The UW Oshkosh Women’s Center hosted the fifth annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes march on Wednesday.
“Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is the International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence,” according to an email sent by the center. All proceeds from the event are given to Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services and Reach Counseling.
This walk was a mile long and the men attending were encouraged to wear high heels while women were encouraged to come as they were, wearing heels, flats, slippers, tennis shoes or anything else they would like.
“It’s a challenge by choice,” Women’s Center Director Alicia Johnson said. “People do not have to wear heels but we encourage men to do so as a show of solidarity for all victims of sexual violence and saying that it doesn’t matter what people wear, that nobody should be a victim of gender violence.”
There was a variety of sizes and styles of heels available to participants, which were provided by the center on a first-come-first-serve basis. The heels are provided by the center from donations and previous years’ marches.
Johnson said she hopes the men who attended the march leave with concrete actions they can use in their daily lives to help realize gender equity and reduce all forms of sexual and gender violence.
“I think this is a great way to more prominently feature men’s voice in the role for reducing sexual violence and promoting gender equity,” Johnson said.
“Women and LGBTQ+ populations are two populations that have the highest rates of being victims of sexual violence, and so it’s also important for women to be allies to other women, to be allies to the LGBTQ+ community, and for all of us to advocate for one another whether we are survivors or not.”
Chancellor Andrew Leavitt spoke to the crowd in attendance before a keynote speaker took the stage.
“I challenge you to focus on the big reach, the message and the work to be done,” Leavitt said. “And think about a very powerful ‘what if?’ What if we could change our culture so that it does not have to be this way? I particularly hope the men who have stepped up tonight know that once the mile is completed tonight we need to walk a million more. I say that to hold us accountable.”
Leavitt said to be mindful of the words spoken on campus and in the daily lives of students and faculty. He also stressed the importance of holding others accountable to help push the campus to a day when events such as this can be celebratory ones instead of sobering.
A keynote talk was given by Pheng Thao who is the Statewide Men and Masculine Folks Engagement Coordinator for the Men and Masculine Folks Organizing Project, which is currently housed out of Men as Peacemakers.
“[Thao] works both locally and globally within the Hmong community to reduce sexual violence and domestic violence but then to also really change masculinity,” Johnson said. “Moving it from toxic to more healthy. His work is similar the work that is being done in the Fox Valley through Voices Of Men, who is also a cosponsor of Walk A Mile.”
Thao spoke of his work with men and women who are victims of sexual assault as well as those who have committed it.
“We lose focus on who is committing that crime and who’s actually committing that assault,” Thao said. “We think of them as strangers often times. But in my work with people who have done the harm both in sexual offense and domestic violence is that its actually people you know”
Thao discussed the impact of gender and sexual violence on women’s every day lives. He listed common stereotypes of women and the various obstacles women often have to go through in the workplace and everyday life to be seen as equal, as well as how men’s voices often overpower those of women.
“These are practices that we have,” Thao said. “Women having to go to the criminal justice system and having to prove the rape actually did happen. It’s her word against his. Often times what we’ve seen happen across the country is they actually believe the voices of the young men who actually did commit that rape. Or we feel sorry for them. We blame the violence that happened towards her, that she wasn’t good enough.”
UWO campus members Aaron Beiser, Garrett Denning, Aaron Abram and Arthur Wetterau received the 2017 Sole Man award which recognized their outstanding efforts to promote gender equity.
“I realized that simply pointing out the problem didn’t get my point across of the true impact on the women in my life, as I witnessed, particularly in the political realm, decisions being made about women, without women,” Abram said in his nomination acceptance. “For this reason, I have always highlighted the issues facing women in my professional capacity.”
Johnson stressed the importance of coming together to continue fighting to stop sexual violence and to promote gender equity.
“To be able to speak to these issues and then to also engage in the action steps, so challenging sexism, challenging rape jokes and all of those aspects that make it okay to engage in sexual violence towards someone,” Johnson said. “It’ll take all of us to form a collective voice and raise up against these things that should not be happening in our community.”
Thao’s keynote will be available to watch on the Women’s Center Facebook page for those who were unable to attend, and any further donations to Reach Counseling or Christine Ann can be facilitated by the center.
“It’s our responsibility to take this on,” Thao said. “It becomes no longer a women’s issue but it is actually a men’s issue, and it is a men’s problem, because we are actually the ones who are creating the problem. So we also have to be able to end it as well.”