Time's Up for Mandatory High Heels
Just think about it: a clothing item that permanently disfigures a body part, encouraging nerve growths that set off shooting pain. Fashionwise, it telegraphs sexual availability. And amazingly, some employers demand that their female workers wear this cause of physical agony to the office.
We speak, of course, about high heels. For years now, working women have been agitating against this extraordinary -- if you think about it -- indignity to their gender. There has been progress, but there have also been setbacks.
In a recent attempt to stop Japanese employers from mandating high heels for their female workers, Yumi Ishikawa, a 32-year-old model, started the #KuToo movement. The #KuToo hashtag cleverly combines the Japanese words for shoe (kutsu) and pain (kutsuu), suggesting an offshoot of the #MeToo movement.
What got Ishikawa going was a part-time job at a funeral parlor that required her to wear heels to work. Is sex appeal essential to selling cremation urns?
And high heels are about sex appeal -- make no mistake. In "The Language of Clothes," Allison Lurie writes that high-heeled and narrow-toed shoes "are considered sexually attractive, partly because they make the legs look longer -- an extended leg is the biological sign of sexual availability in several animal species." They also make it almost impossible for a woman to outrun a man.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many companies have established detailed rules on sexual harassment. But it shouldn't be hard to find members of this group who also require their female staff to wear shoes to produce what anthropologists call the "courtship strut."
Has Ishikawa's campaign brought about change? Not much. She has received an outpouring of support from fellow sufferers throughout Asia, but she's gotten nowhere with changing the rules. When she contacted Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, she got the royal brushoff. The minister held that matters of dress are up to the companies. Still worse, he added that such requirements are "necessary and appropriate" in the workplace.
Three years ago, Nicola Thorp, a 27-year-old temp worker in London, protested a company rule that says female receptionists must wear heels 2 to 4 inches high. The British government rejected a bill that would have banned companies from requiring high heels.
A few governments have acknowledged the injustice. In British Columbia, Canada, employers may no longer insist that women wear heels to work.
I have no problem with the general concept of dress codes. And I have no problem with wearing heels, however high, by choice. (It has to be said, though, that these women often have an air of desperation about them.)
What's going to really turn the tide is a decision by the fashion world that stiletto heels are no longer chic but an emblem of fashion victimhood. This will take a while.
Famous for her ridiculous spike heels, designer Victoria Beckham made waves three years ago by announcing that she "can't do heels anymore," at least not while working. But she continues to pose in them, and her brand currently includes pointy pumps with 5-inch heels. At least the words were uttered.
For what it's worth, Genevieve Antoine Dariaux, author of the 1964 fashion bible "A Guide to Elegance," wrote that there's no place in an elegant wardrobe for "too high heels, which unbalance the posture, distort the silhouette, and are extremely vulgar." Even if you're short, she added, "you should wear heels no higher than 2 or 2-1/2 inches." She didn't even get into the orthopedics -- the inflamed Achilles tendons, neuromas or cases of metatarsalgia.
More women really do seem intent on demanding more comfort in their footwear. If this trend continues, then it's time's up for super high heels. Good.
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