Are tlimsy, open-topped shoes marketed to little girls telling them they aren’t meant to be physically active? From The Guardian.
Last week, like many parents, I walked into a shoe shop to buy my daughter some school shoes. Outside it was raining, and all I wanted was a nice, stylish, practical pair of shoes for my daughter to start the new school year.
We went over to the girls’ section and, as usual, found 25 pairs of Mary Jane or ballet pump style shoes. Just five pairs of shoes on display actually covered the whole of a girl’s foot.
Out on the street adult women wore shoes that protected their feet from the heavy rain, but on the school run little girls stomped along with half covered feet, grey tights darkening in the damp.
Forget all the rowing about “gender neutral” and boys wearing dresses; whether you are ideologically invested in your daughters’ footwear and clothing or not (and by that I mean concerned by the evidence that shows overly gendered influences hold back girls in Stem subjects and beyond), surely we all just want our kids’ feet to be warm and dry?
Think about it. Boys have sturdy shoes that cover their whole foot and are suitable for running, climbing and adventuring. Girls have Mary Janes that are suitable for … a party. (A party where you get soggy feet if it rains.) And this is the picture up and down the country. It’s insane. We’re pumping millions of pounds into trying to get girls active – the brilliant This Girl Can campaign cost £10m – and yet every damn day we’re sending them out in school shoes that they cannot be properly active in.
And then we wonder why only one in 10 of all 14-year-old girls do the right amount of exercise to be healthy, or why 2 million fewer 14- to 40-year-old women than men play sport regularly. Sport England’s research that led to This Girl Can revealed that 75% of women want to be more active but that fear of judgment by others is the primary barrier holding them back from participating in sport.
Where does this judgment come from? I think I know. Because I already see it rearing its ugly little head at my five-year-old daughter. She’s already being told that “football’s for boys” – she can see that in the shoe shop where the football motifs only appear in the boys’ section – and she’s well used to the colour coding and messaging telling her which toys/activities/careers/hobbies she should be interested in according to her sex. It is good to see retailers such as John Lewis and Clarks beginning to redress some of this in their labelling, but as long as the products themselves remain so gendered it’s all just decoration on a big old sexist cake.
It’s no surprise how that translates in the playground – with girls rarely playing ball games at lunchtime – or PE lessons and after-school sports clubs, where coaches complain that boys won’t pass girls the ball, or girls are reluctant to attend. Education specialists describe school playgrounds being dominated by boys playing active games, while girls occupy the outer edges of the space, taking up less physical room. This at a developmental stage where boys and girls are still the same size. It’s the childhood precursor to “manspreading” and all that it symbolises.
Of course discussing the gendered state of clothes and toys is seen as ideological brainwashing, loony leftism taken a step too far. But the reality is that toys and clothes in the 21st century are more gendered now than they were for my generation growing up in the early 1980s. In the Sears catalogue advertisements from 1975, for example, less than 2% of toys were explicitly marketed to either boys or girls.
Why? It all comes down to profit. Why sell one box of Lego when you can sell two just by gendering the colours and themes on the box. In Jacques Peretti’s excellent BBC documentary The Men Who Made Us Spend (2014), he examined the way in which children are increasingly targeted by marketers as mini consumers – with the average British child seeing 10,000 TV adverts a year. Any parent who’s ever sat through just one ad break on a children’s channel will be able to tell you that it’s the most explicitly gendered thing you’ve ever seen – with boys and girls typically appearing separately, in a whirl of pink and high-pitched voices or blue with a backdrop of angry guitar music.
Why does this matter? All the studies tell us that being physically active is good for our children, in particular for girls who frequently struggle with body image issues and self-confidence. Sport and exercise have the power to change our daughters’ lives – bringing enhanced career opportunities, biting back at the gender pay gap, and boosting their self esteem. Who wouldn’t want that for their kids?
This morning my daughter told me that she doesn’t want to wear trousers to school any more because they’re “for boys”. Other parents often tell me the same thing. It was almost a century ago that women in this country won the battle to wear trousers. It is enormously troubling to think we might be raising a generation of children increasingly exposed to regressive ideas about gender, sold down the river for a bit of profit.