My experience: Walking a mile in women’s shoes
By Greg Holden
The Chatham-Kent Women’s Centre sees life from a perspective most of us wish did not exist. Women who have been abused by their spouse show up at the rate of nearly four a day. Over 1400 women (and 2 men) and 1600 children required the services of the centre just last year.
The reports in the media are constant, yet only those with a twist to the story are ever heard about. The rest of the stories are lost to a silence that perpetrators rely on. We know the problem exists, but raising the issue in nearly any social setting is like asking who farted. Don’t expect to have a long discussion. Social conscientiousness is minimal. Our hearts are tugged by many forms of pain, it is like there is no room to spare for our neighbours who live everyday in fear. Problems half-way around the world get more attention. Next door is out-of-bounds. That is why raising awareness about domestic abuse is important.
Just before the Walk A Mile In Women’s Shoes event last year, I challenged Monica Bacic (who sat on the board at the women’s centre) about “how does humiliating men, serve women”. Monica sat down with me and we had a lengthy discussion where I was the student. I wrote my piece last year, admitting I was wrong with the suggestion that men are being humiliated. Yet in re-reading my article of a year ago, I still sounded hostile to the idea. Months later I promised Monica I would walk the mile myself at the next walk.
Following through with that promise came with some apprehension. Even hours before, I was making excuses to myself why I could not go. I had stayed up the night before working until the wee hours. I have kids that could be doing something else with me. I have stories to write, things to do. No-one would miss me, I am a face in the crowd and nothing more. The shoes may not fit. I might fall. I might not be able to do it at all, have to stop and look worse by taking off the shoes. When my mind turned to the abused women however, I knew I was doing the right thing. There would be no looking back then.
My reluctance about what I was about to put my feet through was outweighed by my want to be an active voice. Whatever the pain to my feet, it was better than contributing to the silence. On my arrival I was asked what size of shoe I wear and I told them an 8. Turns out I wear a 9 in men’s shoes and a 13 in women’s. The 8 looked like a children’s shoe. 13 was a bit too big but at least it went on my foot. Some slippage in the back posed more of a problem than I thought it would when I did a quick trot in front of the Downtown Chatham Centre trying to interview participants. A repeat walker advised me he doesn’t put his on until the walk begins to save his feet. He had a point. Another walker was bandaging his feet for protection before the walk began. If that doesn’t frighten a first timer then nothing can.
The Price Of Silence Is Too High
The VIP’s made their speeches to the crowd of about 200 people. We learned from Hal Bushey, executive director of the Chatham-Kent Women’s Centre, that five women sought the services of the centre because of one man last year. He spoke about how abuse affects children and children subject to an abused parent in their home grow up five times more likely to have aggression issues, mental illness and a higher incidence of drug abuse. His words reaffirmed my commitment. No matter how small an influence I could have, it was worth it. Bushey levelled some facts that were inescapable. With 1600 local children, just last year, receiving help from the centre: these same children will grow up to be the spouses of our children and grandchildren.
Time to walk. Warnings to practice in heels went unheeded. Claims about pressure on the toes didn’t seem to be a problem in my test walk. I was unsure of the route and knew I could just follow those guys in high-heels and things would work out. 100 meters in and I was fine, surprisingly. Then the heel slippage started to be more noticeable as the walk progressed. Half-way through the pressure on my toes was intense. I didn’t think I could make it at points, the combination of pain, awkward foot position and stamina fading made me want to stop. The only thing that kept me going was my fellow walkers, who I did not want to let down. By this time the cause to fight domestic abuse seemed to be less on my mind and breaking down in front of my peers was at the forefront. Up a small hill, over another bridge and then the final stretch down King Street to the mall. My heels wobbled about 20 times, although I did not fall. Finally, reaching the destination that everyone else made it was time to take them off. My worn in soft shoes never felt better.
I never felt humiliated at anytime during the day. I was proud I made it. The only chance of being humiliated is if I had sat down and rested, quit on the others. I have heard from people since that it is a stupid walk to be a part of. I know otherwise and thanks to Monica Bacic I can speak about why meaningfully. Completing the walk is something I recommend any able-bodied local man to be a part of. Change starts with ourselves, our attitudes to the topic. Until it is ok to discuss it anywhere and at anytime, there is need for more education and awareness. Women need to know they are empowered by the community to live without fear of physical or mental abuse at home. That change starts with all of us.