Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues

WALKING A MILE IN HER SHOES -FEMALE EMPLOYEES VS. EMPLOYERS IN MODERN DAY UNITED KINGDOM

2 Comments

 Roman Msaki 

The history of women and high heels is very interesting. Our early ancestors they didn’t care about putting shoes leaving alone high heels. In all likelihood, they went barefoot. Shoes in the form of sandals emerged around 9,000 years ago as a means of protecting bare feet from the elements (specifically, frostbite).

The Greeks viewed shoes as an indulgence—a means of increasing status, though it was a Greek, actually Aeschylus, who created the first high heel, called “korthonos” for theatrical purposes. His intent was to “add majesty to the heroes of his plays so that they would stand out from the lesser players and be more easily recognized”.[1]

Greek women adopted the trend, taking the wedge heel to new heights that the late Alexander McQueen would have likely applauded. The adoption of shoes, and the heel, for Greeks appears to coincide with Roman influence, and ultimately Roman conquest. Roman fashion was viewed as a sign of power and status, and shoes represented a state of civilization[2].

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The widespread popularity of the heel is credited to Catherine de Medici who wore heels to look taller. When she wore them to her wedding to Henry II of France, they became a status symbol for the wealthy. Commoners were banned from wearing heels, although it’s doubtful that they would have been able to afford them anyway. Later, the French heel predecessor to the narrow, tall heel of today would be made popular by Marquise de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV. These shoes initially required women to use walking sticks to keep their balance until the height of the heel was reduced[3].

In the United States the campaign “Walking a Mile in her Shoes” was designed to raise male awareness and condemn rape, sexual assault and gender violence[4]. The main aim of the drive was to enable men to experience a day on “heels”.

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But, the story of Nicole Thorp, a secretary of the London big accountancy firm “PWC”[5]  in United Kingdom tells us another story, a different perspective on wearing high heels. In her firm, high heels are mandatory. She was sent back home in December 2015 for wearing flats instead of high heels[6]. She refused to obey the then rules of her employment agency, Portico, that she should wear shoes with heels that were between two and four inches high. Ms. Thorp argued that wearing them all day would be bad for her feet.[7] She started a petition in 2016, which attracted about 150,000 signatures[8] far beyond the required number of signatures needed to trigger a response by the government.

“This may have started over a pair of high heels, but what it has revealed about discrimination in the UK workplace is vital, as demonstrated by the hundreds of women who came forward via the committees’ online forum…………… (words omitted for emphasis); The current system favors the employer, and is failing employees,” she said in reflection of what really going on in employment sector in United Kingdom.[9]

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The United Kingdom passed the Equality Act in 2010 in order to ensure equal treatment at work for all genders. However, dress code regulations have been solely left within employers’ hands. As a result, two House of Common committees, (the Petition committee and the Women and Equality Committee) invited the public to send in their own examples of discriminatory dress codes. As a result, they were inundated with examples. The committee heard from women who were asked to wear shorter skirts, to unbutton blouses, and of dress codes that specified shades of nail varnish and hair color choices.[10]

The committees report[11] revealed evidence dating from 1880 to the present day which showed a “direct causative relationship” between the protracted use of high heels and serious conditions including stress fractures bunions, lower back pain and posture change and increased energy demand, as energy consumption and heart rate increases with heel height. The Government response was positive, and it has agreed to review equality issues in a forthcoming parliamentary session in March 2017.

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Despite the long-term health effects resulting from wearing high heels, some women still believe that wearing high heels at work should be required. For them, wearing high heels give a woman source of power and a higher status at work. Yet should it be REQUIRED or just recommended?

What is happening in the U.K reminds me of the Louisiana Law on “separate but equal” which had existed for decades, until it was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education[12]. Is it fair to subject women to harsh and stringent dress code rules than men? They are equal because they got a chance to be employed, but treated separately because of sex. Here, women are clearly held to a separate and unequal treatment than their male counterparts.

Roman Msaki is currently a 2L student at University of Baltimore. He has a LL. B from the University of Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania), a post-graduate diploma in legal practice from the Law School of Tanzania, and a LL.M in the Law of the United States from the University of Baltimore. He has an interest in international law due to participating in the Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition in 2012 for his university in Tanzania. Since then, he has regularly served as a Jessup judge in both regional rounds (Kenya, Uganda and Ghana) and the international rounds, held annually in Washington D.C. Last semester, he was a research assistant to Prof. Nienke Grossman. He is a member of the International Law Society, Immigration Law Society, International Law Student Association and American Bar Association. His main areas of interest in international law are: International humanitarian law and use of force.

[1] Smith, E.O. High Heels and Evolution: Natural Selection, Sexual Selection and High Heels; Journal of Psychology, Evolution and Gender pg. 254, December 1999. Available at: eosmith.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/JournalArticle30.pdf. (Last visited January 29th).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4]  See for instance: www.walkamileinhershoes.org/ ; www.walkamileinhershoes.org/calendar.html accessed on 29th January 17.

[5] PWC stands for “Pricewaterhouse Coopers”.

[6] For her short interview see: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-38737300 accessed on 29th January 17.

[7] Ibid.

[8]  See: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/129823; Accessed on 29th January

[9] Supra: note 4

[10] See: www.forbes.com/…/high-heels-and-workplace-dress-codes-urgent-action-needed-say..  Last viewed on 29th January.

[11]The report can be viewed at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/petitions-committee/news-parliament-2015/high-heels-and-workplace-dress-codes-report-published-16-17/?utm_source=petition&utm_campaign=129823&utm_medium=email&utm_content=reportstory, Accessed on 29th January 17.

[12] 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

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Author: Ius Gentium

Ius Gentium is a legal forum for the University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows to write on and discuss international and comparative legal issues.

2 thoughts on “WALKING A MILE IN HER SHOES -FEMALE EMPLOYEES VS. EMPLOYERS IN MODERN DAY UNITED KINGDOM

  1. Roman, this is a very interesting article. I like that you address both the history of high heels as well as modern day issues. What are your thoughts on high heels in the field of law, as in women wearing heels to court versus not wearing heels to court, and how that may impact how a female attorney is viewed?

  2. I had no idea about the history about high heels. It’s crazy to think that an employer actually sent an employee home for not wearing them. I wonder how a case like that would play out in the United States. Any thought?

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