There is a well known saying that you can never truly know how a man feels until you have walked a mile in his shoes. It’s a saying that needs no explanation because every day as individuals struggle with the challenges of life it becomes clearer that while we may empathise with another’s burdens, we can never really capture his or her feeling if we have never been there.
This weekend, for the second year, the Young Women’s Christian Association of Barbados will attempt an event called Walk A Mile In Her Shoes, based on a international movement with the same name. In the US, men of all walks of life lace or buckle on women’s shoes and take to the streets in a show of solidarity with women who suffer domestic abuse.
In an effort to counter the stigma that could be attached to such an event, the venture is usually led by some of the most “manly” men in the community, including lawmen and firemen who cast aside their work boots in favour of stilettos, while still dressed in their uniforms.
When the event was attempted in Barbados last year, organisers reported, there was modest support from men, but not one Bajan man was bold enough to put on a pair of women’s shoes. Apparently, they did not mind walking in solidarity, but were afraid of being labelled as homosexuals if they had gone the extra mile.
In similar vein, not so long ago there was an attempt by authorities to get Barbadians who knew they were not HIV positive to put on shirts that said “I am HIV Positive” and join in a walk. We believe the intent then was to get Barbadians to appreciate what people with HIV go through every day, as well as to get the general population to understand that it is just not possible to look at a person walking the street and determine his or her HIV status.
Just like the Walk A Mile In Her Shoes initiative, response from the public was at best, lukewarm. This year, not one man has signed up so far for the Walk A Mile event.
In our view, this speaks to two very negative facets of our society: the speed with which we leap to judge and label others, particularly if doing so will give us pleasure at the expense of that person’s pain; and that in many ways we have become slaves to this mentality, in the process developing a real timidity to standing up for what we know is just and fair.
How on God’s green earth can we conclude that someone has gay tendencies simply because he chooses to put on a pair of high heel shoes? And what if he is gay? Isn’t the larger cause — preventing the abuse of our girls and women in their households every day — more worthy? Is it not more important that we stand up and say that we will not discriminate against someone just because that person is HIV positive.
We at Barbados TODAY offer our total support to Paige Bryan and the folks at the YWCA in their Walk A Mile In Her Shoes initiative. It is worthy of support and we wish that when our photographers are on duty on Saturday they are scores of men in women’s shoes, whether flat or well heeled, willing to say by their presence: “This is not about my sexual orientation or degree of manliness, but about an endemic practice in too many Caribbean societies that suggest men have a right to hit their women”.
Our men may not have cultivated the art of walking in six-inch heels, but if they try on Saturday and suffer a little pain, maybe more will be able to identify with the pain so many of our women suffer at the hands of abusive partners.