Frank Baird created a program to involve men in ending sexual assault and violence towards women. Walk a Mile In Her Shoes is an “international march to stop rape, sexual assault, and gender violence”. Men participate by actually walking a mile in women’s high heel shoes. This is not to prove that men can handle pain. It is an opportunity for whole communities to talk about violence against women. Gender and sexual violence can be uncomfortable to talk about. With these marches, both victims and those who would like to pretend it doesn’t exist are given a chance to create long term change in their communities and support local rape crisis centers.
What was your inspiration or what necessitated you to begin this adventure? Most perpetrators of sexualized violence are men, but most men are not perpetrators. I was working as a therapist at a rape crisis center that helped women overcome the negative effects of sexualized violence. The organization had a prevention education program, but it was small and the typical didactic information spoken at people instead of with them. Experiential education is much more effective than didactic information, so I wanted to create an education program that was dramatic, impactful and could reach more and more men, something with publicity power. Typical prevention education programs require an organization to actively outreach. If we could develop a program that was so interesting people would seek us out, we could spend more time educating rather than looking for opportunities to educate.
What steps did you take to create your program? We wanted to create an opportunity for men to want to become involved in efforts to end sexualized violence. We wanted to avoid traditional didactic information that “talks at” instead of “with.” We wanted to create an experience that has greater impact and memorability than simple didactic information.
We thought it would be fun to use the metaphor, “you can’t really understand a person’s experience until you walk a mile in their shoes,” and have men literally walk one mile in women’s high heeled shoes. Patti Dengler and I explored and developed how it would work, how we would insure that men and onlookers would have the experience we intended and get the messages we intended. Then we pitched the idea to small groups of women and men. We wanted to get the first reaction when someone heard about this. When that went well, we enlisted the aid of a local rape crisis center and organized the first Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® Event in 2001 in the San Fernando Valley in California.
Following the first Walk Event, the enthusiasm of the organizers and the participants spread throughout California as everyone talked about the event and and their experience of it. Walk Events began in California, then in a few other states and Canada. Once we put up a web page where people world-wide could get information on the Walk and see pictures of men in heels that legitimized this effort, the momentum gained exponentially.
What obstacles were you forced to overcome?
Obstacles we overcame:
- Uncertainty that this was a good idea.
- Uncertainty that this idea would actually get men involved in ending sexualized violence.
- Uncertainty that this idea would be understood as a sincere effort and not parody.
- Uncertainty that men would actually learn something from the experience.
- Uncertainty that this idea would actually raise funds for local rape crisis centers or domestic violence shelters.
- Recruiting local rape crisis centers, some of whom were suspicious of men who claimed to be interested in helping with this cause.
- Making sure the press got the intended message and did not distort or mis-report.
- Figuring out how to coordinate world-wide efforts with next to no money and nearly no staff.
- How to expand the message and effectiveness of Walk Events.
- Making money for headquarters in addition to all the local organizations.
Ok, we haven’t overcome that obstacle yet. Except for registration fees and a few donations here and there, all the money raised by Walk Events goes to the local rape crisis center or domestic violence shelter beneficiary. We are still trying to figure out how our headquarters can earn more money so we can further develop the Walk and its effectiveness.
What were the hardest problems to solve or actions to take? The hardest problem to solve has been coordinating world-wide efforts with an extremely small staff at headquarters. We have managed to automate some tasks, but we continue to have to manually process Walk Event registrations, personally return lots of phone calls and emails, both from would-be and ongoing organizers and press.
We must also follow up to make sure no one is organizing an unauthorized Walk Event or taking our idea and using it to raise funds for some other cause like breast cancer. While we respect the efforts being made to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer, our Walk is specifically designed to raise awareness and funds for chronically underfunded rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters.
What must you do to stay operational? Staying operational requires diligent ongoing work to keep our project in circulation, maintaining its relevance, improving it and expanding its effectiveness, both as an educational program and a fundraiser. We receive little income ourselves, All monies raised by a Walk Event goes to the local rape crisis center or domestic violence shelter beneficiary. We only make money on Walk Event registrations (to pay for staff to process the registrations) and donations. Because we operate with little money, it requires us to continually be inspired by the efforts of organizers around the world to keep us dedicating far more hours than we will ever be paid for. These kinds of projects require ongoing heart and community to support the meaningfulness and enthusiasm.
Who, if anyone, helped you succeed? The most outstanding contributor has been my wife, Patti Dengler. She continues to both inspire me and provide valuable strategic and logistical support. She is the former Executive Director of a RapeCrisis center and a master at organizing and networking.
Bernie Fatla at LeDame Shoes has made sure our Walk Events have women’s high heeled shoes in men’s shoe sizes.
The greatest contributions have been made by the many many organizers world-wide who have taken up this campaign in their own communities. Small Walk Events and large Walk Events are happening world-wide because because local organizers have recognized this campaign is a great way to involve men in efforts to end sexualized violence, to educate their communities about causes, remedies and treatments for sexualized violence and to raise funds for their local rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters. Without those enthusiastic, dedicated and hard-working individuals and organizations, there would not be an International Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®. Sharing their ideas, experiences and photographs have generated interest and built networks that have lasted well beyond their Walk Event.
Do you have any advice for readers who want to get involved or start a similar program? If by “similar program” you mean “something that will excite and involve the world in doing good,” then I’d say, search your heart for great compassion. Where you find it, take action. Don’t take action alone, though. You can gain strength and momentum in community. Find like-minded individuals and communities. Excite them with the possibilities of your ideas and invite them to join you in taking action. Starting your project, then, will be the least of your accomplishments in transforming the world into a better place.
Frank Baird, Walk Founder
Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®, a project of Venture Humanity, Inc., 32119 Beachlake Lane, Westlake Village, CA 91361
Phone: 800/604-1218 or Fax: 888/688-1274
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This interview is from a book that includes 15 other amazing people who are creating positive change. You can read the full book and buy a copy for your school at Bookemon.com. Buy the e-book for 99 Cents on Amazon.com.