June 13, 2019
It’s high noon in the workplace: Women are gunning for a change in office dress codes that would enable them to work—and walk—in comfort.
Indeed, according to a report by The Guardian, millions of women worldwide, at all levels of the workplace hierarchy, continue to endure their working hours tortured by blisters, bloodied flesh, foot pain, knee pain, back pain and worse, as a result of the pressure to conform to an aesthetic code—sometimes explicitly written into contracts or policy, more often subliminally expected as a societal and cultural standard—that deems it appropriate to wear high heels.
Now they are pushing back, in a campaign called #KuToo—a a play on the words kutsu, meaning shoes, and kutsuu, meaning pain, in Japanese and inspired by the #MeToo movement.
In early June, Japanese actress and freelance writer Yumi Ishikawa told reporters that she and her supporters had met with the Labor Ministry, “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 had the idea for the campaign after she was forced to wear high heels during a stint at a funeral parlor. Now, she has everyone debating the politics of footwear—and has received a groundswell of online support.
But not everyone is a fan: Takumi Nemoto, Japan’s health and labor minister, defended the dress codes, telling a legislative committee that he believed it “is socially accepted as something that falls within the realm of being occupationally necessary and appropriate”.
The Guardian notes that a similar petition against high heels at work was signed by more than 150,000 people in the UK in support of the receptionist Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from work on her first day of work at a PwC in 2016 for wearing flat shoes. The case prompted an inquiry on workplace dress codes by a committee of MPs, which highlighted other cases in the UK where women were required to wear heels—even for jobs that included climbing ladders, carrying heavy luggage, carrying food and drink up and down stairs and walking long distances.
However, Britain never changed the law, claiming scope for redress already existed under the Equality Act 2010.
In 2015 the director of the Cannes film festival apologized for the fact that women were being denied access to the red carpet for not wearing high heels. Cannes kept the dress code, despite a protest by the actor Julia Roberts, who went barefoot the next year.
However, in 2017, Canada’s British Columbia province banned companies from forcing female employees to wear high heels, saying the practice was dangerous and discriminatory. That means things might be looking up—err … down.
Research contact: @guardian