The status quo is immensely overrated and grassroots movements are incredibly underrated. Allow me to elaborate.
If we all were to accept the status quo as an indisputable truth, change would be rare. 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 ensuing change may seem unquantifiable, yes, but the awareness and conversation that they spark as a result are unimaginable. Take the #womensmarchAntarctica as a perfect illustration. 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.
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.”
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. It’s not about the shoes; it’s about the choice. The right to wear what we please. The right to our own bodies.
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 shared with her some tips and tricks that I had employed while living in South America, where Spanish was my second language.
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 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 a rise in testosterone and decrease 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 resolute no to heels.
Similarly, Cuddy’s research 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. It makes a difference.
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 strips her of basic human rights.
We have the power to change this issue, and so much more. “That’s just the way things are done” should never be an acceptable response. No movement is too small. Challenge the status quo and you will effect change. If you can change one person’s way of seeing things, that’s enough.