Japanese women defend right to wear glasses at work after companies forbid eyewear

Actor and writer Yumi Ishikawa spearheaded the #KuToo campaign against Japanese dress code standards for women.
Actor and writer Yumi Ishikawa spearheaded the #KuToo campaign against Japanese dress code standards for women. Canadian Press

Japanese women are taking a stand on social media after a local news outlet recently reported on the practice of banning women employees from wearing glasses in the workplace.

The hashtag “glasses are forbidden” (#メガネ禁止 in Japanese) grew in popularity on Twitter on Wednesday after the country’s Nippon TV covered a story about Japanese companies banning women employees from wearing glasses and forcing them to wear contact lenses instead, according to the Washington Post.

According to the BBC, some retail chains in the country reportedly said glasses-wearing sales associates give off a “cold impression.”

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Companies in the beauty industry also reportedly claimed glasses prevented women employees’ makeup from being properly visible, while airlines cited safety reasons, the BBC reported.

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For restaurant workers, companies reportedly said glasses clashed with the traditional outfits and uniforms worn on the job.

The reporting sparked outrage on social media. Thousands of people tweeted their support for Japanese women facing prejudice in the workplace as a result of the glasses bans.

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One person wrote: “Japan is 10 years ahead of the world but at the same time hold on to these primitive beliefs.”

“Women’s sexual attractiveness to men should not dictate what they’re ‘allowed’ to wear,” another Twitter user wrote, while a third commented: “Glasses aren’t cosmetic for most people and as such are sometimes necessary. Some people can’t wear contacts at all.”

Speaking to the Japan Times, 40-year-old sales associate Banri Yanagi said: “The emphasis on appearance is often on young women and wanting them to look feminine.”

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“It’s strange to allow men to wear glasses but not women.”

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A professor of sociology at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, Kumiko Nemoto, said the reasons women are told not to wear glasses “don’t make sense” and that the no-glasses policies are “outdated.”

“It’s all about gender. It’s pretty discriminatory,” she told the BBC, adding: “It’s not about how women do their work. The company … values the women’s appearance as being feminine, and that’s opposite to someone who wears glasses.”

The Twitter protest follows in the wake of the #KuToo movement, which launched in solidarity with actor and writer Yumi Ishikawa’s petition calling for Japan to end dress codes. Ishikawa had been forced to wear heels while working at a funeral parlour, the BBC reported in June.

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#KuToo is a play on the Japanese words for shoes (kutsu) and pain (kutsuu). Ishikawa’s petition was signed by more than 31,000 supporters.

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

According to the Times, labour ministry official Ryutarou Yamagishi said he wasn’t aware of a “glasses ban” hashtag and said there have been no changes to rules regarding dress codes in the country.