Q&A: Cristina Martins, the MPP who wants to end the tyranny of mandatory high heels

Q&A: Cristina Martins, the MPP who wants to end the tyranny of mandatory high heels

Earlier this week, Davenport MPP Cristina Martins introduced a private member’s bill at Queen’s Park called the “Putting Your Best Foot Forward Act.” In it, she proposes amending the Ontario Health and Safety act to prohibit employers from forcing employees to wear high heels (and other potentially unsafe footwear) in the workplace. We spoke with her about the perils and politics of shoes, and why, when it comes to high heels, she’s pro-choice.

What motivated you to introduce this bill?
This isn’t a new issue. For many years I have heard from women across Ontario who have suffered from workplace injuries because of policies mandating that they wear high heels. We’re talking foot swelling, blisters, bunions, bleeding, broken ankles, sprains, back pain and other long-term injuries that may mean a woman is unable to go to work.

Isn’t this also a matter of sexism and civil rights? Not a lot of workplaces expect men to wear uncomfortable and dangerous footwear.
Exactly. This is a health and safety issue, but it’s also one that impacts a certain gender. The equivalent would be if construction workers were made to wear flip-flops on the job.

Except that men in flip flops doesn’t connect to larger issues around gender expectation and forced sexualization.
Right. A lot of people are very surprised that in 2017 there is an expectation that women should wear heels. We’re not saying that women can’t wear stilettos, or whatever other shoes they want, as long as it’s their choice and it’s safe.

Have you heard of cases where the wearing of high heels is more of an unwritten rule than an explicit one?
I have. I was a guest on a radio show and a lawyer called in. She said the expectation is that to look professional women have to wear high heels. But after a fall down a flight of stairs, she has reverted to flats. She says she still feels quite professional.

Last year, the Ontario Human Rights Commission called for an end to sexualized workplace dress codes. So how is this still a thing?
I commend the OHRC’s work. This legislation would enhance protection for all workers by amending the Health and Safety act. So the bill is designed to work in tandem with the Human Rights Tribunal. It’s not just about high heels—it’s about safe footwear in all workplaces.

So this bill would also prohibit the wearing of, say, Birkenstocks in a busy restaurant workplace?
Exactly. You don’t want a heavy frying pan or cooking oil falling on your foot.

Have you gotten any pushback from restaurant and club owners who don’t want to be told what to do?
I haven’t heard from them. I don’t think you want to be that guy. We have had some industry support from Hy’s Steakhouse, who are publicly supporting this piece of legislation. And we have also received support from the Ontario Pediatric Medical Association. They have reported that women are twice as likely to sustain foot injuries and four times as likely to have an injury as a result of footwear.

You introduced the bill earlier this week at Queen’s Park. What kind of shoes did you wear?
I wore comfy, flat loafers.

Do you have any high heel horror stories?
I’m actually quite comfortable in high heels. When I was younger, I remember running down cobble streets in Europe in my stilettos, though that’s less of an option these days. Today I’m wearing 1.5-inch heels, but I also have comfy sandals in my bag.