Monday, March 12, 2012

Walk a mile in her shoes...or else

Mississippi State students forced to “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” (Washington D.C. Mar 10, 2012 AVFM News) On Monday, March 5th, hundreds of male students donned high heel shoes and marched on the campus of Mississippi State University in the second annual Walk a Mile In Her Shoes event sponsored by MSU’s Sexual Assault Services Office. Billed as an event in which men march to end sexual assault, the event is only one of many such events held around the world which are promoted by Venture Humanity Inc., a California nonprofit organization. “Each year, an ever-increasing number of men, women and their families are joining the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes. The International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence. A Walk a Mile in Her Shoes Event is a playful opportunity for men to raise awareness in their community about the serious causes, effects and remediation to sexualized violence.” the home page of states, clearly implying that this is an all volunteer effort my men everywhere to combat sexual violence. But the event on Monday was not playful and it is ambiguous how by wearing high heel shoes men would do anything to help genuine victims of sexual assault. It was also anything but voluntary and “Raising Awareness” in this case meant administrative and social coercion of male students, almost exclusivity from the Greek community, to participate as well as distributing literature and raising more money. The crowd of marching men were subjected to demeaning slurs from the crowd of onlookers and given hand written notes from members of a virtually all female audience implying their complicity in the supposed sexual assault epidemic.“Female students stood on the side lines. Over 400 male students wore heals and walked in a 1/4 mile circle, four times while the female students stood and watched, mostly smiling and some were laughing. Also, they had a female student model walk in front of the formation with the 400+ men following her. She is a member of the fashion board; there were lots of female students from the fashion board at the event. The men who followed her were mostly in heels and about half of them were carrying signs that said things like, “Rape Hurts Us All.’ ‘There were several men in suits who talked on the microphone and reported the 1-in-4 rape statistic, among many other false statistics. One statistic that I heard several times was that women are more likely to be victims of non-lethal intimate partner violence than men. They never said anything about lethal intimate partner violence. Apparently there must have been a tie between men and women when it came to lethal intimate partner violence so they just ignore that statistic and only talk about non-lethal intimate partner violence.” said Ben Robinson, a MSU engineering student and MRA otherwise known by his YouTube names “HelperDogfromHell” and “ConnectingRod911” Robinson has been an active MRA on campus making videos about the Clothesline Project, another event organized by the Sexual Assault Services Office, in which tee shirts upon which slogans were written such as “33% of all women will be raped in their lifetime” and “Daddy why did you steal my innocence” were hung on the quad. Robinson devoted a video to the event on his YouTube channel and also chronicled the event on Monday for AVFM News. The Sexual Assault Services Office, part of the Division of Relationship Violence and Outreach at MSU is one of the most energetic administrative entities of it’s kind in higher education. In April of last year the MSU student newspaper, The Reflector, reported that the SAS office received a competitive grant from the Justice Department’s Office of Violence Against Women. The $300,000 grant named the “Campus Grant Program” is one of twenty one competitive grants distributed by the OVAW who’s recipients are given broad discretion on how to use the funds. There are generous provisions for the increase of salaries, benefits and travel expenses to any recipient organization. The purpose of the grant is outlined by the OVAW as follows: “The Grants to Reduce Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking on Campus Program (Campus Program) encourages institutions of higher education to adopt comprehensive, coordinated responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Campuses, in partnership with community-based nonprofit victim advocacy organizations and local criminal justice or civil legal agencies, must adopt protocols and policies that treat violence against women as a serious offense and develop victim service programs that ensure victim safety, offender accountability, and the prevention of such crimes.” In other words the grant was not only an income booster for personnel but also a source of money for both law enforcement organizations like the campus police who, curiously, were required to wear high heel shoes as well, and other non profit organizations like The Clothesline Project and Walk a Mile In Her Shoes. The efforts of these organizations are ostensibly aimed at “raising awareness” of sexual assault. On the strict condition of anonymity, a member of a participating fraternity spoke with AVFM about the event. He said that the Intra Fraternity Council (IFC), an administrative body who enforces rules and guidelines set both within the Greek community itself and by the school administration evoked a “Standards Requirement,” imposed to ensure a participation rate of at least 80% for all fraternities. Consequences for non-compliance of this requirement include revocation of privileges for individual fraternity members as well as suspension or termination of a fraternity’s charter. “People seemed to get hostile when topics came up like ‘hey don’t you think that this is weird or wrong’ and the reaction would be like ‘hey, what are you implying? there isn’t anything weird or wrong about rape?’ Said the student who indicated that there was an extreme amount of social coercion as well as administrative pressure to participate in the event. “Its ridiculous, its humiliating” said the student. “I think that it doesn’t serve the purpose that it’s meant to serve, I think that it is more or less of a shaming tactic aimed at humiliating instead of teaching someone a lesson and if they are trying to teach a lesson what lesson would that be? You are taking gentlemen, basically, who care about women and care about women feeling better about themselves and their safety and you are making them humiliate themselves for the benefit of what? Not all men are rapists but that is basically the message that an event like this conveys. Even the thought of that if you take a step back is preposterous that all men are rapists.” When asked how he felt about the other activities going on on campus initiated by the SAS office he said: “I have seen things posted around campus all throughout the year like the ‘one in four women will be raped in their lifetime’ statistic which shocks me because of all the girls I know only one says they’ve been raped and I think that is bazaar.” The student went on to describe fliers that were posted in the bathroom stalls of the building where he took most of his classes distributed by the SAS office. “That implies to me like someone saying ‘hey you, taking a piss right now, look at what we are posting right now you shouldn’t rape people.’” He would be correct in thinking that not all men at MSU were rapists. According to annual Campus Police reports there have only been four reported rapes from 2005 to 2010. This on a campus who’s fall enrollment was between 15,000 and 20,000 students during that time period roughly half of whom were female. Rape, by far, is the least common violent crime reported. Figures like these didn’t deter the SAS office from inviting Venture Humanity Inc. to endorse a Walk a Mile In Her Shoes event at MSU. Venture Humanity requires a licensing fee of $125 dollars for every event and has copyrighted its name. Merchandise is also available and you are encouraged to buy signs and other materials from the online store. “What started out as a small group of men daring to totter around a park has grown to become a world-wide movement with tens of thousands of men raising millions of dollars for local rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters and other sexualized violence education, prevention and remediation programs.” boasts their website which also collects donations. Shoes, however, are key. An outfit called Le Dame Footwear, a distributor without a storefront located in a residential neighborhood in Verona Wisconsin, just outside Madison, is the official provider for these events. Specializing in over sized feminine footwear, they boast the ability to provide shoes for an impressive women’s sizes 10 ½ to 17 (wide) or a men’s size 9 to 15 (medium). The owner of Le Dame Footwear, Bernie J. Fatla, was recently elected to the board of directors of Venture Humanity Inc. “Le Dame Footwear has been providing shoes for these walks at a significant discount to the participating organizations as part of their effort to promote this cause. Le Dame Foot ware also makes an annual donation to Walk a Mile Organization based on the total number of pairs of the “Natilie” sold.” Le Dame’s press release concerning Fatla’s ascension to the board states. The “Natile” being a popular model of shoe provided by the company supposedly designed just for this event selling for $92.99. The shoes provided for the event at MSU were paid for by the SAS Office. In correspondence with AVFM News in which Robinson described the humiliating signs the male students were required to carry and the taunts they received from onlooking female students he provided a copy of the attached “Pledge to End Sexual Violence.” “”The Pledge” involved men in suits standing before a microphone reading the pledge on that slip of paper I am attaching. Hundreds of men repeated the words of that pledge before on-looking college girls.” said Robinson. “This is just wrong, Bob. It’s plain wrong. I want these types of rallies to disappear from this college.” Over one hundred Walk a Mile in Her Shoes events are planned so far according to the sites schedule of events. Most of which are on college campuses.

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