Women In Japan Are Fighting For The Right To Wear Glasses To Work

Brianna Provenzano
Participants join the Women’s Day march in Tokyo, Japan, on Friday, March 8, 2019. The United Nations first recognized International Women’s Day in 1975, sparking 38 years of annual demonstrations, private and public proclamations and a general recognition that even in the modern era, gender equality has a long way to go. Photographer: Noriko Hayashi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ah, the tangled web of sexist workplace dress code violations women of the world must navigate daily.

This week, it’s women in Japan who are protesting edicts from companies than ban (only women, not men) from wearing glasses in the workplace.  

During a segment that ran on the Japanese network Nippon TV on Wednesday, employers cited “reasons” why anti-glasses policies were necessary in their workplaces. In some retail outlets, managers said that glasses give a “cold impression” to saleswomen; airline managers claimed that wearing frames could impede workers’ ability to see properly, creating safety concerns; restaurateurs suggested that they clashed with traditional outfits, like kimonos, that employees are required to wear on the job.

The glasses bans have been a flashpoint for women across the country, speaking to how rules dictating what women are allowed to wear — but not men — are a form of workplace discrimination. A Twitter hashtag, #メガネ禁止 (which translates to “glasses are forbidden”) inspired thousands of tweets in solidarity with Japanese women who have to comply with what they refer to as outdated and oppressive beauty standards. But, this is only the most recent example of a growing and vocal movement pushing back against sexist dress code policies in the country.

“The emphasis on appearance is often on young women and wanting them to look feminine,” Banri Yanagi, a 40-year-old sales associate from Tokyo, told the Japan Times. “It’s strange to allow men to wear glasses but not women.”

The ban on glasses isn’t the first dress code policy to incite outrage in Japan in recent months. In June, more than 20,000 women signed an online petition protesting the near-ubiquitous social expectation that women should wear high heels in the workplace. That movement picked up steam under the hashtag #KuToo — a play on the US-based #MeToo movement and the Japanese words for shoe, “kutsu,” and pain, “kutsū.”

Yumi Ishikawa, the actor and freelance writer who first launched the #KuToo petition, told Bloomberg News that the trend of Japanese workplaces banning glasses is no different from the sexist rules about footwear that are prevalent in the country. 

“If wearing glasses is a real problem at work it should be banned for everyone — men and women,” she said. “This problem with glasses is the exact same as high heels. It’s only a rule for female workers.”

If the Japanese government’s response to the #KuToo petition is any indicator of the successes of future petitions, however, women concerned about their right to wear glasses to work shouldn’t get their hopes up. After protestors submitted their signatures to the government last spring, then-Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Takumi Nemoto said that he saw no issue with women being compelled to wear high heels to work, which he called “generally accepted by society.”

The glasses controversy (one of the many struggles for women in Japan trying to achieve gender equality) is similar to another incident that recently sparked outcry in the region: In 2018, South Korean news anchor Lim Hyeon-ju became the first woman presenter on any major network in the country to sport frames on national TV. 

Lim, who delivers the news on MBC’s morning news program “MBC News Today,” told Korea’s Yonhap News agency at the time that the glasses made her job easier on her eyes, which had grown dry and fatigued from constantly wearing contact lenses and false eyelashes.

While it might prove difficult to shift longstanding cultural attitudes about beauty and presentation in the short term, by standing together, Japanese women can help to undermine the idea that such attitudes should go unquestioned or unchallenged.

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