the assumption that women are sexually assaulted based on their attire and their activities. With heels as the center of the walk, the event evokes the image of women wearing heels with revealing clothing going clubbing.

This image implies that sexual violence occurs when women get drunk with strangers. In reality, most victims of sexual violence know the perpetrator.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 93 percent of children and teen victims know the perpetrator. This includes family, acquaintances, coworkers, dates, etc.

Sexual violence does not always occur when women wear heels.

Men and boys are affected by sexual violence, too. One in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lives, and one in 10 rape victims are male (RAINN).

Ritondale suggests changing the name of the event to “Walk a Mile in THEIR Shoes” in order to be “inclusive” for everyone.

I’m sorry, but if people are still walking around in heels, how is that bringing violence against men into the discussion? Most men don’t wear heels. Changing the word to “their” does not make the event “inclusive.”

The entire “Walk a Mile” event makes light of a serious, systematic problem. One in six American women have been the victim of sexual violence in their lifetime (RAINN).

That is an incredibly high number, and female college students have a higher rate, at one in five women.

This is affecting so many women, and the answer is for men to have fun walking around in heels?

I was shocked to read what I perceived as Ritondale’s complete disregard for survivors of sexual violence. She argued that the event should be fun. I know many survivors that think this event is cruel and not funny.

“Walk a Mile” is triggering for survivors to see men having fun while “advocating for sexual violence.” The event does not offer the solemn reflection that sexual violence deserves.

Ritondale continued that, “They walk in high heels because it is a difficult task — just as many survivors walk around carrying the burden of sexual assault on their shoulders.”

So sexual violence is comparable to the pain of wearing heels?

Ritondale questioned if the backlash against this event would occur if a sorority held the event, and yes, it would. I am completely against “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes,” no matter who sponsors it.

Ritondale implied that Greek philanthropy is under attack and viewed as not “enough.” I support Greek philanthropy…when it’s done right.

When Greek life listens to the voices of the communities they are advocating for, philanthropy is a great success for all. But the “Walk a Mile” event is problematic philanthropy that disregards survivors’ feelings.

Lastly, “Walk a Mile” completely disregards violence against the trans community.

For transgender people, there are higher rates of violence and sexual violence. Making fun of gender expression is not funny when trans people (who express their true gender) face violence.

Why is Ritondale trying to bring back this event when there are other great Greek philanthropy events happening? As she wrote, “Sexual assault sees no gender. So why can men not advocate against it?”

Men do advocate for sexual assault awareness. For example, Sig Ep’s Sexual Assault Awareness Week raises money for the Riverview Center.

On Wednesday, Sig Ep is hosting a dinner with prizes, and all the donations will go to Riverview.

In addition, there are Mentors in Violence Prevention events that encourage men to have discussions about sexual violence.

These are respectable, great events occurring on our campus that put the survivors first and raises money without making jokes about sexual violence.