High heels and feminism: #KuToo movement in Japan

High heels and feminism: #KuToo movement in Japan

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In the country of Japan, there is a policy regarding dress code for women in workplaces. All working women in Japan mandatorily have to wear high heels. No proper reason can be drawn for why such a mandate has been made by the workplaces and this compulsion on the face of it is discriminatory and arbitrary.

Although high heels might be pretty to look at it, physically, they can be a cause of great discomfort. High heels are a fashion absurdity that causes improper alignment of the toes and heel and has the possibility of leading to corns, arthritis or even damage to bone structure. The reason why high heels are considered so remarkable in the fashion industry is that they give an appearance of shortening of the feet, making the feet look more ‘feminine’ in the traditional sense.[1] High heels make it difficult to walk faster and have more to do with female attractiveness that any other reasonable reason.[2] The College of Podiatry has warned employers not to make women wear high heels at work because they can cause bunions, back problems, ankle sprains, and tight calves. It has been worked out that it takes an average of one hour, six minutes and 48 seconds for them to start hurting.[3]

Japan is a country with rigid gender roles. Women are expected to wear high heels even in places and situations when they might not be present in front of a group or audience but have a desk job or like. Although it is perfectly okay for women to choose to wear high heels, forcing all women to do the same, to be able to be part of a workplace cannot be okay. Many women have to bear odd amounts of pain and problems daily to be able to earn their livelihood. Some campaigners have even compared the high-heel policies to foot binding, a practice that began in ancient China. Young girls’ feet were altered by being broken and bound in scarves to prevent them from growing. Smaller feet were seen as feminine—and more desirable to suitors.[4]

The #KuToo movement is a social media movement started by women of japan to revolt against this misogynistic mandate. The movement was first started by Yumi Ishikawa, a 32-year-old Japanese model. The #KuToo hashtag cleverly combines the Japanese words for the shoe (kutsu) and pain (kutsuu), sounding similar to the #MeToo movement. Ishikawa believes that she would be more productive and efficient if she could wear flats or sneakers and as per her, “Women don’t even realize they are risking themselves, as this style has been deeply rooted in the work culture,” she said, “We should take this situation more seriously.” Many women have joined the uproar trying to get such an unreasonable mandate to be removed and more than 19,000 people in Japan have signed a petition to ban office dress codes which force women to wear high heels to work.

The topic has been much debated and has also been compared to the compulsion on men to wear neck-ties. However, neckties are not as medically harmful and do not slow done the work efficiency of the person. Also, the debate can be continued, the real question is that of gender discrimination and inequality and why a woman cannot wear normal shoes. Japan is ranked at 110 out of 149 countries in the World Economic Forum’s index measuring the degree of gender equality.[5]

To increase gender equality, Japan had brought in the concept of “Womenomics”. This concept notes that Japan’s workforce is shrinking because a lot of women are unemployed or choose not to work. This concept was brought in six years ago by Mr. Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan then. The goal was to get more women to start working by looking into what issues women have that prevent them from working. Things such as day-care facilities were looked into and improved. Also, encouragement is given to large companies to hire women to high executive ranks.[6] “Womennomics” can prove to be very helpful in reducing gender disparity in Japan.

Further looking at the state of feminism in Japan; Japan has had a low level of women representatives and yet Japan introduced a number of women-friendly policy measures in the 1900s to 2000s.

1. The Angel Plans of 1995 and 1999

2. The Parental Leave Law

3. Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEOL)

4. Establishment of the Council on Gender Equality in 1996

5. The Long-Term Care Insurance Law in 1997

6. Passage of the Basic Law for Gender Equality in 1999

7. Legalization of the low-dose Pill in 1999

8. Passage of the Domestic Violence Prevention Law in 2001[7]

However, in Japan often women are put into ippanshoku (non-career-track) jobs so that they can be expected to take care of children along with their jobs. Also about two decades ago, Japan was dominated by a concept of ‘ihongatafukushishakai’ which talked about a concept of the welfare state that heavily relied upon unpaid caretaking of women at families. [8]

Although Japan has been introducing policies to aid women empowerment and equality, there still is resistance due to cultural beliefs. Due to this working women constantly face more pressure to fit in at the workplace than their male counterparts. There are very few working women and they too are having to suffer due to discriminatory policies. Ultimately, the mandate of wearing high heels is not a question of comfort or dress code but of equality and feminism. Women in the workplace must not be forced to dress in a particular way that discourages them to work and also causes discomfort and less efficiency at work. Removing such a compulsion and allowing women to wear flats can be a great contributor to aiding gender equality in Japan.

ENDNOTES

  1. [1] Pringle, G. (1938). Correct Footwear. The British Medical Journal, 1(4023), 362-363. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25368902
  2. [2]Raj Persaud, M.D. Peter Bruggen, M.D. (n.d.). Why high heels make women more attractive. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/slightly-blighty/201508/why-high-heels-make-women-more-attractive
  3. [3]Jstor Daily. (n.d.). What is the Kutoo movement? Retrieved from https://daily.jstor.org/what-is-the-kutoo-movement/
  4. [4] The Guardian. (n.d.). KuToo: Japanese women submit anti-high heels petition. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/03/women-in-japan-protest-against-having-to-wear-high-heels-to-work-kutoo-yumi-ishikawa
  5. [5] Thousands of Japanese women join campaign to ban workplace high heel requirements. (n.d.). Retrieved from CNN: https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/japan-heels-petition-intl/index.html
  6. [6]Consulate General of Japan in New York / Japan Information Center. (2015). What is Womenomics? Retrieved from JapanInfo: https://www.ny.us.emb-japan.go.jp/en/c/2015/04-Apr/japaninfo-2015-04/03.html 
  7. [7]Boling, P. (2008). State Feminism in Japan? U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal, (34), 68-89. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/42771976
  8. [8]Boling, P. (2008). State Feminism in Japan? U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal, (34), 68-89. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/42771976

Akshita Himatsingka

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Akshita is a very enthusiastic and passionate writer who loves to explore new things. She is ever ready for learning new and interesting things. She has a very good hand in Art & Craft. You will find a very innocent and jolly kinda character in her. For any clarifications, feedback, and advice, you can reach her at ahimatsingka18@gmail.com


2 Replies to “High heels and feminism: #KuToo movement in Japan”

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