“Best Of…” 1996-a

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

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

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

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.