Friday, 13 May 2016

Well heeled

It's hard to believe that in the year 2016, when gender equality is meant to be progressing rapidly, a woman can be sent home without pay by her employer for refusing to wear high heels all day.

But that's what happened to Nicola Thorp when she turned up for work at Price Waterhouse Cooper in London. When she said she couldn't escort clients round the office all day if she was in high heels, she was ignored. Her petition to the British government for a change in the law has attracted huge support.

Surely by now it's well-established that regular wearing of high heels is physically harmful, acutely painful, impedes numerous activities, and hinders personal safety. Yet employers can still overlook all these dangers and insist on their being worn in the name of "looking professional" and "promoting the right image".

As far as I know there's no evidence whatever that high heels make a woman look more professional or inspire more confidence in her abilities, but they're still part of the obligatory dress code in many companies.

If high heels look "professional", then how come men can look professional without having to hobble round the office in such things, and can inspire confidence simply by wearing a tie and a crumpled suit? Why aren't men asked to do their job in agonising shoes with bleeding feet? Why aren't they asked to "promote the right image"?

The obvious answer is that men simply wouldn't put up with chronic pain day in and day out, and wouldn't entertain the idea for two seconds. That and their entrenched dread of doing anything "effeminate", of course.

I can think of a novel way of opposing the high heels dress code. If we have business with a company that applies it, just refuse to talk to a woman in high heels and ask for a woman in normal footwear. That would soon bring a few changes.

PS: Nicola Thorp's petition is here


  1. That's crazy. I can understand if she was wearing flip flops or something, but a pair of flats I would actually consider to be more professional looking than heels. You are there to work, not attract men or go clubbing.

  2. Bijoux: Exactly, flats can be very smart, so what's the problem? And yes, you're there to work, and if that involves a lot of walking around, practical footwear is called for, not fuck-me heels.

  3. Is this the sort of fuck-me heels you mean, Nick?
    Right with you on this one BTW

  4. Dave: Indeed, they look perfect for blow jobs! I wonder what an employer would say if they stipulated high heels and that's what you turned up in?

  5. Thank you so much, Nick. You know how Ramana will (often) mention synchronicity? Well, blow me down and pick me up. Only this morning, and it remains a draft, I picked up the very same story on my blog. In fact I dedicated the post to YOU as I expected those heels would raise your hackles.

    Don't shoot me. I found myself, no bull, going to a meeting the other day and APOLOGIZING (I rarely apologize unless there is something to apologize for) for not wearing heels. Yes, Nick. I did apologize to the panel to limp into meeting not wearing heels, my excuse not being lame though, actually, my foot is - temporarily - swollen. I can't put any pressure on it. Seriously, you can't make up this shit if you tried. And do remember, before anyone replies to me, that I am known for doing my own thing - yet, OH THE SHAME OF IT - I, of all people, still apologized for not wearing heels. So unprofessional [not heading heels].

    As I write I am weeping into the Laboutins I wish I had,


  6. Ursula: You raise a very good point. Suppose a woman can't wear heels because of a medical condition such as swollen feet? Does that mean she loses a day's pay? Does it mean she has to go home? The mind boggles.

    It's ridiculous in this day and age that a woman has to apologise for not wearing the crippling shoes her boss (probably male) expects her to wear.

    I'd love to know how often Christian Louboutin wears his own excruciating shoes and how he justifies subjecting thousands of women to daily agony.

  7. Ursula: I look forward to your blog post, by the way....

  8. I'm sure you could find evidence that women are perceived as more professional when wearing modest heels and tailored clothing. Women are also perceived as talking too much when they speak at all. Perception is not reality. The real issue here is that men like women to look sexy, and men are in charge of the dress code. Women will stop wearing heels when they have more power.

  9. Shawn: I'd love to see some evidence one way or the other but I can't find any. In some jobs, such as academia or medicine, high heels are actually seen as less professional. Sexiness is often the hidden agenda as you say, and "looking professional" is just a bogus reason to hide the real one. Unfortunately many women favour high heels for reasons of their own (like looking taller) and will happily go along with a heels dress code.

    As for being seen as "talking too much", that's absolutely true. It's men who talk too much, and are usually unaware that women are talking much less.

  10. I remember looking for a job as a student...and coming across job adverts proclaiming that there was a 'grooming allowance'...
    Curry combs? Hoof picks?

    Now it appears that the grooming is still there but the worker has to pay for it...

    I once had a job that required walking miles through
    long corridors every day. 8 hours.
    heels were mandatory. as if pantyhose weren't bad enough!
    we ALL complained. but only to ourselves.
    it went with the (seriously here) dress code job description qualifications.
    who DOES that??? MEN do it!
    i'm not a diehard feminist who hates men.
    but they need to WAKE UP. I just would love for someone to MAKE THEM wear those things for one hour. much less 8 for day after day.

  12. Helen: I never heard of a grooming allowance when I was young. That's the double whammy of course. Not only does a woman have to be perfectly groomed and wearing all the right female attire, she has to pay for it as well. And fancy clothes and make-up and all the rest don't come cheap.

  13. Tammy: Yes, all the fiddle-faddle of pantyhose as well. I think all men should be obliged to dress like women for a month or two. That would open their eyes to what women have to put up with.

    I had a car service yesterday. The receptionist at the car dealer was wearing a very tight skirt, high heels and make-up, with long silky hair. The men of course were in their usual rumpled suits. When will this nonsense ever stop?

  14. Apparently this has happened in some other organisations as well. I think that to force a lady to wear high heel shoes as part of her official attire is unfair. I personally would rather that she was comfortable than look like a professional model. She is sure to be much more productive in comfortable footwear than otherwise.

  15. Ramana: As I said above, we don't expect nurses, doctors or surgeons to wear high heels. Yet we see them as professionals who'll do a good job for us. The high-heels dogma isn't even followed consistently, so it makes no sense.

  16. The modern 'high heels' today are totally ridiculous and the only people who benefit are orthopaedic surgeons who are highly paid to sort out deformed feet. A two inch heel can be more comfortable than a completely flat shoe for office wear. If there are to be.

    A uniform is usually subsidised if not supplied free and can save the morning panic of "What will I wear?" It also saves on wear and tear of personal clothes.

  17. Grannymar: I'm not keen on the idea of a uniform. It's too rigid and depersonalising. I would have thought smart, presentable clothes are more than enough for any job. A uniform may save on clothing costs but it creates a sort of bland, robotic company image.

  18. Nick, time for me to close up shop... Please delete my last comment and the words "If there are to be." for my first comment. I changed my mind and missed deleting them.

  19. Grannymar: I've deleted your last comment but I can't amend your previous one! However, I think your meaning is clear.

  20. And kinda sorta on topic did you see Julia Roberts went barefoot at Cannes to make a statement?

    Yeah, Julia. AND you should the bunions on many of friends' feet C'est horrible.


  21. Shawn,
    Women need to TAKE their power, OWN it by wearing whatever shoes they want. If we wait for men/ society / corporations to give us power we will be shackled forever.

    Tammy j,
    A feminist does not hate men, please dont propagate that ridiculous old stereotype.

    That is what I would expect from that company. They suckered my BIL to work for them when he was a young graduate, told the naive young thing they valued work life balance then bled him dry for the next 10 or more years. He's lucky his kids recognise him

  22. www: Yes, I saw that - good for her. I doubt if they'll be sending her home without pay! Bunions are the least of the problems. Many women end up with chronic osteoarthritis and need complex knee and joint operations to relieve the pain.

    Kylie: I bet it's a dreadful company to work for, like many of those big-name companies. Of course they disclaimed all responsibility for the high-heels policy, saying the job was out-sourced and therefore nothing to do with them.

  23. There are worse uniforms that people are forced to wear :-)
    Plus, I would rather see women create this sort of stir for the right to equal pay. I worked in the City for years.... I did get ticked off occasionally for my attire, but I carried on with my flats and trousers... it was the argument over pay that hung me.

  24. Scarlet: Why choose? Hazardous high heels and the pay gap are equally important. But the latest research says that in general women and men ARE paid the same for equivalent jobs. The problem is that women tend to go into occupations with lower pay levels than men. When will nurses be paid the same as bankers?

  25. I was lucky enough to avoid dress codes like that. I don't do high heels.

  26. Jean: You were fortunate. And your employers were sensible. Funnily enough, when I worked as a receptionist for a few months, they never asked me to wear high heels. Clearly they thought I could do the job despite inappropriate footwear.

  27. I still can't believe that actually happened. (I know it did.) Crazy.

  28. Liz: I know, it's hard to believe. Does anyone seriously think a woman in high heels is better at her job than one without? Does that mean that if she takes her heels off for ten minutes, her brain turns to mush?

  29. I found this the most ridiculous story with all the fuss. What was disturbing that people seemed to get more outraged than at all kinds of things that are much worse and genuinely bad for women than something as trivial as this.

  30. Jenny: I think the fuss is justified, if thousands of women (or millions across the whole world) are forced to wear shoes that are not only impractical but seriously painful and likely to damage their body in numerous ways. It's absurd to say you can only do a proper job if you're wearing high heels.