The New York Times ran another front-page exposé this weekend of a college’s alleged indifference to rape. Its target this time was Hobart and William Smith Colleges, following a similar treatment of Columbia University in May. Hobart had acquitted three football players of raping a first-year student last year after she had drunk herself blotto at a frat party.
By now, the template for such reporting is familiar: The reporter picks at various lines of questioning by the campus assault tribunal, trying to show that the questioners were insensitive or incompetent. Innocuous changes of topic by the tribunal are seized upon as evidence of malfeasance. Inquiry into the details of the various sex acts that were performed by the accused and accuser is presented as bumbling and grotesquely intrusive, since the alleged victim deserves an almost indefeasible presumption of credibility. (In fact, the reported transcript shows the questioners making an almost painfully concerted effort to be sensitive, however awkward and inappropriate their role may be.) And of course, the acquittal itself is prima facie, if not conclusive, evidence of a campus administration’s indifference to females. Other colleges be forewarned: Any acquittal in a campus rape proceeding risks a visit from the New York Times.
All this is standard by now. But the Times article did contain one bit of less familiar information: A picture of a Hobart-sponsored event last May called “Walk a Mile in her Shoes,” an international consciousness-raising concept in which males walk in high-heeled shoes to raise awareness of sexual assault. This institution was new to me, but Walk a Mile events seem to be overtaking Take Back the Night rallies as a locus of feminist campus organizing.
Now I have nothing against cross-dressing. But according to the Walk a Mile website, these walk-ins help “men better understand and appreciate women’s experiences.” The implication would seem to be: Just as women are victims of the patriarchy in their footwear, they are victims of the patriarchy in ubiquitous sexual assault. The originator of Walk a Mile wanted to persuade men to “think differently about gender roles, gender relationships and gender violence.” But women choose to wear high heels because they want their legs and feet to look sexy. Nothing forces them to be sex objects; they assume the role voluntarily.
Campus rape hysteria may be industrial-strength feminist victimology, denying the possibility of females exercising personal responsibility when it comes to deliberate binge drinking and hooking-up. To the extent that “Walk a Mile” events embrace the idea that women are forced into uncomfortable “gender roles” in their footwear and elsewhere, they are a more trivial but still telling example of feminist myth-making.