Clark’s, the shoe shop, has taken a bit of a bashing in the press over the last couple of weeks. First of all mum Jem Moonie-Dalton posted a Facebook rant about Clarks ‘sexist’ ranges of boys and girls shoes. Then, just as the furore from that was beginning to die down, someone spotted that Clarks have a range in the girls’ section named ‘Dolly Babe’, whilst the boys get shoes named ‘Leader’ and other such motivating, inspiring, strong names. And… whoosh! We’re all up in arms again, screaming “sexist” once more.
Come on, Clarks, ‘Dolly Babe‘? Really? Which of your marketing/sales team thought that one was a good idea?
It’s true, there is a huge difference in the practicality between the shoes in the ‘girls’ range and those in the ‘boys’ range. But, hasn’t this always been the case? I certainly remember wearing patent T-bar shoes as a child, whereas my brother had sensible, foot-covering lace-ups (until Velcro became a ‘thing’ at least – this was the 1980s). In fact, I had all manner of impractical shoes, but I somehow still managed to run and play in the playground just like the boys.
And it seems pretty unfair to pick on Clarks when you will find the same thing in just about every shop that sells shoes (and clothes, and toys…) for children. I’m not saying a gender-divide is right, but we can’t deny it’s there and it’s everywhere. But, it’s also not wrong to have girly shoes and shoes that are more masculine. Boys and girls are generally different, and many girls do like the glitter, sparkle and flowers (or else how would Lelli Kelly be so popular?). There are probably boys who would like glittery shoes too, but I don’t see the ‘sexism’ brigade calling out for those as much…
Clarks have said that they have a ‘gender-neutral ethos’ and are working on expanding the range of shoes that fit this. These things take time. And, at the end of the day, Clarks and all the other retailers will provide what the buying public wants and, traditionally, that has been ‘girly’ shoes for girls and sturdier shoes for boys. Those of us who want a more gender-neutral shoe for our children are increasing, but are, most likely, still largely in the minority.
So, with all the hoo-haa still bubbling away, this morning I took my children to Clarks to buy school shoes. And it was a great experience. Let me tell you about it…
Firstly, we had booked an appointment – a service Clarks offers to try to avoid the mad panic buying that takes place every August. The appointment had been booked for 9am, but I then received an email saying the store didn’t open until 9.30am, so they couldn’t understand how an earlier time had been booked. However, what the email also said was that they saw that my daughter has autism (I had included it on the notes when booking – shoe shopping can be an incredibly stressful experience for all involved and its always worth mentioning), and that if we wanted to keep the early appointment, they would open up the store especially for us. How fab is that? This means that Small wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the people, the noise, and all the other tiny details that can set her off towards unpredictable behaviour. It would mean that I could relax, knowing she was safe and not running around a busy store, or trying to run out of it.
We arrived and the store assistant, Sarah, was there to let us in with a cheery smile and “hello!”The kids were in awe of the empty store, and ran the length of it to the children’s section at the end. And I let them, because what harm would it do?
Sarah made us all feel very relaxed and talked to Small like she’s any other child (not something that always happens when someone knows she’s autistic!). She was patient, and patience is key with all children, let alone children like Small. She measured Small’s feet with the ipad gadget thingy (oh, how I miss the old-style slider-and-tape measurers!) and Small laughed when it tickled her feet.
Then she said, “okay, let’s show you what we have…” and we walked towards the girls’ shoes. I said, “Actually, I need something hard-wearing as she walks on her toes and tends to scuff the fronts badly – I was actually thinking of boys’ shoes….”
And then, Sarah reached for a pair of ”girly boys shoes’ in the girls’ section!
How about that? Clarks do have some more practical, more ‘boyish’ shoes after all!
Granted, it’s probably just one style in a range of several, but, still, they were exactly what I was looking for. Small tried them, ran around the shop in them like a mad thing and we were sold. I would have been just as happy to have taken a pair from the ‘boys’ section, but these were perfect.
So, Clarks isn’t all bad, and I think the bashing it has taken recently is a little unfair (other than ‘Dolly Babe’ – that really was stupid!). We had a brilliant experience today – certainly the best shoe-buying experience I’ve ever had with the children. I commend Clarks for helping out children like Small (and parents like me!).
Surely it is society’s preconceived ideas about gender, perpetuated from generation to generation, that creates the gender divide we see in children’s clothes, toys, and shoes? We need to start to teach our children that pink is just ‘a colour’ and girls can play with trains; that boys can wear princess dresses and play with dolls and girls can wear blue and have short hair. Once we start accepting all this as ‘normal’, retailers will have to follow suit and create gender-neutral ranges across the board.
Now, if Clarks could just work on the price of their shoes so I don’t have to take out a loan each time the kids need new ones…