When is it ever necessary and appropriate
for women to wear shoes with heels?

Japan’s Achilles’ heels exposed

Results of the #KuToo movement


Text by Yumi Ishikawa

At the funeral home where I work, pumps are part of the dress code, and I tweeted about how much they were making my feet hurt with the hashtag #KuToo — a play on the Japanese words for shoe (kutsu) and pain (kutsuu), and a nod to #MeToo. I found out from the comments I received that there are countless others who are suffering, so I decided that something needs to change. I started a petition on Change.org and have received support from thousands of people.

What I want employers at Japanese firms to understand is that a lot of women injure their feet or experience pain when wearing shoes with heels. They also need to be aware that women’s pumps put much more of a strain on feet and legs than men’s dress shoes, and there’s a greater risk of pumps causing work-related injuries. Most importantly, isn’t it essential they recognise that women aren’t like flowers on display in the work place — only there for their appearance — but are equal to men as coworkers?

In Japan, the media has focused almost exclusively on heels as a potential health issue and has not treated this as gender discrimination. However, many overseas media outlets, from the very beginning, have seen this as sexist and covered the story from a feminist perspective. It has allowed me to see how far behind Japan is in its awareness of gender issues.

In response to the petition on Change.org, Japan’s Minister of Health Takumi Nemoto stated in June that high heels are “necessary and appropriate in the work place”. As a man, he clearly doesn’t have much of a grasp of what high heels can do to your feet. Are shoes with heels necessary and appropriate for women to do their jobs effectively? And, if that’s the case, why is it only women who have to wear them? People should really be asking, “When is it ever necessary and appropriate for women to wear shoes with heels?”

Nemoto also stated that it should be considered power harassment if employers required employees with injured feet to wear heels. But the reality is that many women are suffering every day, so I believe that now is the time for companies to consider whether their current policies are, in fact, a form of power harassment.

There have already been many positive outcomes of #KuToo: some firms that have required women to wear pumps have begun to reconsider their regulations on footwear; there are some employers who have heard of our petition and told their employees that it’s OK not to wear heels; and many women have shared with me that this campaign has given them the courage to speak with their bosses about not wearing heels — and have been given permission to wear other types of shoes.

Even if it becomes the norm that women don’t have to wear pumps, it’s often the case that shoe shops and department stores only sell formal, leather women’s shoes that have a heel. As a next step for #KuToo, I am going to encourage the fashion industry to come in line with the changes taking place and help make flat leather shoes the standard for formal women’s footwear in Japan.

It’s great to see that, because of #KuToo, people aren’t just starting to debate gender discrimination but also whether it’s even necessary to work in the constricting suits and dress shoes we wear. While it may be gradual, I believe that we are changing from a society that thinks it’s right to endure the conditions the work place imposes to one that thinks it’s better to be comfortable at work — and that it is possible to have a work place where no one has to suffer.