Recent courses in Japan teaching women to wear high heels as a form of empowerment in the workplace have been very popular and throw up interesting contrasts with popular feminist opinion in the UK, where the Government recently launched an inquiry after a petition calling for a ban on the practice of forcing women to wear high heels in certain workplace environments got over 100,000 signatures almost overnight.
Issues of female empowerment are indeed complex and nowhere more so than in Japan where gender roles are very ingrained. With one of the largest gender gaps in the developed world, Japan has a real social, demographic and economic need for women to embrace empowerment and move towards equality in the workplace.
This particular form of ‘female empowerment’ appeals to Japanese cultural norms. One of the creators of the courses implies that since Japanese women are too shy to express themselves in a culture where women are still not expected to stand out or put themselves first, they can get extra confidence from this. According to The Japanese High Heel Association (JHA), “stilettos both improve a woman’s posture and give her greater assurance of her place in society.”
However, in a country where female receptionists until very recently were still referred to as ‘office flowers’, in certain companies women are sent home from work if they are not wearing enough make-up and are given specific advice in corporate inductions on how to have their hair, encouraging heel wearing as a specific form of career empowerment may well perpetuate the fixed gender roles and a feminine archetype that has evolved within this patriarchal society where young women are primarily judged on looks and specified feminine behaviour above ability. A recent example of a travel agency who tried to get business men to fly with them by advertising an offer of travelling in the company of ‘beautiful’ female university graduates was taken down under protests but the fact that it was even thought up in the first place shows an underlying attitude that may need to be adapted before any sustainable progress in the womenomics agenda can be made.