Men as allies in the effort to end gender-based violence and inequality

Posted August 29, 2013

Written by Beth Lyons

(This post originally appeared in the Times and Transcript on August 29th, 2013, and is shared with permission.)

Last week, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes 2013 was launched with YWCA Moncton announced as the event’s beneficiary. Walk a Mile is an international fundraising march in which men don high-heeled shoes and walk in public spaces to raise money and awareness to end violence against women and girls. The idea is that the men are literally “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes” — in this case, high-heeled shoes, which are iconic (even if not monolithic) cultural markers of femininity — to better understand women’s lived experience.

Of course, walking a mile in heels doesn’t actually allow men to understand what it is like to experience or live with the threat of gender-based violence, but it does symbolize their willingness to empathize and take a public stand on the issue, even though it may be uncomfortable to do so. As the honourary event co-chair Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc said at the launch, “A little bit of discomfort pales in comparison to what victims of violence put up with.”

Events like Walk a Mile demonstrate how men can be allies to women and girls in the effort to eliminate gender-based violence. Men can take meaningful action through symbolic gestures (like participating in walks, making public pledges, etc.), raising funds for community programs and services and also through smaller, day-to-day actions.

It’s the potential of men’s day-to-day actions that I want to focus on today, as well as the importance of men’s willingness to experience discomfort in order to help to end gender-based violence.

The fact is that men’s daily lives include a multitude of opportunities to combat violence against women and girls, if they’re willing to experience some discomfort. I’m not talking about the discomfort that comes with rocking a pair of stilettos on asphalt, but social discomfort. The discomfort that comes with letting a friend’s rape joke fall flat rather than giving it an obligatory chuckle, just so things aren’t awkward. The discomfort that comes from refusing to participate in locker-room talk that dehumanizes women. The discomfort that comes from catching your daughters calling another girl a slut and not just telling her it’s a bad word, but explaining to her that she shouldn’t use sexualized insults against other girls because such words are weapons, a means of social control that will be levelled against her one day.

The reason that smaller-scale actions like the ones described above are important and have an impact is because gender-based violence occurs within the larger context of women’s continued inequality. Gender-based violence is a symptom of it; inequality is created and enabled and perpetuated by societal attitudes that devalue and dehumanize women and girls and force them into narrowly defined roles. Ergo, if you are tackling aspects of women’s inequality (i.e. the dehumanization of women, the shaming of female sexuality), you are tackling the root problem that enables violence against women. These day-to-day incidences of misogyny (rape jokes, objectification of women, use of gendered slurs) minimize and normalize women’s inequality which, in turn, enables violence against women.

This isn’t to say that larger scale, more radical actions and acts of solidarity aren’t required of men. Rather, this is an attempt to empower men to see how they can have an impact on the issue of violence against women through their day-to-day lives in addition to participating in larger-scale events like Walk a Mile. It’s also a challenge to men to go beyond participating in once-a-year events to end violence against women and actively live day-to-day in a way that disrupts the attitudes that enable gender-based violence and inequality.

I won’t lie, it’s hard work. Much of my work and personal life exists within the context of the women’s movement and it still took me a long time to cut certain kinds of gendered language out of my vocabulary. It took even longer to get to a place where I would tell my friends that I was uncomfortable with particular jokes and why. I still bristle when I speak up and people tell me I’m too politically correct (as if being uncomfortable with jokes that rely on systems of oppression is a bad thing) or that I take things too seriously. Really? So the the argument is that we need to be less considerate and think less critically?

I still fail to speak up at times. I push through the discomfort, however, because the other option is to be comfortable with my own dehumanization and the dehumanization of others.

All this to say: men, your actions matter in the effort to end gender-based violence and inequality, and it’s about more than marches and personally abstaining from violence. The way you teach your children to treat each other matters. The way you talk to other men when women aren’t around matters. The jokes you choose to laugh at, the comments you let slide matter. Whether you choose comfortable conversation above the opportunity to challenge gender-based violence and inequality matters.

Please visit if you are interested in supporting YWCA Moncton’s violence-prevention programs and services by participating in Walk a Mile 2013.

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