TALIN DEROHANESSIAN WRITES— Women in the Japanese workforce are required to wear high heels in the office, and they are finally speaking out about it. In some work environments, this is an unwritten rule; in others, it is written in the company handbook. The 2-3-inch heel requirement at work has long been the norm. If you are ever on the metro during rush hour, you will see a striking uniformity in businesswomen’s shoes.
Yumi Ishikawa, a part-time funeral attendant—of all things!—launched a nationwide protest with just one tweet in January of this year. At issue: The dress code at the funeral parlor required her to wear 5-inch heels, but Ishikawa rebelled. She wore 2-inch heels—and would not budge. Not even an inch.
Ishikawa’s tweet launched the #KuToo movement. #KuToo is a play on the Japanese words for shoe (kutsu) and pain (kutsuu). She circulated a petition, signed by more than 30,000, to the Labor Ministry of Japan in June. The petition calls for employers to stop their high-handedness and lower their expectations regarding heels.
Is this really a worthwhile cause? Yes, considering the many health risks associated with wearing heels every day, such as long -term damage to various parts of the body.
It’s not just the heels that hurt the women of Japan; it’s the gender inequality of the workforce. After all, men are allowed to wear comfortable shoes. And while it’s okay for women to wear heels on their own time, or for special occasions, they must not be made to do so unwillingly, alongside men who stroll comfortably through the workday.
Although anti-high heel fervor has reached new heights among the women of Japan, the government seeks to slap them down. When asked about Ishikawa’s petition, Japan’s health and labor minister, Takumi Nemoto, said that high heels are “occupationally necessary and appropriate” for women to wear at work.
This high-stakes, high-heel protest has just begun. It will take a lot more resistance to accomplish change. Let’s hope women take to the streets in protest—wearing flats, sneakers…anything but high heels.