NOT KOOL OVER #KUTOO

Written by Chu Yao Quan

What is #KuToo?

The #KuToo movement started in January 2019, when 32-year-old actress and writer Yumi Ishikawa tweeted about her frustration against a workplace stipulation that women had to wear high heels. Ishikawa feels that being required to wear high heels is rooted in a cultural problem, one much deeper than physical discomfort. In her tweet, she used “#KuToo”, a pun upon ”kutsu” and “’kutsuu” (“shoes” and “pain” in Japanese), and the #MeToo movement against sexual abuse. The original tweet had garnered over 67,000 likes and nearly 30,000 retweets, which led to a petition to ban companies from requiring women to wear high heels at the workplace.

What happened to the petition?

In response to the petition, Japan’s Health and Labour Minister Takumi Nemoto defended workplaces that require women to wear high heels to work, arguing that such dress codes are “necessary and appropriate”. She conceded that it could be considered “power harassment”, if employers required injured female workers to wear high heels.

Shortly after Nemoto’s comments, a #KuToo event was launched in Tokyo, which asked male participants to wear and walk around in 5cm-high stilettos. The event aimed to let men experience the discomfort and inconvenience that come from walking with one’s heels raised. 

The corporate take on heels

Japanese companies provide guidelines that suggest women must remain “presentable” in front of their customers, especially in customer service-heavy businesses like banks and airline companies. Shino Naito, an expert on labor laws from the Japan Institute for Labor Policy and Training, says that the main reason women wear heels is because society considers it to be “good manners”.

Companies now face the decision between the need to “please their customers” and their employees’ comfort and autonomy. But with the large number of companies shrugging off the movement, it may not bode well for the disgruntled female employees. 

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