School Shoes - the BIG debate
We’re happy to let boys be boys. In fact, we’re happy to let them be explorers, scientists and sportsmen. And we’ll buy them T-shirts which proclaim it and pick out a pair of kick-around shoes to enable it.
But it’s different for girls. Apparently girls should be girlie. The unavoidable division starts from the very moment they emerge into the world, even though they scream with the same voice. Boys are put in blue and laced up in trainers. Girls are gussied up in pink with ballet shoes.
But hang on. This is the 21st Century. Surely we’ve moved beyond this sort of sexual stereotyping, thanks, partly, to thought-provoking campaigns such as PinkStinks, Let Toys Be Toys and This Girl Can? We have fought to dismantle the discrete social corridors each sex is being sent down - Lego is unisex, colouring-in books can be gender neutral, and girls can write code.
Mothers, too, have effectively pushed back against the casual sexism of brands including GAP, M&S and now – horror of horrors – Clarks shoes. In a marketing move straight from the Fifties, the shoe company decided to call its girls’ back-to-school shoe “Dolly Babe” and the boys’ equivalent “Leader”.
There has been an inevitable backlash. But did the campaign come as that much of a surprise? What mother of girls hasn't struggled to buy a decent pair of back-to-school shoes for a daughter? Jemma Moonie-Dalton, recently made the news with a Facebook post which went viral: “In the boys section the shoes are sturdy, comfortable and weather proof…” she said in an open letter addressed to Clarks. “The girls’ shoes have inferior soles, are not comfortable and not suited to outdoor activities in British weather.”
She’s right. The shoes that are made for our children are a perfect encapsulation of gender stereotyping. Here, they seem to say, is what we expect of our children. As a rule, for girls, the footwear is flimsy, strappy and prettified. Barely waterproof, these shoes are only destined for dancing around in daintily. Boys, however, get the hardwearing numbers: lumbering black trainers, perfect for careering around the playground. Each pair carries its own excruciating antediluvian expectation: of “dolly babes” and “leaders”.
But there is another way - one that other, more forward thinking shoe companies have been championing for a while - of promoting substance alongside funked up style suitable for both genders - gold max anyone?
PLAE shoes were made to take a third way. They were carefully engineered to elite athlete standards, not gender ones. They are breathable and waterproof, flexible and sturdy Regardless of who wears which style they are hardwearing, comfortable and pretty jazzy, promoting superior foot health over a bow or pinked up packaging. Boys and girls can wear them to climb trees - and, ultimately, whichever career ladder they choose.
Because message matters. More than ever, parents care about what brands are telling their children.
So it’s no surprise that Clarks, having taken the measure of the public mood, is going to be rolling out “a new store format that focuses on the shoe, rather than gender”. This, says the nearly 200-year-old shoe company, will be done in September.
Well, that’s a bit late if you’re trying to buy the right shoes for school right now. But, luckily, some nimbler, smarter-thinking shoe companies are already putting girls on an equal footing with boys. PLAE school shoes - for kids who work hard AND play hard