Yumi Ishikawa, a Tokyo-based feminist, writer and artist, developed the petition after her Twitter thread about being forced to wear heels at work went viral — amassing over 67,000 likes and nearly 30,000 retweets.
“I’m hoping to get rid of the custom someday that women have to wear heels and pumps at work,” the English translation of one of her tweets reads.
Ishikawa came up with a hashtag to accompany the anti-heel movement: #KuToo. A play on the #MeToo movement that rose to prominence in fall 2017, #KuToo combines the Japanese words for shoes (kutsu) and pain (kutsuu).
In Japan, there are no laws preventing companies from regulating employees’ work attire, meaning employers are free to require women to wear high heels. In September 2017, the Philippines became the first Asian country to formally ban mandatory heels at work. A similar legislative proposal was struck down in Great Britain in 2017, following the circulation of a petition that, like Ishikawa’s, gained traction online (more than 100,000 people signed in support).
While dress codes for office attire have become more casual in recent years, businesses in countries like the U.S. and Japan are legally permitted to impose mandatory heel requirements. Speaking to FN in 2018, etiquette expert Sharon Schweitzer, founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, explained that many Asian employers may require women to wear heels with their wardrobe, based on organizational culture and customs.
“Many managers and supervisors require a certain level of office wardrobe professionalism not only because clients, customers, and business associates stop in for appointments; but also because studies reveal workers have more self-confidence and perform better when dressed more formally. If the manager’s request is based on policy, organizational culture, potential or scheduled client meeting, or just business preference these are valid reasons [to ask employees to wear heels],” Schweitzer said.
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