At five feet, two and a half inches, I do not consider myself tall. Nor do I think that I am short. I tell myself that I am of a reasonable height. However, I have not stopped buying those high heels whenever they are on sale. I am yet to figure out whether I wear heels to look tall or to stay in tune with fashion. Whatever be the reason, I have an honest confession to make. Every time after I wear high-heeled shoes for a long duration, the experience is definitely not a pleasant one. My feet hurt immensely, and the pain lasts for several hours!
My sudden desire to dwell on footwear has been triggered by what has hit the headlines in Japan recently. No pun intended, close on the heels of the worldwide #MeToo movement has emerged a campaign centering around high-heels that female employees are required to wear to work. A beautiful play on the Japanese words kutsu for shoe and kutsū for pain, the online movement has gained attention under the hashtag #KuToo
The #KuToo movement is spearheaded by 32 year-old actress and writer Yumi Ishikawa. During her part time job as an usher in a funeral parlor, she was required to wear 5-7 centimeter-high heels at work. Having to stay on her feet most of the day, she would end her shift with bloody pinky toes. She happened to notice that her male colleagues would wear light flat shoes. Enraged at the disparity in dress code, she casually tweeted about it during January of this year and received an overwhelming response with over 67,000 likes and 30,000 retweets. The support encouraged her to start the #KuToo movement.
As an extension of the #KuToo movement, the petition website Change.Org organized an event in Tokyo to throw light on the plight of women who suffer in uncomfortable footwear. Having the tag line “Is job hunting in sneakers acceptable?”, men were given stilettos with 5 centimeter-high heels and were asked to walk in those, basically to experience the uneasiness women feel while walking with raised heels.
The Japanese Equal Employment Opportunity law does endorse equal treatment irrespective of one’s gender when it comes to recruitment, hiring, promotion, training, and job assignment. However, there is no reference to dress codes. Another interesting catch here is that although many companies do not require women to wear high heels, they do so because of tradition and social expectations.
Ishikawa’s cause has generated immense support in Japan. A petition with close to 20,000 signatures was served to Japan’s Health, Welfare, and Labor Ministry on June 3, urging the government to ask companies to ban rules if they asked female employees to wear high heels to work.
Six months into the movement, where does Japan stand? The response from labor minister Takumi Nimoto hinted at nothing else but indifference when he responded that wearing high heels is necessary and reasonable in workplaces and is generally accepted by the society.
When myriads of serious issues like domestic violence, rape, and sex trafficking plague the world of women, is it right to even think about whether wearing high heels should be made mandatory? Yet sadly enough, this issue keeps cropping up now and then. PricewaterhouseCoopers in Britain was under fire in 2015 after a receptionist named Nicola Thorp was made to go home without pay for not wearing high heels. That same year, Cannes Film Festival turned away women from red carpet screenings for wearing flat shoes instead of heels. Reportedly, some of those ladies were older with medical conditions. Following this incident, Julia Roberts and a few other actresses staged a protest in Cannes 2016 and raised eyebrows by walking the red carpet either barefoot or in sneakers.
Why is the hue and cry being raised about wearing high heels? What brownie points does one gain by looking a few inches taller? I am not rallying against wearing high heels. My point is that it should be a matter of choice for the individual to decide whether he or she prefers to wear those heels or is comfortable in that particular type of footwear. It’s indeed shameful that a country like Japan, which in terms of economic and technological advancement is moving at a galloping speed, even has companies that hinge on such trivial matters as to what type of foot wear their employees should wear. And why is the rule made only for female members?
Quoting from Ishikawa’s email to Thompson Reuters Foundation: “Generally Japanese people, especially Japanese women, have very low self-esteem, and that’s regarded as good.” According to the Global Gender Gap Report issued by the World Economic Forum in 2018, Japan occupied the 110th position out of 149 countries in terms of gender equality. In a country where women are not totally free from the shackles of conservatism and where gender inequality exists, it requires audacity to address the truth, vent out one’s anger, and express one’s frustration, thus earning global appreciation in the process. Yumi Ishikawa speaking out her mind and voicing her concerns is indeed a true emblem of courage and commitment and is certainly a pride for womanhood! With sincere thoughts that she emerges a champion of her cause, we need to say: may her tribe increase!