Melania’s the real enemy in the battle over shoes

A group of frustrated women from Japan have won worldwide support for their campaign against the pressure to wear high heeled shoes to work.

They have submitted a petition to the Japanese government, asking for relief from the uncomfortable footwear.

The petition gained more than 26,000 signatures and the issue has struck a chord with women from many other countries, who claim they’re also under similar pressure at work.

Kicking off

For example, Summer Brennan wrote a piece in the Guardian titled: “Listen to Japan’s women: high heels need kicking out of the workplace.”

And Holly Thomas wrote an article for CNN entitled: “I don’t wear high heels for anyone but me. Got that, boss?”

The domestic Japanese media have given the campaign a name: KuToo.

That has a strong echo of the MeToo campaign which highlights harassment in the workplace. KuToo is a play on two Japanese words; kutsu, meaning shoes, and kutsuu, meaning pain.

The whole thing started with an idea from Yumi Ishikawa, who like me is a freelance writer. I admire her success in getting so much media attention.

Legal footing

But the story is not quite what it seems, especially in the way it’s been interpreted by the international press.

There is no law in Japan decreeing that women should wear high heels to work.

They do so because they are following a strong social convention. To break the habit might create disapproval but it won’t land you in prison. In most professional situations, dress customs are quite strong in Japan but they are never legally enforced.

The Japanese government does not decide what people wear, so petitioning the government over the issue of shoes is a gesture designed to grab attention, rather than a meaningful political campaign.

I therefore felt rather sorry for Japan’s Health and Labour Minister Takumi Nemoto when he was put on the spot on this topic during a parliamentary committee meeting.

According to Kyodo news, he said that: “It is socially accepted as something that falls within the realm of being occupationally necessary and appropriate.”

That seems to me to be a carefully worded response to a trap question.

However, the press decided to present poor Mr Nemoto the enemy to Ms Ishikawa. Many stories appeared with his picture, stating that the government was fighting back against the KuToo campaign. Blame was laid at the feet of male politicians such as Mr Nemoto.

First Lady

However, another more powerful enemy of the sensible shoe brigade has also been making headlines.

When America’s First Lady Melania Trump stepped off a helicopter in Tokyo during her recent trip to Japan she wore a pair of ostentatious and expensive high heels.

Her outfit was photographed and analysed.

I found a wonderful description of the shoes on Footwear News.

“For footwear, the first lady went with soaring navy Christian Louboutin’s Agneska pumps. The shoes boast an almond toe, low vamp and curvy counter that shows off the sides of the foot, with a mid-heel and a pointed silhouette. The brand describes the shoes as “sensual, steeped in 1970s allure.” Set on a 4-inch heels, they retail for $695 on Nordstrom.com.”

If the First Lady uses high heels to emphasise her status and power, other women will be tempted to try them on for size, too – even if the kutsu feel a bit kutsuu.

And I doubt that Mrs Trump will worry about the KuToo petition next time she’s looking through her wardrobe, trying to decide what outfit to wear to impress the world.

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