From: M.B. Subject: The Case Against a "No Bare Feet" Policy Date: Feb 1996 This material was developed as a set of "speakers notes" for a presentation against a proposed "No Bare Feet" Policy in some buildings at a Mid-Western University. ========= The Case Against a "No Bare Feet" Policy ========= o Context A presentation to the policy committee at a Mid-Western University. o Ladies & Gentlemen of the Committee .... I have a number of points to make on the issue of whether, as a matter of policy, bare feet should be prohibited in University Center. I ask you to keep an open mind and to try to understand the perspectives that lead us to the conclusion that such a policy is both unnecessary and a grave erosion of personal freedoms. o Going barefoot by choice is a right no different to that of choosing not to wear gloves. As a matter of personal choice when deciding how to dress, people may select from a wide variety of body adornments, hairstyles and so on. Deciding to go unshod is a choice and a right no different from any of these. It harms and inconveniences no-one. This particular freedom may seem to be of little consequence to you, but its removal is an affront to those that feel more comfortable this way. In order to gain an understanding of how we feel about this issue, let me ask you to undertake a thought experiment. Imagine that a new regulation has been passed requiring persons entering public buildings to wear protective gloves while entering and inside such buildings. The "reason" given is that germs are spread from hands touching surfaces such as doorknobs, tables and so on. Such an extreme neurosis is actually not so far-fetched. A recent news article described how, in Japan, many people are overly obsessed with cleanliness. Many people have taken to wearing hospital-type filtermasks whenever they go out. One Japanese lady passes the money for her purchases to the shop assistants in an envelope, instructing them to place the change in the same envelope so that she doesn't have to touch money that has been touched by other people. Many Japanese psychologists are worried by this trend and have even given it a label: "The Prig Syndrome". So how would you feel about this new (glove) regulation ? Please give it some thought. If you feel that this scenario is any different from a prohibition of bare feet, see whether you can construct a logical explanation of the nature of this difference. o There are no laws or regulations, federal or local prohibiting bare feet. Many people are under the impression that there are laws and regulations prohibiting bare feet for the general population. Exhaustive searches of Federal and State laws reveal no such ordinances. Health Department regulations govern dress codes for employees but *not* patrons of establishments. Many people are certain that it is illegal to drive barefoot, yet we have in our possession official responses from over 42 states indicating that no such law exists (the remainder failed to respond and likely do not have any such law). These "phantom laws" are often quoted by the uninformed in order to dispatch persons preferring to go unshod. We consider such harassment to be an infringement of civil liberties. o Bare feet not being appropriate. When the usual issues of law, health and the like have been addressed, we are usually left with rather nebulous terms such as "appropriateness". These "reasons" do not stand up to any kind of logical analysis. What it sometimes comes down to, is a rather subjective core of firmly entrenched dogma. People are free to define acceptable behavior on their own terms within their own establishments (private property). Yet, for the custodians of public places to force such opinions on the general population, is a violation of the freedoms guaranteed to us under the constitution. The prohibition of bare feet for arbitrary reasons is not in keeping with the spirit of tolerance and open-mindedness that is essential to an institution such as a University. o Bare feet are NOT disrespectful Many religions and cultures insist on the removal of shoes as a mark of respect. The biblical reference, where God commands Moses to take off his shoes because he is on holy ground, is an example of this. Bare feet are silent. They do not scuff, mark or damage the surfaces they contact. It is difficult to imagine anything more respectful. o Those who go barefoot should NOT be stereotyped as troublemakers A preference for bare feet cannot be negatively correlated with anything in a persons character, world view, or lifestyle; nor indeed with age, sex, sexuality, chastity, honesty, intelligence, religion, politics, or socioeconomic status; much less with their willingness to respect the rights and property of others, or willingness to behave in a quiet and considerate manner. The banning of bare feet is sometimes associated with the outmoded 1960s stereotype which associated bare feet with the anti-establishment attitudes of that era. There are those who associate bare feet with drop-outs, junkies, hippies and beggars. This is very wide of the mark. Barefooters are responsible men and women from many walks of life, and of many different backgrounds. We are engineers, lecturers, photographers, authors, researchers, company directors. We are left-wing, right-wing and include devout followers of many faiths, as well as agnostics. Barefooters are found in all age groups, and among all races. All we have in common is the belief that going barefoot is more comfortable than wearing shoes, more beneficial to our foot health, and more sensually enjoyable. Many among us like to go hiking in bare feet, and are consequently very environmentally aware, and eager to protect the world we live in. In our experience, bare feet have nothing to do whatsoever with disrespect, vandalism, or other destructive behavior. We have found that the experience of bare feet has promoted an attitude of greater acceptance both of ourselves and of persons of different backgrounds As such, permitting bare feet can help to foster an environment of greater acceptance of diversity, an admirable goal for any university. o Choosing to go barefoot is a healthy choice Many physicians and researchers have stated that going barefoot as much as possible is beneficial to the health and strength ofthe feet. Famous runners such as Zola Budd and Abebe Bikela (Olympic marathon winner) excelled without shoes. There are an estimated one billion people around the world who wear no shoes at all ... and tend to have fewer foot problems than those that do. Barefoot running, hiking and other barefoot activities are safer than they may seem: the skin of the foot is six times more resistant to pain and far more resistant to injury that skin on other parts of the body, according to a 1993 study by Dr. Steven Robbins and his colleagues at McGill University Center for studies in Aging in Montreal. They also highlighted earlier studies that found that unshod activity promotes greater mobility, better alignment and generally healthier feet. Kicking off the shoes can help prevent a host of foot injuries such as bunions, heel spurs, and bone deformities, among others. "Shoes act like casts, holding the bones of the foot so rigid that they can't move fluidly" Robbins explains. "The foot becomes passive from wearing shoes and loses the ability to support itself." According to "The Foot & Ankle Sourcebook", written by M. David Tremaine, M.D. and Elias M. Awad, Ph.D. : -- Non-shoe wearing people have a lower incidence of athletes foot (this is understandable, since the fungus thrives in the warm, damp conditions found inside shoes). -- In those societies where no shoes are worn, bunions rarely exist and when they do, are painless. -- A recent Hong Kong study showed that bunions were endured by 33 percent of the business population, while shoeless boat people living on sampans appeared to have no bunion problems. o Bare feet are not unsanitary Although bare feet can pick up a certain amount of dust they are generally as clean (or cleaner) than the undersides of most people's shoes. We wash our feet at least once day. Few (if any) people do this with the soles of their shoes. o Bare feet being "improper" Neither shoes nor the lack of them, have ever been seriously held to have any place in traditional western views of morals or modesty. The least reflection on the general acceptance of bare feet in previous centuries will show this to be true. There are still a good number of living Americans who remember going barefoot to school, when schools had a much higher standard of discipline than is seen now. Some schools still allow bare feet (for example, in Hawaii, and in Amish schools). As to the idea that bare feet are offensive and unsightly, we would ask what it is about sandals and 'flip-flops' that suddenly makes the feet encased in them so acceptable. o Many well known and well-loved figures from American history were barefooters or were positive about bare feet. Abraham Lincoln Was generally barefoot through childhood and youth. Thereafter, often took his shoes off to relax, even enduring his wife's nagging for it. Patrick Henry Was generally barefoot until the age of twenty-four when he got into law. In later life he encouraged his children and grandchildren to go barefoot. He didn't like to see them in shoes until they were six or seven years old. He knew about liberty. John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) In "Historical recollections of Ohio" (1846) Henry Howe described him as a man who "went barefooted" and often traveled miles through the snow that way ... he was careful not to injure any animal and thought hunting to be morally wrong. He was welcome everywhere among the settlers, and was treated with great kindness ... by the Indians. o In closing .... Please try to understand that we regard our bare feet as part of our naturally endowed sensory apparatus. They are a very important part of our enjoyment of creation, and of ourselves as creatures. We are not only more comfortable without shoes; but, we would maintain, markedly safer. Our bare feet are not prone to injury; for we both tend (far more than the shod) to watch where we are walking, and rely (in a way that the shod find hard to understand) on the considerable sensitivity of our bare soles to protect us. We have attempted here to argue for the rights of the unshod in several ways. We would now ask you to give honest thought to a moral question: Can any really compelling interest, or even any real and definable interest be found, to weigh against the fact that the policy which you now intend to implement will close a door that once was open -- a door against a freedom -- perhaps a petty freedom to you, but an important freedom to us -- and a freedom which means a great deal to our pursuit of happiness. ============================================================ Many thanks to Richard Frazine David Opperman Barry Good David Difonzo Teresa Dale Lafer Paul Lucas Fen Eatough Nathan Sharp for contributing bits of prose, ideas, suggestions and support (sorry if I missed anyone). - Take Care !! -- M.B.