Heels, loafers, flats, or kicks — which shoes a woman wears in the workplace should be her choice. In Japan, however, many women are required to wear heels to work, and now thousands of them have had enough.
And while the ministry has said it is reviewing the petition and officially declined to comment further, its head, Takumi Nemoto, said on Wednesday that he thinks expecting women to wear heels in the workplace is "within the range of what's commonly accepted as necessary and appropriate," Reuters reported.
Nemoto, who was responding to questions about the petition from another politician, noted some exceptional circumstances, saying that it could be considered "power harassment" to require injured female employees to wear heels.
The petition to outlaw heel requirements at work is part of the #KuToo campaign — a play on the Japanese words for shoe, “kutsu,” and pain, “kutsuu,” that pays homage to the #MeToo movement — started by actress and freelancer Yumi Ishikawa.
Ishikawa first took notice of such gender discriminatory dress codes when she started training for a job at a hotel. She was required to wear heels throughout training sessions, during which she had to stand for hours at a time. Ishikawa tweeted about the experience in January, and received overwhelming responses from women who similarly were required — by both explicit policies and implied expectations — to wear heels at work or during job interviews.
It wasn’t until Ishikawa came across the same requirement at her current job, as a receptionist at a funeral parlor, that she decided to speak out and created the #KuToo campaign.
“This is about gender discrimination,” Ishikawa told the Associated Press on Wednesday.
“It’s the view that appearances are more important for women at work than for men.”
Despite the minister's reply, Ishikawa remains optimistic about the campaign, but believes change will take time, despite the traction and international attention the petition has gained so far.
"It seems like men don't really understand that wearing high heels can be painful and lead to injuries ... even if women aren't hurt, I'd like such expectations to be considered power harassment," she told Reuters.
She hopes that Nemoto's comments will encourage more women to speak up about the issue and raise it to their employers.
"This might spur that kind of action, so I think this is going in a good direction," she added.
While Ishikawa received many supportive messages from women in response to her campaign, Ishikawa said she has also been harassed online, mostly by men.
“Japan is thickheaded about gender discrimination. It’s way behind other countries in this regard,” she told Reuters.
“We need people to realize that gender discrimination can show up in lots of small ways,” she said.
Update, June 6: This story was originally published on June 5 and was updated to reflect recent developments.