Arts Alive! attendees Saturday will be greeted by the sound of hundreds of high heels clicking their way down Eureka’s streets.
The third annual Walk a Mile in her Shoes event, a fundraiser for the North Coast Rape Crisis Team, will kick off at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the Old Town Gazebo and will see scores of men don oversized heels to walk a mile loop through the city to raise awareness about sexual assault and gender violence.
“Of course, the imagery or symbolism is meant for people to imagine themselves in the shoes of the people most likely to be targeted and to show their support,” said Paula Arrowsmith-Jones, North Coast Rape Crisis’ community outreach coordinator. “It’s an event to raise public awareness. Only through active participation of all of us as community members can we begin to diminish the violence.”
Sara Parke, a North Coast Rape Crisis board member, said there’s a suggested $50 donation for folks wanting to take part in the event, adding that some people raise the entry fee through sponsorships from other community members and that nobody will be turned away from participating. Parke said she’ll also have plenty of big high heels on hand — up to a men’s size 16 — for folks who want to participate but may not have the wardrobe. If you have foot ailments or other issues that might prevent you from actually walking a mile in heels, not to worry. Parke said she’s got you covered, and will also be dolling out lanyards with shoes on them for folks to wear in solidarity.
North Coast Rape Crisis Fiscal Coordinator Ruthanne DeMirjyn didn’t mince words when talking about the fiscal importance of the annual fundraiser for the team’s many community efforts, which include maintaining a 24-hour hotline, counseling services, support groups and a litany of education programs. “It’s crucial to the organization,” she said. “Absolutely crucial.”
The folks at North Coast Rape Crisis said they thought long and hard before launching the local Walk a Mile in her Shoes event, which comes as part of an international effort to stop rape, sexual assault and gender violence. Trademarked by Frank Baird in 2001, Walk a Mile in her Shoes events occur in cities all over the world during the month of April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness month. In order to take part in the event and use its name, organizations must agree to give 100 percent of the event’s proceeds to a rape crisis center, domestic violence shelter or other organization working toward stopping sexualized violence.
It’s not that the local rape crisis folks didn’t believe in the cause, they just worried a bit about the imagery of scores of men putting on high heels and parading about. “Our concerns about it, although we understood it was a great event in lots of places, was we didn’t want to feed into what we’ve seen at some other events, where it turns into kind of a mocking of trans-identifying people, or leaves people going away from the event thinking it’s about somehow making fun of male-identifying people who might dress in nonconformist ways,” Arrowsmith-Jones explained.
DeMirjyn had a similar take. “We don’t make fun of anybody and we don’t promote those types of stereotypes and prejudices,” she said. “It’s very important to us to respect everyone in all their individualized ways.” So, the team did loads of outreach to local “queer-identified allies” to get their take. They said all were supportive of the event and the cause. “We were pretty universally told, ‘go for it,’” Arrowsmith-Jones said. “So, we’ve tried to have signs and outreach to indicate that all people, no matter what gender identity, are welcome to participate … The North Coast Rape Crisis Team exists to support people across the entire gender spectrum.”
Now, if you’re scratching your head, wondering if you just heard about another Walk a Mile in her Shoes event in Eureka recently, the answer is no, not really.
Soroptimist International of Humboldt Bay just held it’s annual event, newly dubbed “High Heels for Healing,” Wednesday at the Adorni Center. The Soroptimist fundraiser, which features a host of local businessmen and notables strapping on heels to walk and dance down a runway, used to be named “Walk in her Shoes,” until the group received a cease and desist letter from Baird’s organization, prompting a name change. As recently as 2010, Soroptimist used proceeds from the fundraiser to fund its scholarships and awards, according to a news report. The group’s website doesn’t specify where proceeds from this year’s event went, though the Times-Standard reported Thursday that the event was a “benefit for domestic violence services."
The Journal’s attempts to reach Soroptimist International of Humboldt Bay have been unsuccessful but we will update this post if they get back to us.
It appears those attending the Soroptimist event Wednesday had a rollicking good time, as video of some of the festivities posted on Times-Standard reporter Lorna Rodriguez’s Tout page show women happily stuffing dollar bills into the clothing of men working their heels on the runway. The Lost Coast Outpost also has some pictures from the event up on its site.
For more information on the North Coast Rape Crisis Team’s event Saturday, visit its Facebook page, which also lists a host of happenings in the coming weeks in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The center’s 24-hour hotlines can also be reached by calling 445-2881 in Humboldt and 465-2851 in Del Norte County.