There are few fresh hells worse than shopping for school shoes.
Having done it from the adult end (as a nanny) and the child end (as a latter day Verruca Salt) I can attest that it is no fun for anyone involved. As a child you probably want something pretty, fashionable and impressive that will make the rest of your year think you’re far cooler than you actually are.
As a parent you want something sturdy, hard-wearing and supportive to your child’s feet.
A shoe which does both of those things is pretty much impossible to find.
But it’s not just the misery of shoe compromise which has got mum Jem Moonie-Dalton feeling frustrated. It’s the differences between the school shoes designed for boys, and the school shoes designed for girls.
Jem took to Facebook to share her frustrations.
Yet again I am dismayed by the choice of school shoes for my daughter in Clarks. I understand, of course, that anyone can choose any style – but children are not stupid, and my 7 year old daughter does not want to choose shoes from a section aggressively marketed at boys and clearly not intended for her.
In the boys’ section the shoes are sturdy, comfortable and weather proof with soles clearly designed with running and climbing in mind. In contrast, the girls’ shoes have inferior soles, are not fully covered and are not well padded at the ankle. They are not comfortable and are not suited to outdoor activities in British weather.
What messages are you giving to my daughter? That she doesn’t deserve shoes that put her on equal ‘footing’ with her male peers? That she should be satisfied with looking stylish whilst the boys are free to play and achieve in comfort? That she shouldn’t try and compete with boys when they play chase – girls’ shoes aren’t made for speed, so perhaps girls aren’t either? These messages may not be explicit, but they are there, and are insidious.
I am deeply angered by Clarks persistent discrimination. As market leaders you have an opportunity to lead the way by designing and marketing shoes for twenty-first century children. I look forward to your detailed consideration of my letter, and until I hear a satisfactory response I will be sharing my concerns with a wide audience.
NB: I urge anyone reading this that shares my concerns to like and share this post with as many people as possible – it is only under immense public pressure that companies will effect change.
If you look back on the shoes that you wore at school, and the shoes that people of the opposite sex wore, you might start to think that she has a point.
Of course it’s not just Clarks, it’s all school shoes. Take a look at these randomly selected shoes from John Lewis.
You can see Jem’s point. The boy shoe is fuller, tougher looking and has more straps so might well be more supportive. While the girl shoe is no slack – it’s got a small heel (which is important) and a padded ankle – it’s just not going to be as hard wearing as the male counterpart because there’s less of it. It’s a more delicate shoe.
Could this divide between the styling of boy and girl shoes be because of a perception that boys need harder wearing shoes for all the play they do?
Girls’ feet are no different from boys’ feet, so in theory they really don’t need different shoes. A super practical, frugal parent might try and persuade her daughter to have a shoe from the boys’ section.
But as a parent, do you really want to have to talk your screaming child into buying a pair of shoes that’s obviously been designed for the opposite sex, on top of everything else you need to get ready for the start of a new term?
Of course not.
A spokesperson for Clarks told Metro.co.uk:
‘Clarks has a gender neutral ethos that anyone can choose any style they would like. Over the past few seasons, following customer feedback and market research, we have focused on creating more unisex shoes and we are looking at a number of elements of our business to promote this gender neutral ethos, both on our website and within our stores.
As a large global company, it is not always possible to implement all the changes we want to make as quickly as we would like. However, we are looking to move as fast as we can to ensure this ethos is reflected throughout our brand.
‘Today we have more unisex styles in our range than ever before. This means we now have a wider range of closed-in styles, school boots and Gore-Tex styles and these changes will continue in our Spring Summer 2018 range, which has been designed with an entirely unisex approach.
In addition, in September we will roll out a new format in some of our stores, where the whole kids department will be unisex with shoes displayed by ‘story’, rather than gender.’