While the #MeToo movement per se may not have taken off in Japan in the same way it was in the United States, women in the country are definitely growing more aware - and angrier - about how they're depicted in the media and treated in the workplace. Last year, I discussed the online blowback against virtual reality star Kizuna Ai's deployment by NHK in a sub-site discussing that year's Nobel Prize winners. And of course there was the continuing controversy over women's medical school submissions, and, more recently, the furor that erupted over idol Yamaguchi Maho's treatment by her agency in the wake of her attempted rape.
Now a new furor is brewing. And it's all about shoes.
Last year, pin-up model Ishikawa Yumi (石川優美) made waves with a blog post (JP) about numerous incidents of sexual harassment she'd endured - from being pressured by her manager to expose herself more than she was comfortable with, to invitations to sexual trysts from TV producers. Since making waves with that post, Ishikawa has set herself a new target: the custom in companies of forcing women to wear high heels in the workplace.
Borrowing the hashtag of the #MeToo movement, Ishikawa is promoting the movement with the hashtag #KuToo - a seriously clever triple-wordplay that combines "MeToo", "kutsu" (靴, shoes), and the "ku" from "kutsuu" (苦痛), meaning "agony". She's using the tag to promote a change.org petition, which she plans to submit to the country's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in a bid to compel them to issue a binding ruling on the country's companies.
The effort came about when Ishikawa posted an offhand tweet on her Twitter account about preventing companies from instituting rules that demand high heels. That tweet was re-tweeted over 30,000 times, and sparked a chorus of agreement from women throughout Japan. Since then, Ishikawa's subsequent change.org petition has accumulated almost 13,000 signatures, just shy of the 15,000 for which she's aiming to send to the Ministry of Health.
(JP) Link: #KuToo Spreads: Petition Against Pumps Surpasses 10,000 Signatures
広がる「＃KuToo」 パンプス反対署名、1万人超える - 毎日新聞
"#KuToo" is now a prominent hashtag on Japanese Twitter, with many posters expressing agreement with Ishikawa's drive, expressing exasperation that women are forced to sacrifice their comfort - and even their health - to maintain a certain standard of beauty in the workplace.
#KuToo 反対してる方、以下明確に答えられますか？— mori (@marumo_2006) 2019年2月22日
Those who oppose #KuToo, can you respond to the following?
・ How does making your feet look pretty relate to your work?
・ Why, when there are many other types of footwear, do you have to protect a custom that injures women?
・ Why, when nearly every workplace demands efficiency, is something so illogical enforced?
This movement mirrors similar movements that have happened around the world. In 2017, actress Nicola Thorp led a similar petition drive in England against compulsory pumps, collecting over 150,000 signatures. The movement sparked a greater awareness, not just over high heels, but the various other ways in which women are compelled to look "attractive" or "sexy" at work. The province of British Columbia also moved to make compulsory heels illegal in 2017.
British Woman’s Revolt Against High Heels Becomes a Cause in Parliament
I have no doubt that Japan's movement against compulsory heels will kickstart a similar discussion about workplace "etiquette". I've had female Japanese colleagues tell me horror stories of everything from being insulted and put down by male colleagues, to being called out by their bosses for wearing "insufficient" makeup. If I were a betting man, I'd say that the #KuToo movement is just the beginning of a revolt against double standards in the Japanese workplace.
I'm the publisher of Unseen Japan. I hold an N1 Certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and am married to a wonderful woman from Tokyo.
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