Event aims to raise awareness, empathy of sexual assault

Rachel McLaughlin

On a chilly and somewhat rainy Oct. 29, Grand Valley State University’s Inter Fraternity Counsel hosted the second annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes keynote exhibition and march to raise awareness of gender-based violence such as rape and sexual assault.

In their lifetime, 1 in 4-6 women will be sexually assaulted, with 95 percent of those cases not being reported. At GVSU, 1 in 5 women reported experiencing sexual assault in their lifetime while only 1 in 15 men said the same.

The Walk a Mile in Her Shoes men’s march, founded in 2001, takes place internationally and men are invited to wear high heels in order to symbolize the oppression and sexual violence women face.

Wearing the high heels, men experienced the uncomfortable and constraining gender norms that women are placed under by society.

At 6:30 p.m., participants left the Grand River room at Kirkhof with picket signs in tow with phrases such as “Men can stop rape” and “Ask. Listen. Respect.”

In socks and patent-leather high heels the men struggled to maintain their stability walking through north campus over Little Mac Bridge and around the Zumberge Library.

They started out strong but as the group marched by Copeland Living Center, ankles started to tremble. The men, laughing and stumbling, held onto each other for balance and were relieved whenever a railing was in sight. Many of them walked on the grass as much as possible in order to make it easier.

While the men’s march was to promote a serious cause, the men and women couldn’t help but create a light-hearted atmosphere.

Outbursts of “This is my exercise for the week,” “It’s just a little parkour,” “The heels are so pretty but they hurt so much” and “It’s hard to be pretty” could be heard throughout the substantially sized group as bystanders laughed and shook their heads.

“I wasn’t really afraid of who would see,” said Kyle Bratt, member of IFC. “The shoes were just uncomfortable and kind of hurt.”

Fellow IFC member Darryl Jessup started out slightly self-conscious.

“After putting on the shoes, seeing everyone else doing it, I realized it was no big deal,” Jessup said. “Plus it’s for a good cause.”

After returning their high heels, the men were welcomed back with a presentation by Theresa Rowland from the Women’s Center. Rowland spent the first few minutes going over terminology, mostly the word “consent” which is defined by GVSU as being a clear and voluntary agreement between participants.

“The absence of a ‘no’ doesn’t mean a ‘yes’,” said Rowland, who then showed a public service announcement entitled “Lakers Ask For Consent,” which was made by students at the university.

Faculty member MarcQus Wright took over, presenting the topic of male privilege and sexism. It was shown that in our culture and in our society, violence and sexism are normalcies.

Music videos sexually objectify women, video games bestow the idea that hitting women is okay, and commercials advocate sexism and the separation of gender interests’ – for example how the magazines are sorted at the grocery store with sports next to “men’s interests” and lifestyle next to “women’s interests.” A few sexist advertisements were shown, mostly attempting to sell beer and other things advertised as “just for men.”

The exposition helped participants redefine stages of change, how to improve as an individual and collective, and their goals, one of the largest being to combat violence against women and raise awareness of the negative stereotypes of both men and women. Every attendee was given a call to action: “Every word you speak or don’t speak, every action or inaction has consequences.”

Participants were encouraged to donate $5 to benefit the Rape Aggression Defense program designed to teach self-defense mechanisms and issues surrounding sexual violence and gender socialization.

“It was good to learn what sexual assault actually is and how prevalent gender roles are in pop culture,” Jessup said.

[email protected]