Gender Wars: High Heels & Toothbrushes

I bought new toothbrushes a few weeks ago. One pink, one blue. This wasn’t intentional; it was default; it was the colours they had. On deciding who got which toothbrush I asked my husband. Do you want blue or shall we challenge gender stereotypes and you have the pink? (I recognise this is a heavily loaded question). He said I could do whatever I wanted. I choose the blue one. It occurred to me whilst brushing my teeth last night that this is probably a little crazy; if not over the top. The case for feminism and gender stereotypes is not so serious that it needs to extend to my dentistry. Or is it?

A few weeks ago Nicola Thorp was given the option of leaving her job as a receptionist for the day without pay or wearing 2-4″ heels. Nicola refused to wear the heels and was sent home. This inspired her to set up a petition which gained over 100,000 signatures. Since the instigation of this petition Nicola has received sexist abuse accompanying the growing realization that ‘we don’t live in a society where women are equal’. Nicola hopes that the fact she stood her ground against sexism will help women be more aware that ‘they don’t have to sit and take something just because they are a woman’.¬†

According to the law, UK employers can dismiss staff who don’t stick to a ‘reasonable’ dress code. This dress code can differ between the genders provided there is an ‘equivalent level of smartness’. But where do high heels fit into this? For some high heels equate to a smarter mode of dress, a more sophisticated look. For others they are the accoutrements of sexism or a symbol¬†of femininity. To Frances O’Grady, general secretary of TUC, having a dress code where high heels are compulsory ‘reeks of sexism’. For me, heels do make me feel more attractive, I do love my heels, but the idea that I have to wear them to heighten my appeal, to make me an almost status symbol of my employers makes me recoil. I am not what I wear and heels don’t define my employability.

There is also a biological or health perspective to take into account here. Tony Redmond, biomechanic at Leeds University, told the BBC that ‘high heels are a disaster’ for the foot. High heels ‘can cause some forms of arthritis’. Regular wear of high heels can also damage the knees, increases risk of osteoarthritis and slipped vertebrae. The idea that women, or anyone for that matter, should wear “uniform” that endangers their health is outrageous. Many jobs have compulsory gear to protect their employees, yet we expect half the population to wear shoes that can cause them damage. This should not be the case. Employers should not be able to exercise this power on a whim. Yes, in many jobs employers rightly expect a certain level of professionalism in the dress code. No, this should not endanger women’s feet. Until the time our employment laws reflect this you will find me wearing my heels when I want to, not when I ordered too!

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