On Saturday, April 29, a brigade of men sporting women’s shoes marched from the PAC plaza to Boundary Bay Brewery. The idea of a bunch of men wearing women’s footwear may sound silly or strange, but this stiletto march was not intended as spectacle or joke. The march was part of a growing national effort to raise awareness about domestic violence. Many towns and cities across the country and in Canada are organizing these walks to both raise awareness about domestic violence and fundraise for rape crisis centers and domestic violence prevention programs. Western Men Against Violence coordinated the Bellingham march, with the goal of raising $5,000 for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Awareness Services.
“What [this march] encompasses is trying to get men involved in raising awareness of violence against women, and to ask them to raise money for the local rape crisis center,” said Brian Pahl, coordinator of the Men’s Violence Prevention Program, and director of WMAV. “While it’s done in a fun way—it’s kind of silly asking men to walk in women’s shoes—there’s a very serious undertone to what were doing.”
Anyone who has ever donned a pair of spiky heels can attest to the discomfort that ensues from prolonged wear. In addition to discomfort, this type of high fashion footwear rarely provides good support for ones ankles. Lack of ankle support combined with the unnatural positioning of ones feet in these shoes can lead to an inflexibility of ones Achilles tendons, as well as a variety of spinal problems. Despite the health drawbacks of fancy heels, many women wear them on a regular basis.
The reasons for wearing high heels are many and varied, ranging from fashion to expression to good old fun. However, many would argue that a large part of the reason women wear heals has to do with stereotypes of what is considered culturally attractive and sexy, and that those stereotypes are largely set by male desires and voice. “Women literally cram their feet into these stupid shoes, and were going to have to do that too,” said Pahl.
WMAV has been actively searching the nearby Ross and Payless stores to find women’s high-heeled shoes sized large enough for the average male foot, however this has posed a bit of a struggle. They have found that above a size 11 or 12, most women’s shoes are simply not available. “The idea is to wear the funkiest high heeled shoes you can find, but we won’t stop someone from marching because they don’t have the right shoes,” said Pahl.
As a group, WMAV is dedicated to creating an inclusive atmosphere where men can get together and find creative ways to participate in ending violence. “These issues are divisive,” said Pahl. “Some men are really defensive and people don’t get what this group is really about. This group is really about men getting together and making our community a different place—it’s not about making men feel guilty or blamed that [violence] exists, but an opportunity to make a difference. What we’re hearing is that it’s an opportunity [men] want.”
One creative way to deal with a difficult issue is to create a situation where the intensity of the issue is lightened enough that it can be talked about. “Most people don’t want to hear about domestic violence, but when you put it in this context, it makes it easier to talk about,” he said.
“It is imperative that men participate in ending violence,” said Pahl. “Women have been doing this for a long time and have made really important strides and have done it without a lot of men supporting them. When men say ‘why should I get involved?’ it’s because there is much more we can accomplish when we join in this struggle for equality.”
So if you were wondering why that stream of clacking heels marching down your block was on the feet of men, now you have your answer.