On April 19, more than 90 men will march from Red Square to Boundary Bay Brewery, proudly striding—or hobbling—in high heels to raise awareness about violence against women.
The third annual “Walk A Mile In Her Shoes” benefit, sponsored by Western Men Against Violence (WMAV), will provide men with a rare opportunity to support women and speak out against violence en masse, WMAV staff coordinator Josh O'Donnell said.
“Men do care, but are rarely provided a comfortable space to stand up against violence against women and start the beginning stage of speaking out,” O'Donnell said. “It's a way for people in the community to recognize that maybe there are more male allies than might have been assumed.”
The event will begin at 11 a.m. with registration and an opening ceremony in Red Square and end with an after-party at Boundary Bay Brewery, which has donated the use of its beer garden to the event. DJs from KUGS will provide entertainment and a raffle will be held for iPods, t-shirts and other gifts.
O'Donnell encourages anyone who wants to take part in any aspect of the event to come.
“You can come to the rally beforehand and go on the march with us if you want, or you can just show up at the party at Boundary Bay and donate by buying raffle tickets,” O'Donnell said. “And a lot of people have been wondering if it's just an all-male event, but it's open to everybody. We're more than happy to have women come on the march with us or go to the rally and party—it's just great support for the men.”
At press time, O'Donnell said that more than 90 men had registered for the walk, but according to co-coordinator Cameron Murphey, there is potential for many more participants.
“Since we have been advertising through posters, KUGS and word of mouth to our friends and contacts, we really only have a ballpark idea of how many are coming through,” Murphey said. “The whole planning group is just so stoked to see how many men turn out. It's so important that men get involved in issues concerning domestic violence and sexual assault, since we all are affected by it, whether we know it or not.”
Ben Wurtz, a junior, took part in the walk last year. Wurtz said he initially had reservations about the event but had a very positive experience.
“I thought [the walk] was just for people who were involved with Western Men Against Violence, but that was entirely not the case,” Wurtz said. “I went to the event, had tons of fun and met a lot of really cool people—both men and women. It really opened my eyes to issues dealing with gender violence, and it's a big part of the reason why I'm involved in WMAV and on the planning committee for Walk a Mile this year.”
According to O'Donnell, finding pairs of heels big enough to fit the walk's participants can be a challenge, but isn't impossible.
“Guys come up with some interesting ways,” O'Donnell laughed. “I got mine on eBay because I need like a size 14. A lot of guys go to Value Village and just cut little slits in the sides [of the shoes] so they fit. And I think a few guys last year just took some old sneakers and Bedazzled them.”
Last year, 40 men participated in the walk and raised $1,000 through sponsorship, donations and raffle ticket sales. This year, WMAV hopes to raise at least $3,000. All proceeds from the event will be donated to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services (DVSAS), a Whatcom county nonprofit organization that helps local victims of violence and sexual assault.
“The ultimate goal is just getting them enough funding,” O'Donnell explained. “Even a donation of $10 there goes immediately towards planning an event themselves or helping a victim of violence.”
According to Julie Farrow, development director for DVSAS, the proceeds from programs like Walk A Mile In Her Shoes provide multiple aspects of support for DVSAS and the community.
“Programs like this represent the fact that violence against women is not a women's issue, but a community issue,” Farrow said. “We don't charge for our services [at DVSAS], so any donations we get help us train volunteers, form support groups and keep our 24-hour hotline running.”
Senior Erik Solberg said that this opportunity for widespread change is his primary motivation for doing the walk (this is his second year participating.)
“[The walk] is a way for me to raise awareness regarding these issues while making an impact now, with donations, and later, by working toward a community that actively works to end domestic violence and sexual abuse,” Solberg said.
While the event might be a somewhat comical experience for participants and onlookers alike, the true purpose of Walk A Mile In Her Shoes goes beyond the entertainment value, O'Donnell said.
“It's a really fun event, but its main purpose is to have that beginning step for men to raise their own awareness about this issue,” O'Donnell said. “Men aren't going to understand all the issues that affect women's lives just by wearing high-heeled shoes, but it's a great way to begin that process. It's important for people to see that 50 to 100 men marching down the street can really impact lives.”