Japan: My Feet, My Business

There’s a kernel of contrarianism that fuels some of the best social movements. Movements that, if history is any judge, have traditionally begun when one, or some, people get to “enough,” or maybe “too much,” and put their feet down. In the instance of Japan’s Yumi Ishikawa, 32, that moment came, almost literally, with an online meditation on the business case for requiring Japanese women to wear high-heeled shoes, footwear that helps little with professional jobs that don’t involve “entertainment.”

“This is a problem that many women believed was a personal issue because [wearing high heels] is generally seen as good etiquette,” said Ishikawa, an actress, part-time worker and writer, at a news conference Monday in Tokyo. She spoke just after she had submitted a labor ministry petition with 18,856 signatures, women mostly, signed on to ban dress codes that require women to wear high heels at work.

Calling it gender-based workplace discrimination — men can, unsurprisingly, wear whatever footwear they choose — Ishikawa kicked off the #KuToo movement, a portmanteau of Japanese words for shoes (kutsu) and pain (kutsuu), and #MeToo. And she kicked it off in a thoroughly modern way: complaining about it on Twitter. The complaint quickly drew notice, getting 67,000 likes and 30,000 retweets, as it put a finer point on her frustrations with her part-time funeral parlor gig where, yes, she had to wear high heels because, presumably, dead people care about such things.

“We were also repeatedly told how difficult enacting a law to counter gender harassment and discrimination can be,” Ishikawa said. But, she noted, “I believe this is an urgent issue.” The demand was similar to that of 150,000 people who signed a petition in the U.K. to outlaw workplace requirements on high-heeled footwear after Nicola Thorp, a temp worker, was sent home without pay for a high-heeled refusal. The year? 2016. The law? Unchanged. Read more via Ozy