Charlotte Hays
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As mascot for Mississippi State University, poor old Bully XX, the cherished English bulldog, must be casting down his soulful, brown eyes in gentle bulldog shame.

You see the former aggie college, alma mater of many of my old friends back home, is putting on drag shows, and making use of taxpayer money to do so. I feel for Bully and all the guys, to my knowledge inevitably gentlemanly and perhaps a bit more down to earth (hey, they’re aggies) than the Ole Miss set, who have been forced to see their campus turn into a replica of a really bad night on Bourbon Street.  

Billed as “Heels for a Cause” (you have probably guessed the cause), the event is described on the MSU website:

Men marching around the Drill field in high heels and a Womanless Beauty Pageant evoke much laughter, but the goal of these programs is much more serious.

“Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” is part of an international men’s march to stop rape, sexual assault and gender violence. It was co-sponsored by MSU’s Sexual Assault Services, the National Pan-Hellenic and Interfraternity councils. The Womanless Beauty Pageant was organized by the Holmes Cultural Diversity Center on behalf of National Women’s History Month and raised money for the Fistula Foundation.

The foundation is dedicated to the treatment and prevention of obstetric fistula, the devastating injury caused by obstructed labor during childbirth, a worthy cause, though a bake sale might be a less outré way to raise money.

It’s difficult to settle on who is the most appealing pageant entry. Is it the fetching Desmond Carson in a low-cut dress posing as “Rhea Lystic aka Miss Diagnosed,” wicked “Miss Belle,” draped in a towel, or is it the utter simplicity of the close-up of hairy legs in red high heels?

Look, there is nothing wrong with State men dressing up as women (I guess?). Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis did it hilariously in “Some Like It Hot,” and more recently, I have to confess that Lypsinka, the moderately famous drag queen (also from Mississippi—should I be worried?), is a hoot. But what we have just witnessed at MSU is something else: Didactic Drag.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes http://www.walkamileinhershoes.org/About/frankbaird.html  was invented by Frank Baird, a former rape crisis counselor, who is today a licensed marriage and family therapist in California. He is pictured on the walk a mile website grinning and holding a pair of red high heels. Mr. Baird is given to deep thoughts: “Violence against women does not just affect women," he said. "Men are hurt and angered when women they care about are raped.” Ya think?  

State’s womanless beauty pageant, as noted, was put on by Mississippi State’s Sexual Assault Services office (which is technically now called the Department of Relationship Violence and Outreach). Under its old name, this office last year received a $300,000 grant from the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women, which administers funds made available through the Violence Against Women Act. The act is now up for reauthorization in Congress, and women’s groups are scheduled to go to the Hill (though not necessarily in high heels) Thursday to demand that it be renewed.

There are agencies similar to State’s sexual violence office on hundreds of college campuses throughout the country, and many of them receive taxpayer funds from the OVW, and most of them stage “womanless beauty pageants.”  Beatrice Tatem, director of the MSU program, “works closely” with the OVW, according to the MSU website.  There are three other staff members, including Lewanda Swann, the coordinator, who has “always felt that one of the greatest traits one can ever aspire to foster is a helpful nature.” Meanwhile, Administrative Assistant Aretina Hankerson-Daniels “enjoys” working with the office because the job “allows me the opportunity to interact and assist the most important group at MSU, the students.”

Mississippi State was founded in 1878 as an all-male, land-grant college and it is now coed. Mississippi State’s Annual Security Report for 2009, which covers the three previous years, puts forcible sex assaults on campus at one for 2006 and 2007; one each in a residence hall and non-campus building for 2006; and those handled off campus by state and local police as 3 for 2006, 21 for 2007, and 3 for 2009. Undoubtedly, many more crimes go unreported.  

I hope the book is thrown at all the perps, if a rape or assault can be proven. And certainly, raising awareness about the problem of violence against women, both on campus and around the globe, is a worthwhile goal.  Still, I’d be inclined to assert that the university’s Bully Patrol (named after you know who), which puts monitors in campus buildings at night is better than ridiculous aggies in draggies at curtailing assault, and that champions of such activities have other goals in mind.

When the issue of VAWA’s renewal comes up, I hope that somebody is there with the figures on taxpayer-supported drag shows.  Inquiring minds want to know: Did the pageant raise as much money for the Fistula Foundation as it takes from taxpayers?

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Charlotte Hays

Director of Cultural Programs at the Independent Women's Forum.