Japanese women urged to empower themselves by wearing high heels

The movement aims to empower women through the wearing of high heels. Photo / iStock
The movement aims to empower women through the wearing of high heels. Photo / iStock

It is a nation that has consistently languished at the bottom end of gender equality rankings in the developed world.

And now, Japan is also home to a popular new movement which aims to help "empower" women - by encouraging them to wear high heels.

The Japan High Heel Association (JHA) is calling on women to swap sensible flat shoes for stilettos in order to boost their confidence in society as well as improve their posture.

The all-female organisation charges more than 400,000 yen (NZ $5571) for a six-month series of "walking etiquette classes," with its popularity reflected in the fact that 4,000 Japanese woman having already completed the course.

The organisation is one of a string of schools which are cropping up across Japan offering similar high heel-wearing classes to women, in order to give them "confidence" as well a poised posture. Critics have condemned the popularity of such high heel-related activities in a society that remains deeply patriarchal as both sexist and laughable.

Dismissing the idea as "nonsense", Mitsuko Shimomura, a prominent social commentator, said: "There's no relationship between wearing high heels and women's power. It sounds crazy."

The nation's "call to heels" is sharply at odds with growing efforts within Japan to change an engrained culture of gender imbalances which prevails despite the high-profile efforts of the government's so-called "womenomics" policies.

Japanese women are still often expected to give up work after having children, face chronic shortages of public childcare spots and regularly describe the existence of a "concrete" rather than glass ceiling preventing female workers from advancing to senior positions.

However, "Madame" Yumiko, the managing director of Tokyo-based JHA, insisted that encouraging women to wear heels would help "Japanese women become more confident."

Urging women to simply "throw on a pair of heels" in order to unlock their minds, she told AFP: "Many women are too shy to express themselves. In Japanese culture, women are not expected to stand out or put themselves first."

The act of wearing high heels would not only liberate them mentally but also help correct bad posture which stemmed from a legacy of wearing kimonos, according to Madame Yumiko, 48, a former ballerina.

"Japanese women walk like ducks," she said. "They waddle along, pigeon-toed, with their bottoms sticking out as if they're bursting to use the toilet. It looks ghastly."

She added: "Chinese or Korean ladies don't have these problems. It's a result of Japan's kimono culture and shuffling about in straw sandals. It's ingrained in the way Japanese walk. "But very few Japanese wear a kimono all day anymore. We should know about Western culture and how to wear heels correctly."

The call for women to wear heels is in stark contrast with the mood among female workers in the UK, where a movement is calling for the government to change "sexist" dress codes for female workers is gathering pace.

Nicola Thorp, 27, an actress and part-time receptionist from London, is behind a campaign to overhaul a "sexist" dress code that allows employers to require women to wear high heels in the workplace.

Last month, more than 100,000 people, with the support of female MPS, petitioned parliament to change the law preventing companies from stating what women should wear to work.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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