High Heels Wellie Boots and Slippers

Opinion piece by Fiona Grahame

Fiona Grahame

When grandad Grahame came home from work with his pay packet he handed it all over to granny. That was unusual in early 20th century Scotland. She would take out what was needed and hand him the rest back. Granny was a very clever woman who could budget and save out of a Docker’s pay. Of course she had years of practice having been in service from a young age because that was the norm for working class women in rural communities.

I had a stay at home mother who was excellent at selecting good fresh food and cooking it up. As an orphan from an extremely poor background they had tried to put her into service. At age 14  the young Margaret was handed a grey uniform to wear. She didn’t even stop to try it on. Instead she got a job in one of the many Midland factories where you worked hard but you didn’t doff your cap to anyone.

We are now in a period which sees women take on leading roles at the top of our political institutions. In the UK the Prime Minister, in Scotland the First Minister and in Europe Angela Merkel all demonstrating that for some women there is no glass ceiling. They have well and truly broken through and smashed their way to the top.

The 20th century saw an advancement in rights for women in this country (albeit it at a somewhat leisurely pace) but for the majority of women the 21st century has been a great disappointment. And in particular these last few years.

Unbelievably there are employers who consider the wearing of high heels an essential requirement for women to do their job. Now I did have a spat with a middle management office constricted type when I worked out of doors. He objected to the colour of my wellies as they were not black. As if any tourists braving  driving rain and gale force winds would be concerned that my wellies were green.  Of course he had never worked out of doors in all weathers so had no understanding of the work I was doing and what was actually important about it.

This also applies to those who think the wearing of high heels makes you more efficient and skilled at your job and who clearly who have never spent a day tottering about in them. Recent research from the University of Aberdeen commented that:

“a wealth of studies demonstrated wearing high heels increases the risk of developing musculoskeletal conditions from the spine to the toes and also increases the chance of injury.”

but that

“wearing high heels increases women’s attractiveness to men and can reward female wearers with other benefits in terms of male attention and their own view of their beauty, so high heel wear clearly has social benefits as well as health drawbacks.

Jings that is how far women have progressed in the 21st C. And even the top notch female politicians are not immune from this as comments are regularly made about what they are wearing rather than what they are saying and doing.

For many women in this country the 21st C  is now a time of increasing hardship. Women in Scotland earn £182.90 per week less than men and yet make up 49% of the work force.  According to Close the Gap, 64% of workers paid below the living wage are women. This is due to a combination of factors, a major one of which is the continued misuse of zero hours contracts and this is linked directly to the type of employment women are engaged in. These are jobs which often reflect a woman’s dual responsibilities  as the main carer in a family be it for children or elderly relatives. Balancing care and work has also led to women being under employed leading to increasing numbers seeking advice about in work poverty.

Close the Gap state :

“the gender pay gap in Scotland is 11.5%.  The gender differences in the Scottish labour market, with a pay gap of 12% for full-time workers and 32% for part-time workers is shocking in the 21st Century.”

“The reasons given for these differences in pay include: ―occupational segregation, where women and men do different types and levels of work; inflexible working practices which make it difficult for women with caring responsibilities to participate in the labour market equally, particularly at senior levels; and discrimination within pay systems.”

This means that even those who are in work will be relying on welfare benefits to ‘top up’ their incomes.  The same benefits which have now been cut or restricted. An estimated 20% of women’s income comes from benefits and child tax credits, compared to 10% of men’s (Fawcett Society).  Of all in-work families receiving child tax credits, 87% of recipients were women. For in-work single parents, 94% of recipients were female. (HMRC).

Child tax credits are now capped at two children – meaning anyone with two children or more will no longer receive child tax credits at the birth of their next child or subsequent children, unless an exception applies. The exception to the 2 child cap can be applied if the woman can claim  that the conception of the additional child (the +2) was due to being raped or because she was in a coercive relationship where she had no choice in becoming pregnant. This has now become infamous as ‘the rape clause’. On the same day the UK Government brought in the ‘rape clause’, the Scottish Government announced that the two child cap would not be implemented in Scotland’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme. This scheme reduces the council tax those on low incomes have to pay, with over 75% of recipients not having to pay any council tax at all.

Older women have now discovered that the state pension they so relied on being able to access at age 60 is no longer available to them and they will  have to continue to work for several more years. For me it is now 66. You can check when yours will be available here.

Why is this important to these women now called WASPIs? It is important because they weren’t fully informed that these changes were going to be made. Many of them have had times when they had caring responsibilities and weren’t able to work and so couldn’t build up a decent workplace pension. They expected to be able to access their pension and put their slippered feet up at 60 but that has changed saving the UK Government £millions and affecting 2.6 million women. 

So well done to those few successful women who have clambered to the top in their professions whether or not they were wearing high heels at the time. And let us continue to encourage girls to be ambitious in the careers they seek to follow and the choices they wish to make. And let us also continue to remind those women who are successful that they are the exception, that our society continues to be infested with inequality. They have a responsibility to ensure that this inequality is not ignored but  addressed and eliminated.

 “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.” Kofi Annan


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3 replies »

  1. It’s something which puzzles me…..
    It’s now OK for women to wear trousers – to work or not – but not OK for men to wear dresses ( not counting the kilt!). Sooooo….what if men wanted to wear high heels – some do, have done – God alone knows why as they are exceptionally uncomfortable – but it should be up to them, whether they want to, or not, as long as it doesn’t actually interfere with what they need to do.
    Soooooo if one of these employers who has insisted on the female employees wearing high heels – was faced with a man wearing high heels – what would they do and what would their legal position be?
    I don’t see why a man should want to wear heels, I don’t, personally, see why a woman should want to, but it should be their choice. I genuinely don’t see why it’s OK for a woman to wear trousers, but not for a man to wear a dress. But, I can be very simple-minded about some things.
    I once forgot to put shoes on for going to work, and the bloke I worked for, just, at one point in the morning. asked “Bernie, are you wearing slippers?” I looked down and, yes, I was wearing my slippers! The shoes I wear are usually so comfy, that I didn’t particularly notice the difference. The bloke I worked for, just thought it was funny – fortunately. That was the kind of place I worked – like your Mum, I wouldn’t have worked somewhere that the boss tried to dictate to me about things which weren’t to do with ….work.
    The picture you paint at the beginning, of your Grandparents way of managing, is very familiar. My Dad brought home his pay, gave it to Mum, as she had the head for managing. He’d worked hard, and was a sociable man, so he had some money to blow in whatever way suited him – mostly Guinness and Woodbines – which ended up killing him. So it goes – he had a good life, and enjoyed it.
    As for Kofi Annan – the coolest man on this planet.

  2. Excellent piece Fiona, thank you. It’s quite baffling how anyone, not living in 1946, can suggest in all rationality the size of a gal’s heels for work. Nowadays we embrace ( and rightly so…) our brothers, sisters and non-aligned-to-gender persons of the LBGT community: I wonder if an employer, having taken on a strapping six-footer fella who chooses to wear feminine attire, would tell him/ her to strap on the size 10 slingbacks? Course not…We don’t live in a Benny Hill skit, so while it’s fair to ask for general dress code adherence with regard to smartness and Health and Safety, no-one’s got the right to order. This. Tell you what ladies: agree to the heels if your gaffer’ll come into work in his mankini…

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