It goes without saying that a woman should never have to wear something she’s not comfortable with — including high heels. A movement has recently begun in Japan to address just that: the ability for women to choose what footwear they wear at the office.
Earlier this year, actor and freelance writer Yumi Ishikawa started the #KuToo movement to protest the near-obligatory requirement that female employees wear heels to work and while job hunting. The strict dress code that makes it essentially mandatory for women to wear high heels has been compared to modern foot binding by #KuToo supporters. “Today we submitted a petition calling for the introduction of laws banning employers from forcing women to wear heels as sexual discrimination or harassment,” Ishikawa told reporters.
#KuToo is a play on #MeToo and the Japanese word for shoes, kutsu, and pain, kutsuu. The online petition has close to 30,000 signees and is rapidly growing, fueled by international attention stemming from press around the world recently starting to cover the movement.
But last week, Japan’s health, labor, and welfare minister responded to the petition by defending workplaces that require women to wear high heels, saying, “[Wearing high heels] is socially accepted as something that falls within the realm of being occupationally necessary and appropriate.” Gross. For one, high heels aren’t “necessary,” and the choice to wear them shouldn’t be made by a politician. Just as men shouldn’t get to make decisions about women’s bodies, men shouldn’t dictate what a woman should or should not wear. It should be up to each person to decide what’s right for them.
At least not all men agree with the health minister. Yesterday, a group of men hit the streets of Tokyo in high heels to protest the arcane laws and support the #KuToo movement. “I’d be quite annoyed if someone asked me to wear these,” shoemaker Jun Ito told the Japan Times. He quickly posed for a photo wearing heels before immediately removing the shoes, telling the Japan Times that: “Wearing heels makes me feel unstable and my feet got sweaty.” The core of this protest highlights the discriminatory double standard that women face in the workplace.
“For better or worse, the high heel is now womankind’s most public footwear. It is a shoe for events, display performance, authority, and urbanity,” writes Summer Brennan in her book Object Lessons: High Heel. “In some settings and on some occasions, usually the most formal, it is even required. High heels are something like neckties for women, in that it can be harder to look both formal and femme without them. Women have been compelled by their employers to wear high-heeled shoes in order to attend work and work-related functions across the career spectrum,” she continues.
The author also weighed in on the #KuToo movement in a Guardian op-edpublished last Thursday. “…No item of men’s clothing causes such hampered movement or physical pain. Indeed, high heels fit into a long history of women’s physical repression and mandated suffering,” she writes. Workplaces that demand high heels are actively causing women to suffer, and that’s not okay. The fact that there has to be a petition in the first place shows how little women’s pain is taken seriously.
Sometimes models, whose professional duties occasionally include the wearing of high heels, fall while walking down the runway. And if models, who often receive catwalk training, fall, what about the rest of us? High heels can be a legitimate safety risk, not to mention, uncomfortable and painful. Plus, there’s nothing inherently more professional about wearing high heels than a flat shoe.
Some women like wearing high heels, and that’s okay! But not giving women a choice of what to wear? That’s beyond reproachable.
Credit: Teen Vogue
Photo Credit: Google