In Japan, the women are participating in an interesting movement these days. They want the condition of wearing high heels to work be removed for them, for which they are also facing resistance. The point isn’t that whether women should wear high heels in order to look more professional or not; the point is, why isn’t the decision left for them to make?
A Japanese actor and writer Yumi Ishikawa has submitted a petition to her country’s labour ministry asking for a ban on employer-mandated high heels. She has used a clever hashtag: #KuToo, which is derived from the Japanese words for shoe, kutsu and pain, kutsuu and the #MeToo movement. But despite the petition amassing more than 23,000 signatures, Japan’s health and labour minister has defended women required to wear high heels to work, describing the practice as “necessary and appropriate”.
The Far East has often put restrictions on women’s feet of some kind. Take the painful practice of foot binding in China, which forced young girls to wear atrociously uncomfortable shoes to keep their feet small and deformed in accordance to the prevalent beauty standard. Thankfully, this practice has now been banned.
Coming back to heels, the pointed stilettos have always remained a feature on catwalks and glamorous occasions, as they make the wearer appear taller, accentuating the calf muscle and the length of the leg. And yes, women actually do recommend wearing heels to work; they say it adds a touch of active demeanour and a smart walk. But should it be made a compulsion?
If height was all that matters to look imposing in your job, shorter men would be wearing heels to offices. On the contrary, we often hear of men with average or small heights exuding confidence and even command, purely on the basis of their skills and overall personality.
Heels do bring a grace to your walk, but prolonged wearing of pointed ones may also bring severe back and joint aches and swelled veins. This may in particular be relevant to women who often have to walk when commuting to work, like in the case of Japanese women. Those who drive mostly keep a pair of flats in their cars and switch to the more glamorous high heels when stepping out. Not always convenient.
If a woman herself prefers to wear heels to work or anywhere else, it’s her discretion. But if it is mandated that she wears heels at all times, isn’t that a violation of her freedom of choice?
Compare it with other obligations which women often have to face in terms of dress code. Covering heads with a head scarf or hijab among Muslim women is quite common around the world, although debate still surrounds the practice in terms of whether it is mandatory by religion or not. It is rightly argued that it should be a woman’s choice to wear a hijab or not. But there is always a resentment if she is forced not to wear it due to cultural or security obligations in non Muslim countries, or where she is subjected to hate crime, like the burkini ban in Europe has been termed as a human rights violation. Similarly, there is also an outcry when women are forced to cover their heads when they may not want to.
Recently, a prominent Iranian human rights lawyer and women’s rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced to 33 years in prison and 148 lashes for her human rights work, including her defence of women protesting against Iran’s hijab. Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in the late 1970s, women have been forbidden from appearing in public without a headscarf.
It is also a well known fact that most Saudi women, who are forced to cover their bodies from head to toe and sometimes even their faces when in country, gladly discard their abayas or loose overall garments when travelling abroad. This is a simple gesture proclaiming that wearing the garment is not their choice.
The truth is, that throughout history, women have continually been subjected to rules and regulations that dictate what they ‘can’ and ‘can’t’ put on their bodies. And most of these ‘dos’ and ‘don’t’s’ have been dictated by men.
In 1942, the World War II rationing brought an interesting restriction on women’s clothing. While men’s clothing remained the same, the USA set skirt lengths at 17 inches above the floor. Also, the swimming costumes became smaller. Within two years, the bikini had made its debut. A sexy or rather a ‘sexist’ revolution!
During the 1800s, for the first time in British history, women’s dress patterns were allowed to include pockets. Men, meanwhile, had pockets since the 1600s.
And women have gone through health hazards wearing corsets to reveal thin waists, even if they didn’t have one. In the mid 1500s, those attending courts in France were forced to wear corsets made out of wood or whalebone – with guards checking upon entry! Laced tightly together, women aimed for the smallest waist possible, 14 or 16 inches. The trend lasted until the 19th century.
Whether fashion or modesty or austerity, women have been forced to wear or not to wear garments which suits their society’s standards. They may be expected to appear ‘moral’ more than they themselves believe is necessary or to comply to a fashion trend just to be accepted.
So whether women in Japan wear heels to work or not, should not impact their commitment towards their jobs, their professionalism or their outlook. Dress codes are for occasions; not for all times.