(Photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
Respect and admiration were the first things that came to mind after I completed a one-mile walk through East Tennessee State University’s campus in five-inch high heels.
Not respect and admiration for myself, though I deserve a little bit of credit for both completing the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event and staying on my feet somehow the entire time, but respect and admiration for the women who weasel their feet into those muscle-killing, toe-breaking, bright-colored foot containers. But that was the point of it all, for men to understand what it’s like to be a female, a fellow human being much more likely to be the victim of sexual violence.
Watch Tony Casey's first-hand video account of the walk below
That’s exactly the point organizer Kate Emmerich wanted to convey with the event, where several dozen men from sports teams, fraternities and other clubs on and around campus all walked a track of pavement around ETSU in high heels.
“This is definitely a crowd of men who walk the walk,” Emmerich told the tired crowd after the great endurance event.
Before the walk took place, which started at the Cave Patio, Emmerich spoke passionately about the troubles facing both women and men in regard to sexual violence. She issued a challenge to those in attendance, especially the men, to stand up for what’s right and speak out when they witness someone doing something morally questionable, like make sexist jokes that degrade women, or not respecting boundaries in the way of sexual consent.
It often takes bravery for someone to stand up in tough situations like that, she said, but what the men in attendance showed they can do by walking a tough, hilly course through campus is that they could certainly stand up for women.
The event, put on by OASIS (Outreach and Advocacy: Sexuality Information for Students) on ETSU’s campus, where Emmerich is a counselor, worked in conjunction with the sexual assault prevention program Take Back the Night. It chose the color red as the official color of the heels to be worn by the participants.
With my women’s size 10 shiny silver heels, the only pair I could find that would keep my feet on board, I had to accessorize to stay true to the color of the event. Ah, some red butterflies will do just fine to bring this all together — with none of my lovely wife’s help, I might add — and I was to good to go.
This amateur move of adding red butterflies proved to be a fine decision, because I couldn’t say “thank you very much” enough to the compliments I earned for the design of my shoes. Up and down ETSU’s roads we did travel, earning honks and cheers from drivers and passers-by, all giving support to the cause. The event featured bright red heels, colorful T-shirts and signs and a fun, jovial crowd ready to do something silly for a good cause. It was a fun event, but more was it a unique way to shed light on a truly scary problem.
ETSU freshmen Chip Madison and Josh Shepherd, members of the Student Veterans Association, recognize sexual violence as big deal worthy of an event like “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.” Both military men, the two said they’d both received training with their respective branches, but noticed a lack of discussion on the topic on campus.
“People need to be generally more aware,” Madison said. He thinks packing his feet into a pair of his wife’s size 9½ heels would be a good way to get the discussion moving.
Shepherd required a bigger shoe to contain his foot. He called himself a giant with heels, putting his feet into a men’s size 14, women’s size 17 sparkly red pair of heels. Without the Internet, Shepherd said he’d never have found a pair big enough for his feet. As difficult as it was at first, Shepherd’s attitude toward heels, unlike mine, got better, not worse.
“I got the hang of it and ended up jumping up and clicking my heels together,” he joked. Madison, too, improved his heel maneuvering, saying he was able to run in them without much trouble.
I can’t say the same. Though I found myself around some extremely supportive people, some carrying signs who lent advice about how to walk in heels, told me my calves looked sexy and all the people cruising in front me had much easier heels to walk in than my death traps, temporarily lifting my spirits. But it only got worse as I journeyed through the mile.
Riding parallel with West State of Franklin Road next to the new parking garage, Emmerich and her team were successful in drumming up support from cars, who honked passionately as Emmerich spoke on her megaphone. And, with a collapse at the “finish line,” though this wasn’t a race, I found myself with more respect for women than ever before.
Add in cupcakes from Earth Fare, treats and water from Walgreens, information about sexual issues from the Washington County Health Department, Planned Parenthood, the Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee and from nurses who treat sexual assault situations, and it was clear Emmerich’s team had put together a righteous and informative event.
The event’s billing, “Are You Man Enough?” clearly wasn’t a dig at weaker men or a ploy to challenge people to do an event that might be outside of participants’ comfort zones, but more to get those involved thinking about sexual violence and the impact it has on our society.
Emmerich quoted a TED Talk speaker named Tony Porter, who’s also a women’s rights activist, to close out her speech and emphasize this issue she called a pandemic societal problem.
“My liberation as a man is tied to your liberation as a woman,” she quoted.
For more information about OASIS, check out the group’s page at www.etsu.edu/students/counseling/oasis.
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