STORY BY SARAH BETH COLEMAN
We all know the scene from that one rom-com where that empowered female role model goes on a liberated and freeing shopping trip, powerwalking the mall court with bags filled with the latest fashion. I thought I would follow suit in preparation for an alternative spring break doing volunteering out east, but I wasn’t shopping for Dior or Gucci, I was looking for safety gear and equipment.
Perusing the aisles of Walmart with my mother in tow I found everything from travel supplies, to first aid, a quality flashlight, and good work gloves. The gender-neutral eye protection and hearing protect was easy to find, and fairly inexpensive.
All I needed now was a pair of steel, or composite, toed boots. I took to the Internet to find the best bang for my college buck, and found that I was out of luck.
Many sites only offered hiking boots, or slip on shoes with a composite toe.
Red Wing Boots carried four appropriate women’s boots, compared to the 66 in the men’s boots. Timberland failed to even include a women’s section when you go to their site and search ‘composite toe,” and offering one appropriate boot in their “pro” line of shoes.
This disparity in products designed for women’s safety has surprised and scared me. Not as a raving college feminist ready to burn bras, but as a person that understands that equal opportunity employments means nearly 60 percent of women age 16 and over participate in the workforce. What about the Rosie the Riveters of our embowered female working class?
I reached out to a business that wished to remain anonymous, and they suggested that their women might just wear men’s boots, and that the genders are more so about “decoration.”
A 2001 study by Wunderlich and Cavanagh called “Gender differences in adult foot shape” concluded that “female feet and legs are not simply scaled-down versions of male feet but rather differ in a number of shape characteristics, particularly at the arch, the lateral side of the foot, the first toe and the ball of the foot. These differences should be taken into account.”
So the men’s boots might not fit perfectly, what’s wrong with that?
This little thing called the Occupational Safety & Health Administration under the United States Department of Labor happens to have a page called “Women in the Construction Workplace: Providing Equitable Safety and Health Protection.”
It’s got some fun sections that say things like “Having inadequate or ill-fitting clothing, boots gloves, or safety equipment presents a safety hazard for any worker” and “When asked if they could easily find protective clothing to fit, 46 percent of women in the second NIOSH said “no” with respect to work shoes.”
So here’s me putting my steel toed boot down on the lack of safety attire meant for women. As members of the working class we deserve to have safe attire, and gender disparity shouldn’t impact safety.