Shoeicide: The Power of Grassroots and the Stupidity of the Status Quo

The status quo is immensely overrated and grassroots movements are incredibly underrated. Allow me to elaborate.

If everyone accepted the status quo to be true, change would be rare, just like men remembering to put the toilet seat down after they pee. They may revert, “Well, I don’t see you putting the seat back up after you use it.” First off, that’s not the natural state of the toilet seat. Secondly, I’m pretty sure my not-putting-the-seat-back-up does not put you at risk of falling directly into the freezing, water-filled toilet bowl. But I digress.

Over the past decade, we have seen a tremendous boost in organization surrounding Women, Climate Justice, Food Sovereignty, the Refugee Crisis, and more. In recent events, demonstrations have filled the streets of Hong Kong, where protestors rally against an extradition bill that could open the city to mainland Chinese law. The change effected by these movements may seem unquantifiable, yes, but the awareness and conversation that they spark as a result are unimaginable. Take the #womensmarchAntarctica as a perfect example. Approximately thirty men and women braved freezing temps, and sat in solidarity on a 30-foot-long ship, as millions marched in other (more temperate, mind you) parts of the world, from Belarus to New Zealand. The headline “BREAKING NEWS: Antarctica announces #womensmarch, expanding the movement to 7 continents! #womensmarchglobal,” was trending all over the media within moments, raising awareness and cultivating important conversations, emulating the immense power of this movement alongside others.

This week, I will make my very first journey to Asia. As I googled, “What to wear in Tokyo,” (it’s rain season), an intriguing article immediately captured my attention. Japanese minister: High heels for women at work are ‘occupationally necessary and appropriate’. Picture that emoji with the monocular. That’s my face right now.

As I dug further into the controversy surrounding these comments, I stumbled across an interesting article: My feet, my business: Yumi Ishikawa and the high-heeled rebellion. The very first line read, “Why you should care: Because feet have very little to do with anyone’s bottom line.” Ishikawa raised awareness primarily via Twitter, quickly garnering immense support, depicted through the 67,000 likes and 30,000 retweets, and ultimately submitted a labor ministry petition with 19,000 signatures, calling to ban the obligation to wear high heels at work. The supporters of this movement deemed it gender-based workplace discrimination, as men were permitted to wear whatever footwear they so desired. Surprise, surprise.

These laws are less about shoes, and more about supporting a status quo. “If your job is to sit behind a desk for 10 hours a day,” says Chikako Sagawa, a former high-tech employee, “how could shoes possibly make a difference?” Like most “status quo’s” this one is restricting and oppressive. “Ideally we’d like a new law,” Ishikawa told reporters. “I’d like social perceptions to change so that women wearing formal flat shoes becomes standard.” It’s not about the shoes; it’s about the choice. The right to wear what we please. The right to our own bodies.

Ishikawa singlehandedly built the #KuToo movement, which embodies this very notion. #KuToo is a symbolic hashtag: A valise of Japanese words for shoes (kutsu), pain (kutsuu), and #MeToo.

The challenge to this status quo, commonly held worldwide, was accentuated personally as I mentored a young woman over coffee one Saturday morning. This woman was seeking support surrounding presenting at work, and how to develop the required confidence to do so, especially given that English was her second language. I could relate, as I had similar stage-fright throughout high school and college, and can vividly recall my voice quivering as I participated in my all-Spanish classes during my semester abroad in Ecuador. I shared with her some tips and tricks, namely practice, stepping outside of your comfort zone, seeking more opportunities to give presentations, and finding a native speaker to continuously practice the language with.

Then, I mentioned a book that was life-changing to me. Amy Cuddy spoke at Boston College, my alma mater, about her bestselling book, Presence, which delves into the importance of posture as a vital tool for successful interpersonal relationships. Cuddy’s study showed that those who posed in high-power displays (i.e., her famous Power Pose), experienced elevations in testosterone and decreases in cortisol, resulting in increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk. I explained to my mentee that I now always wear a pant suit when giving a presentation. This manner of dressing allows me to boost my “presence,” resulting in an increase in my overall confidence and ability to fearlessly, and unwaveringly, deliver my message. I also make sure I’m comfortable and can easily move around the stage. Thus, a hard no to heels.

Similarly, Cuddy’s study (Dr. Seuss here) shows that we are more confident when our legs are widely spread, not crossed. I therefore try not to wear a dress when attending a big meeting, so that I can disseminate my message confidently, and also take up my fair share of the boardroom table, as opposed to limiting myself by squeezing into a corner with my legs crossed and my notebook on my lap. I make a point to spread everything (yes, including my legs – everyone else in the room is man-spreading, so it’s only fair). It makes a difference. Try it sometime.

Women in Mumbai substantiate the KuToo movement, opining that wearing heels is like “subjecting your feet to slavery”. I take this quote literally and symbolically. Not only are heels downright uncomfortable; dictating that a woman wear these shoes to the office could be considered a manner of stripping her of basic human rights.

Status quos are overrated, and incredibly limiting. Look to the average amount of money a woman spends on makeup in her lifetime. Any takers? On average, $15,000. How much time, on average, does a woman spend “getting ready”? On average, 76 minutes. When I try to research how much the average man spends on makeup in a lifetime, no results appear. Similarly, men, on average, spend less than thirty minutes getting ready. Why? Status quo. A woman without makeup in the office is an anomaly. A woman with a wrinkled dress: another anomaly. Why is this trend problematic? Well, just think to yourself what a woman could be doing with that time in the morning. Reading, watching the news, sleeping. What if we all committed to change this, as politicians like Hilary Clinton have done? (I’m guilty of it, too; definitely wasn’t born with these long lashes). But we, as women, hold the power to change these norms. I didn’t wear any makeup to work today, and yes, was rather self-conscious of the giant zit on my chin. But then I noticed that my manager (male) had a giant pimple on his forehead. It wasn’t impacting his confidence. Why should it affect mine?

We have the power to change this, and so much more. Challenge the status quo and effect change. No movement is too small. If you can change one human’s way of seeing things, that’s enough.

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