Men March in Heels to End Violence Against Women: 'Painful, But It’s Memorable'

Octavio Duran (far right) was one of the many men who have taken to the streets in pumps for Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, a movement meant to shed line on domestic and sexual violence women across the world face.
Octavio Duran

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is a movement meant to shed light on domestic and sexual violence women around the world face.

Octavio Duran’s days often begin the same: putting on a smart suit and matching tie, as is expected of a partner at a Chicago law firm. But last Thursday, the 33-year-old personal injury lawyer also made sure he packed his four-inch strappy stilettos before heading to the office.

“They’re quite painful," Duran reflected. “For me it was worth it."

Duran was one of the many men who have taken to the streets in pumps for Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, a movement meant to shed light on domestic and sexual violence women around the world face.

Groups individually organized to tap into the global movement created by Frank Baird, a licensed marriage and family therapist who founded Walk a Mile in Her Shoes while working at a rape crisis center in 2001.

“There weren’t a lot of men in those locations doing a lot of work,” Baird told “If men were the principal perpetrators of sexual assault, and we’re working with women in recovery, we should be doing some prevention work. Prevention work would really go far.”

Inspired by his and his colleagues’ involvement with a production of the Vagina Monologues, Baird said he thought an event — or "spectacle" — that left people talking would be a good place to start.

"Part of my feeling was, we need men to be working to overcome toxic masculinity," he said. "[I thought] ‘What if we had men walking in women’s high-heeled shoes?’ Men could be talking about why they’re doing this … the difference in people getting a message and being able to reproduce it is by having an experience around the message."

Tens of thousands of men now participate in the International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault and Gender Violence, raising millions of dollars for local rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters and efforts focused on sexualized violence education, prevention and remediation.

And by living the old idiom "before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes," men become more cognizant of the realities women face every day, Baird said.

"Having this experience is memorable — it’s partly painful, but it’s memorable," Baird said. "It’s also challenging the gender norms for masculinity. What tends to happen when they finish the walk … it increases their awareness and their commitment to act. Responding and intervening [in situations] but also being proactive about talking to other men.” 

That was the case with Duran, who said his fashion-forward heels brought on a lot of attention as he and his colleagues marched through Chicago’s Loop.

“The looks, I’m kind of used to it by now,” he said, laughing. “People saying, ‘This is embarrassing,' 'I can’t believe you’re subjecting yourself to this,' 'Are you not in pain?’ But there were a lot of people who appreciated what we were doing. We passed a restaurant and the whole patio was clapping, not to make fun, but as a thank you. That was really cool to see.”

Duran has marched with the Young Lawyers Section of the Chicago Bar Association since its then-president Paul Ochmanek got the group involved in 2013. 

The cause was a personal one for Duran, who counts important women in his life among survivors of abuse. 

“It mattered a lot to me to get out there," he said. 

Duran has since become the president of the Young Lawyers Section, and in assuming a leadership role, he said that especially in the wake of the Me Too movement, he believes it’s his and his colleagues’ responsibility to show that the legal community is comprised of allies. 

"Unfortunately, the legal world — it's male-dominated," he said. “I’m sure there have been senior partners [at law firms] who have abused their positions … the message then is not only the regular message that there are a lot of young lawyers who are willing to go out there, roll up our pant legs and walk, but that not everyone in the legal community is like that."