Last weekend marked, to my mind, the biggest feminist event in my life. Millions of people, both men and women, came together for the worldwide #WomensMarch that saw inspiring people ('feminazis' to c*nts on Twitter) stand together to fight for women's rights. Rights that we, for reasons best known to the powers that be (toupe wearing wankers mostly), STILL don't have. I have never been so proud to be a woman, to see the world standing together like that restored my (slightly battered as of late) faith in humanity. I thought, I hoped, that we were about to see a change, a shift of power. And to some degree we did, people are coming at feminism with new found vigour and the torch is still burning bright, which is just as well really, as our work it seems, is far from finished. Not four days later, we need to stand once more, to fight once more, about our right NOT to have to wear high-heels in the work place. You would be forgiven for thinking that we were in 1952, you really would.
Last year, you may remember, a female employee, Nicola Thorp was sent home from work WITHOUT PAY because she wasn't adhering to her company's dress-code, she wasn't wearing high-heels. (No doubt she was given her marching orders by a man rocking it in a pair of six-inch Louboutins). Once in the safety of her own home, she started a petition which was signed over 150,000 times. Yes, I was one of those 150,000. And now the issue is being debated in Parliament as MPs argue for a change. This is of course being spear-headed by a female MP (see, you're not in 1952, as you'd first thought, a woman doing a man's job - whoda thought it?!) called Helen Jones who is Chair of the Petitions Committee.
Jones has said this: “It’s not enough for the law to be clear in principle—it must also work in practice. The government has said that the way that Nicola Thorp was treated by her employer is against the law, but that didn’t stop her being sent home from work without pay. It’s clear from the stories we’ve heard from members of the public that Nicola’s story is far from unique. The government must now accept that it has a responsibility to ensure that the law works in practice as well as in theory. By accepting our recommendations, the Government could help employers and employees alike to avoid unlawful discrimination.”
Well this has got people hopping up and down with so much rage you'd think we'd asked for equal pay or something.
Predictably the most public outcry has come from everybody's favourite caveman: Piers Morgan who sent out a string of Tweets this morning (in-between crying about Ewan McGregor's - pretty awesome if you ask me- decision not to come on Good Morning Britain in protest to Piers' moronic comments about the Women's March) saying that he 'likes women wearing high-heels in the work place - is that sexist?'. No doubt aroused by the reaction, as happens to men with egos of a certain size, he has spent the rest of the morning poking and prodding, abusing and joking about this issue. Another personal favourite of mine says this: 'Male MPs have to conform to a strict dress code in House of Commons. Female MPs do not. I've not heard a single male MP cry 'sexist!'' Well I actually responded to this on Twitter this morning by pointing out that that rule is probably in place because when it was drawn up there WERE no female MPs. That's a big job for a little lady remember.
I actually had this conversation this morning with my boyfriend before he went off to work. As I was leaning out of the window smoking my morning cigarette I asked him his opinion on this issue. I asked if he would compare women being made to wear high heels to men needing to wear a suit and as he buttered his toast (nearly spilling some on his jeans as he rushed to get out the door) he nodded and said 'yes, it is, women have to wear heels but you don't even know; wearing a suit all day is actually so uncomfortable.' I asked him if his suit had ever made his feet bleed. That was the end of that conversation.
I don't have to wear high-heels to work. I've got a great boss who totally understands that by asking me to force my feet into contraptions that totally alter the way that they were designed is actually barbaric and doesn't alter my ability to work in the slightest. In fact, since I don't have to wear heels, my boss understands that I'm more proficient, I can run up and down the stairs to my heart's content, I don't have to keep popping out to spend a fortune on blister plasters and I am generally in a better mood; grateful that I can feel all five toes and don't have to be in pain to get paid. Wouldn't it be great if ALL women could say the same? Exactly that sentence. And not just the ones who are, like me, self employed.
I don't doubt that this petition will make a difference and the laws will change. We've asked for, fought for and won more than this. But that's not really the point is it? Whether we win or not.
When my brother started his job as a waiter in September last year, his feet were KILLING him. He was covered in blisters and in so much pain. He was on his feet for 13 hours at a go, showing people to their tables, taking orders, bringing out food, pouring drinks. He'd maybe have three five minutes break in a shift and he would find himself using that time, rather than going out for the fag that he so desperately craved, sitting down, trying to alleviate some of the pressure that his own body weight was putting onto his poor feet. Unsurprisingly, at the first opportunity he went out shopping and replaced those horribly uncomfortable shoes just as soon as he could. His working life has become considerably better since he was able to do that. I haven't pointed out, and I was never going to, how much worse that could have been for him if he'd had to add a four inch heel into the equation. Or even the prospect of never being allowed to replace them.
Before the conversation with my boyfriend this morning ended so abruptly I did have time to ask him about makeup. We decided that the question of whether women NEEDED to wear makeup was quite similar to heel-gate; yes, I said, men might need to wear suits but at least they're not expected to paint their faces AND squeeze their feet into little skyscrapers. You're not expected to paint your face though, you don't NEED to wear makeup to work? He replied. I rolled my eyes. I imagined myself going to a job interview with no makeup and trainers on and I laughed as I imagined the frosty reception that I would be met with as every ability I was claiming to have was called into question. I asked him what he would think if his female colleague went out with him to a client meeting, totally barefaced, and again, I was met with silence.
These things are so ingrained into our society that we don't see a way in which they will ever change. Men wear suits, women wear heels. It's always been that way. But the difference here is so obvious, I can't believe that we're even having to argue it:
Men's abilities are not called into question as a result of their attire. Men would not be denied a job based on their footwear. Piers Morgan may feel hard done by having to wear a suit to work every morning, but Suzanna Reid is hardly in her PJs is she? She's had her hair done, she's done her makeup and she's wearing a dress. Or a nice blouse with suit trousers. She could be wearing anything on her feet since they're not in shot, but unfortunately for her she works with a man who thinks women SHOULD wear heels in the work place. In fact, we ALL work with men who think that women SHOULD wear heels in the work place. And that right there's the problem isn't it?
Once again we ask for something, we fight for something, something so fucking obvious, something so SIMPLE and we are met with this. The word FEMINIST is spat at us like it is a dirty word. We aren't taken seriously, we are never ever taken seriously. Instead we are objectified, and how can you respect someone who does as they're told, because they HAVE to? You can't. As long as men like Piers Morgan get the opportunity to sway a debate like this based on personal preference and seriously outdated views, then we don't stand a chance. The only option, as I see it, is to take off the high-heels that have mangled our feet beyond recognition and launch them, as hard as we can, in the direction of any man who feels it appropriate to comment on such a thing,
Or how's about asking them to walk a mile in said shoes? By my calculations they'd be outlawed by tea time.