Marching Away From Effective Sexual Assault Prevention


The military services have set themselves upon a campaign to prevent sexual violence in the ranks. Like most things military, it is designed for the masses and largely about taking every possible step that might help. This reflects the can-do spirit that gives rise to military excellence.

But while the unfolding effort is well-intentioned, it sometimes misses the mark in a few key ways. One such way is by conflating sexual assault with other conduct. This encourages masses of people to treat usually innocuous conduct as inevitably precursory to sexual violence. One can imagine the not always harmless pratfalls attendant to connecting such dots without valid reason to so do. But this is the perilous path of social engineering in lieu of a precise and expert campaign to address violent criminality.

A more common error is the impulse to engage in “awareness” efforts where awareness is already acute to the point of desensitization. At best, clubbing masses of people over the head with reminders not to rape one another is insulting to everyone but the putative criminals. At the midrange, it is counterproductive, alienating those whose issue loyalty is important in creating an environment unaccepting of sexual predation. These intangible losses are tough to measure, while awareness efforts can be counted and made into metrics for senior officials to surveil. Thus, misguided efforts continue despite our better judgments. 

But at worst, such efforts can actually go beyond soft alienation and into demonstrable harm to the effort of preventing sexual assault. This happens when good order, discipline, unit cohesion, and high conduct expectations give way to gimmickry, cheapening the whole idea and all who touch it.

This brings us to the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” campaign, one of many observances unfolding in April as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the military services. This particular escapade involves men putting their feet into bright red high heels — often while in military uniform — so they can “walk a mile” in the footwear normally worn by women. 

If you’re saying to yourself “what the hell?” … you’re not alone. This harebrained idea suspended belief far and wide. But that didn’t stop units from eliciting, coercing, and even ordering members to participate — a decision sequence now being reviewed within at least one of the service branches.

The actual event makes a joke out of military bearing and professionalism. It legitimizes undermining appropriate image and conduct, pretending that doing so will enhance sexual assault prevention efforts. This is incorrect. The best salve for criminality in military units is the cultivation of healthy teams marked by cohesiveness and mutual respect. Such silliness as this takes us distant from that objective. Here is said silliness, captured in moving pictures for your agony:

The most salient aspect of this issue is not whether and how people were directed to participate, but why anyone with an IQ beyond that of a stationary celery stalk thought this would be a good idea in the first place. Firmly established in the canon of mutual respect is that women do not invite conduct or even characterization through the choices they make about what to wear. A woman in high heels is not inviting sexual objectification. Which means this gimmick — masquerading as “helpful” — is sending exactly the wrong message.

I could go on. But I won’t, because a JQP Facebook poster captured the issue much more capably than I could. Blake Hunt’s entertaining and enlightening reaction to this clown show is captured below, with his permission. He posted these remarks after watching the video you just survived.

This is offensively dumb and I am offended thusly.

Nigh rendered dumb myself by this unimaginably dumb thing I have just seen, I nevertheless muster these words:

If you do this in uniform, I’m afraid you are quite dumb. If you participate in a culture that mistakes cheap “awareness” stunts for meaningful action with real results, I regret to inform you that you are a dumb person mindlessly chewing your dumb cud with the Herd of Dumb, and you are hereby awarded zero advocacy points. You too, military.

All you’ve done here is made my bunions bark and solved nothing. So you actually made everything worse.

Feminists, I am one of you. But such strange and silly bedfellows will not abide. It may surprise you that my empathy and understanding to an incalculably important cause far surpasses the superficiality of footwear. I do not care what’s on your feet. Even more I do not associate or attach credibility to the regressively stupid notion that your style choices may somehow contribute to your own plight.

I do not need to actually wear your shoes to understand. “Walk a mile in their shoes” is a figure of speech.

There must have been an unfortunate misunderstanding about this one linguistic nuance.

Hopefully this clarifies that.

If you had ever asked or expected me to participate in this clown parade, whilst I was in uniform, you would have been deeply disappointed in me.

And that’s ok, because I’m comfortable with not being dumb about things extremely important.

So let’s all agree to not be dumb anymore. Ok guys?

Blake has it perfectly right. The generals and their civilian masters need to stop pretending they’re dealing with people who eat play-doh and raise intellectual expectations when it comes to this and other issues. The continual lowering of expectations through low-brow tactics like walking in spray-painted heels is a recipe for a low-yield outcome. Preventing sexual assault is too important for this kind if mediocrity.

A sound strategy is a thoughtful one. This peculiar method reflects a strategy lacking in critical thought. It’s taking the military services further from their cherished and meritorious objective of curtailing criminal sexual behavior in the ranks. 

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