Why Japanese Women are Saying No to High Heels at the Workplace?

Japanese women have revolted against the mandatory requirement to wear high heels at the workplace. A new shift in the movement has taken place this month when a Japanese actor and writer Yumi Ishikawa submitted a petition to Japan’s Labour Ministry asking for a ban on the imposition of mandatory wearing of high heels at the workplace. Called as #KuToo Movement, the petition received more than 20,000 online signatories within 24 hours.

Japan’s Health and Labour Minister responded by describing the practice of wearing high heels as ‘necessary and appropriate’ and intrinsic to the Japanese culture. This explanation gives a very clear picture of the struggle of women in a male-dominated Japanese workplace. There are no historical roots to trace how it is intrinsic to the Japanese culture.

In the west, high heels are considered as a form of ‘female power dressing’. Famous women in politics and business have made the impression that women look for powerful and professional in high heels. From Indra Nooyi, the former CEO and President of Pepsico, to British PM Theresa May, women who have been listed in the top 100 most powerful women have showcased the power behind the high heels. Women in western countries consider wearing high heels necessary if they wanted their colleagues to take them seriously. In Japan and to many western countries, high heels are equivalent to a man’s necktie, which defines professionalism.

It’s a corporate culture to give importance to the appearance of the workers. Where man is required to wear business suits even on a hot summer day, women are expected to wear high heels. So, since this is not a gender specific issue, what is wrong with the high heels?

No dress code of men does not give any physical pain and agony that can also result in plenty of unhealthy side effects. Imagine, a pregnant woman is obliged to wear high heels even though she must be aware of the risks. She will continue to wear high heels even though some workplaces might have flexible rules for pregnant women because high heels describe professionalism.

Through various research, it has been found that wearing high heels of 3 inches above can increase the risk of osteoarthritis, a leading cause of disability in women. This is above the normal day to day agonies of muscle spasms, knee and hip pains, hyperextension in toes, constricted blood flow on the feet, ankle sprain, weakening ligaments etc. Therefore, mandatory high heels at workplaces should be seen as a sign of women’s physical repression and a cause of afflicting pain in women’s body.

High heels since the 1970s and 80s have been giving a message to the public as a form of communicating femininity. As said in the beginning, top women in business and politics have been playing an important role to use high heels as a symbol of power to compete with the masculine dominated professional world. To undo this, these successful and powerful women need to project themselves as a role model for the evolving corporate culture. If they start wearing flat shoes, that will be considered as a ‘new normal’ to the corporate world.

In India, our women politicians and successful businesswomen do not find it necessary to wear high heels. We could hardly see former ICICI CEO and MD Chanda Kochhar in high heels. We don’t see our women politicians in high heels. That is how India has created an image that high heels are not necessary to be successful and powerful.

Wearing something that you are comfortable will empower you. But women empowerment will not take place by configuring the workplace with a priority on appearance and physically harming dress code. Choice and consent were the takeaways from the #MeToo movement. Likewise, we need choice and consent when it comes to dressing code at workplaces. Leave it to the women what they want to wear. Let us not dictate what one should wear. Women do not need to suffer and they should not continue to be like this.

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