It’s high time for footwear freedom

A private member’s bill was introduced last week in the B.C. legislature to to make it illegal for employers to mandate high heels.

Four hours was my limit for serving in a pair of high-heeled shoes.

As the door men were bouncing inebriated customers out the front door after last call, I’d kick off those torture devices and throw on a pair of flats to clean up glasses and tables in the aftermath of another successful Saturday night at the bar.

It was summer and I was in university; I only wore flipflops once after lights on because I nearly cut my foot on broken glass. I still remember it as a fun summer job.

But four hours was definitely more than enough. I couldn’t imagine being mandated to wear heels for nine hours as a waitress, but apparently that’s what some employers do – enough so that a private member’s bill was introduced last week in the B.C. legislature to amend the Workers Compensation Act to make it illegal for employers to do just that.

Andrew Weaver, MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head and leader of the B.C. Green Party, introduced the amendments on International Women’s Day.

The Workers’ Compensation Act includes direction on appropriate footwear for safety (such as broken glass), but Weaver’s amendments would prohibit gender-based footwear requirements, particularly in restaurants. The B.C. restaurant industry says it supports the amendments (as if it had a choice because of optics), pointing out it suggests to members that footwear requirements should be optional.

That the amendments have to be introduced into legislation clearly show that many in the industry don’t know that it’s 2017.

High heels are blamed for all manner of foot, leg and spine ailments, from bunions, plantar fascitis and sprained ankles to lower back pain and migraines. Despite this, I would not support legislation to ban high heels altogether.

Just like I would not support a ban on the hijab or the burkini, which is especially ridiculous after watching French police on the beaches of France last year telling women they were too covered up after that country banned both items as religious symbols.

I don’t know if I could pull off four hours in heels today. I haven’t worn a heel higher than 1.5 inches in years. I wear flats on New Year’s Eve. That’s just me, though.

If another woman – or man, for that matter – wants to wear heels for an eight-hour server shift, that’s up to her (or him). The point is that it’s not required either way.

Women are free to choose what they wear without financial or social repercussions, which is what often gets lost in the arguments for banning items of clothing, from corsets to head scarves.

It’s not about the item of clothing; it’s about the freedom to choose to wear it, or not. Flat shoes can be oppressive if you’re forced to wear them. High heels and short skirts can feel like freedom if you’ve only worn pants your entire life.

Heading into the election, I hope Weaver’s bill finds support on both sides of the legislature.

Nanaimo News Bulletin