Barefoot Rights

Why the 'No shoes, no service' policy is wrong.

Why I feel so strongly opposed against putting shoes on, even for a store 'policy'.

There's two sides to this. On the one hand, why I prefer not to wear them, and on the other hand, why I think it is wrong to give in to an arbitrary and discriminatory rule. Both sides are important in their own way.

First, why I prefer to go barefoot.

Most people do not use their sense of touch as much as our senses of hearing, sight, or even taste. But now that I have experienced it, and become used to this enrichment of actually using all my senses, I feel it as a great loss to limit this again. I often compare it to having to wear extremely dark glasses that take all the color out of life, or wearing ear plugs that muffle all sound. Feeling the ground beneath me, no matter if it's smooth or rough, wet or dry, cold or warm, is a very important part of my life. I enjoy a patch of rough gravel, a patch of soft grass, or the cool tiles in a store, in a similar manner as I enjoy seeing a pretty bird or flower, hearing nice music. We wouldn't ask people to shut off or severely limit their other senses, would we??

It also gives me a spiritual 'connectivety' with Earth. I'm not a member of a church which requires going barefoot, but I am exploring several nature-based religions and beliefs (wicca/pagan, Native Indian beliefs, ancient shamanism/animism) and feeling the Earth under my feet is very important to me in that context, too. While when I wear shoes, I feel as if I have some kind of rigid, unpleasant, confining barrier between me and Earth. I know, whenever I'm inside I'm not standing directly 'on the Earth' either, and even outside there's asphalt, sidewalk tiles, etc. But the shoes just feel far more 'spiritually confining' than simply walking barefoot on a man-made surface. I am not a priestess, shaman, Elder or anything, and I can't explain exactly why, nor make you 'feel' this experience, but I simply and honestly describe the strong religious/spiritual significance barefooting has for me.

It's very healthy. While I've never believed those who say going barefoot gross or dangerous, health wasn't one of the reasons why I started going barefoot all those years ago. But my health has greatly improved since I shed my shoes. While I used to have a chronic cough and was sniffling every year from early fall until late spring, after I started going barefoot the winter went by without any of that... and then another winter... and another, and another... when I write this it's been fourteen years and I had to call in sick once (for two days), and even a cough or runny nose is rare. I didn't make other lifestyle changes at that time. Okay, wearing flipflops for a few minutes while visiting a store isn't likely to do away with this, but it's sure been a great benefit for me!

Second, why I think it's wrong to simply give in to these 'No shoes, no service' demands.

There are several reasons given for these rules: health laws, safety, the risk of people suing the store if they do get an injury, because people don't like seeing bare feet, etc, etc. In my opinion, however, these anti-barefoot policies are arbitrary and discriminatory. For all of the above reasons I can either tell you they're just plain not true, or give you a situation or type of shoe where the same (or more!) risk applies, but the bare feet are singled out to be banned. Here it goes, point by point.

1) Health laws.
There aren't any. The 'Shoes required by State Law' is a myth, a hoax. A very wide-spread myth, but a myth nonetheless. See also The health department apparently does not find bare feet a big enough health risk to ban them, even in places where food is served. And why would serving food make a difference? We don't put our feet on the table any more than other people put their (shod) feet up there, and germs aren't any more likely to magically jump onto the food from a bare sole than from a shoe-sole. If it's not 'street dirt' but 'foot germs' you're worried about, please explain how a strap from a sandal or flipflop provides any kind of barrier a germ couldn't cross. This isn't 'contact germs' -as I said, I don't put my foot on the table, and most people don't put their food on the floor. Also, the few times when we step in something really gross, like dog poo (it's happened to almost everyone at some point or other), we notice and can wipe/wash it off before entering your store. Someone who is shod might notice, or they might not, tracking it in instead.

2) Safety.

Bare feet aren't nearly as dangerous as many people think. Feet aren't naturally weak, soft things that have to be constantly protected. They become weak and soft when they are constantly protected. A barefooter's foot is tough and does not immediately cut open from a piece of glass on the floor. The dangers of glass aren't as big anyhow, even for more tender feet. Something cuts when you slide along it. A piece of glass, laying flat on the ground, will lay with its edge pretty much flat, and if you step on it from the top and step off it again, you won't slide along its cutting edge. Try it with a knife in the kitchen, (on your thumb if you're careful, next time you got a cut of meat if you want to play it safe) you can press pretty hard straight down on the edge without cutting yourself. Even small splinters abide the law of gravity and will usually lay flat on the floor. Large pieces that stick up (like a whole bottom of a bottle) are very easily seen. The most trouble give small splinters on an uneven floor, so they may be propped up against something and stick up enough to pierce a sole. Now, even this is a) not a common occurrence and b) a very slight injury, usually not even penetrating the leathery callouses, or at most requiring a band-aid.

Many types of footwear can, under certain circumstances, be at least as dangerous as bare feet, or more so. High heels, platform shoes, and dress shoes with leather soles can easily slip on the slick, tile floors many stores have, especially when there's some water or other liquid on the floor. You can trip with flip-flops or other loose slippers or sandals. Yet those are not banned. There's warnings, yes, but anyone who wants to come into a store with leather soles on a rainy day, can. Believe me, I own several pairs of shoes that are far more dangerous in those circumstances than my bare feet under the same conditions!

3) Risk of injured people suing the store.

First of all, the risk isn't that great, and if something happens, it's extremely unlikely to be a serious injury. No injury I've had, or heard about in many years of reading the Barefooters mailing list, was anywhere near as serious or as disabling as, for example, a nasty twisted ankle would be -something that could easily result from a dress shoe on a wet tile floor. No one would sue a store over a scratch requiring a band-aid, and if they did they'd be laughed out of court.

Second, even in the US, the law doesn't award huge damages to every frivolous lawsuit. I'm not that good at legal language, but basically, if you walk into a store barefoot, you accept the risk, and if anyone were to try suing the store over it, any decent judge would throw it out.

Third, while there's usually an exception to every generalization and I can't guarantee no barefooter will ever try to sue for an injury, on the whole, barefooters are very responsible people. In the time I've been a barefooter, and been active on the Internet, in a group of 1000+ barefooters, no one has considered suing any store over an injury. Actually, when it comes up -not because of an actual case, as I said those are very rare and never big enough to even consider suing, but because a store owner or other person is concerned- everyone is extremely opposed to suing a store. The general consensus is that those sue-happy people are one of the important reasons our freedom to go barefoot is being limited in the first place. And think about it, a person who would be looking for an opportunity to sue would not be likely to go barefoot. If he gave it any thought at all, he'd realise being barefoot would severely hurt his chances to win. Slick soled shoes, to name something, would be a much better bet. Yet we barefooters get told to put on some shoes. We're even allowed to put on shoes with slick soles. On a rainy day, when the floor is likely to be wet in places.

4) 'Bare feet are gross'.
That is, of course, your right to believe. But is it enough to ban people for? Some people think tattoos are gross, can they ban people sporting tattoos from their store? I personally don't like the 'wet look'. Hair with gel in it like that don't look wet to me, it looks greasy. Certainly unappetising. And that is on eye level! But I would never, ever suggest anyone who likes to wear his hair that way should not be allowed into a restaurant or store, just because I don't like it. It's his hair, and it doesn't hurt anyone. Other people are vehemently opposed to homosexuality. Yet it'd never be allowed to ban homosexuals from a grocery store, you couldn't even tell them to come 'undercover' and ban things like pink triangles, or ban homosexual couples coming in together holding hands or calling each other 'honey' or 'love' or whatever where other people can overhear. There are laws against discrimination.


Those are some of the main reasons refuted; if there's any more reasons you come up with, feel free to mail them to me.

Why protest?

Now, after I've shown why I think the reasons given for these policies don't hold water, I'm left to explain why I think it's wrong to simply comply with these policies anyhow.

1) Since there is no real law, the myth is limiting our barefoot freedom more than necessary.
The fact that signs with this mistaken information get printed and put up by large, respectable companies causes other people to believe them. Thus, there are many stores and restaurants where the owners could care less, or in a few cases even like being barefoot themselves, but because they believe there is a State Health law they enforce this fake law and ask people to wear shoes. Often they even help spread the myth by putting up their own sign. Unnecessary and plain sad for those of us for whom being barefoot is important. Because of this myth, we are being asked to wear shoes even in places where NO ONE -store owner, law, or anyone at all- does in fact care if we do or not.

2) Is this really important? It's only shoes!
True, there's plenty of other important things out there. Many more important things even. But does that mean smaller issues are *not* important? Remember there was a time when women couldn't wear pants, when people couldn't go out in the streets without a hat... Freedom and liberty don't come only in big packages. I have a hard time imagining a society without war, with equal rights for all races, but yet men have to put on a hat when going outdoors and women get ridiculed when wearing jeans. The fact that I am setting up and maintaining this site does not mean I'm not interested in 'big' issues. It doesn't mean I will turn my back when Amnesty International or UNICEF comes asking for signatures, letter writers, money or volunteers. It does mean I *also* do this. We can't change everything at the same time. We can't all fight in every battle on Earth. I do my little bit, you do your little bit, we can even be active in more than one organization or be a member of more than one group at the same time. I believe freedom is important on all levels of life.

3) When a policy is an arbitrary policy, it's discrimination.
It doesn't matter if it's discrimination against race, religion, sexual preference or choice of footwear. Whenever that is brought up, some people get upset that I compare bare feet with being another race. After all, someone born a certain race has no choice, but going barefoot is a choice I make and I should take the consequences. I really, really feel uncomfortable with that statement. It implies that if people *can* change something about themselves to conform, they should. Take that statement and look at it again. I can change my choice of footwear, so if I want to avoid the trouble it causes, I should simply put aside my principles and preferences and 'conform'. Question to anyone making this remark or supporting it: if a black person *could* change their color, would it be okay to ask them to do so before entering a store???

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More barefoot links:
Index | Why NSNSNS signs are wrong | No bare feet by order of... | The dangers of bare feet are greatly exaggerated | Confrontations in stores, why it matters | Bare feet and colds | Driving barefoot and safety | Flying barefoot, comfort and safety | Bare feet, proper dress and respect | Dress codes in schools and elsewhere

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