Ahh, Clarks, the shoe shop loved by parents across the land. The shop we go to when we want to buy our children “quality” shoes and then nearly pass out at the till once the extortionate price is rung up. Now (although for us it has long been this) Clarks is the shop we can visit when we want our children to experience some ‘Everyday Sexism’ because it appears that even a shoe shop isn’t sacred. I mean, why not introduce our children to sexism as soon as they can walk? We might as well prepare them for the realities of the real world. I am obviously being sarcastic but this is no laughing matter. Clarks has reminded us that equality is still a long way off.
My Relationship With Clarks
I have long had a love/hate relationship with Clarks. It was the shop my parents took me and my brother to get our school shoes and now it is the shop where I take my daughters. In a lot of ways Clarks hasn’t changed. You can still pick up the same patent style shoes and you can still spend far too long waiting to be served by a shop assistant. It also appears that Clarks hasn’t moved forward with the times when it comes to its attitude. I have spoken about labels in the past and how my youngest daughter was directed away from a pair of shoes that were blue and covered in aeroplanes as she was told by the shop assistant that these were for boys. What I didn’t reveal at the time was that the shop was Clarks. I put this sexist attitude down to the individual shop assistant. It appears that I was wrong, sexism seems to be at the heart (or should that be “sole”) of Clarks.
According to Clarks, girls, my daughters, aren’t allowed to walk in the shoes of leaders. The leader range is reserved for the boys. Instead Clarks believes that my daughters should wear shoes called “Dolly Babe”. Before I ridicule the fact that a leading shoe shop thought that “Dolly Babe” was an appropriate title to give to a pair of shoes (It doesn’t even make sense), let’s look at why I am so disgusted with Clarks for choosing to use these labels.
Firstly, they are discriminating. What message is this sending to our children? It’s quite simple. Boys are destined to be in positions of authority. The girls – “Dolly Babe”? One would assume that Clarks believes that girls are worrying about looking pretty – “babe” and will be at home looking after their “babies” – dolly. Or perhaps they are taking the urban definition of dolly which means cute. Either way the Clarks message is not of equality. The girls are not being given a message of strength and independence, instead they are being subjected to the same tired message that for a girl it’s purely about being pretty and looking good. Not the message I want to be sending to my daughters. Perhaps you think I am jumping all over this for no reason. Perhaps I should take my size 6 shoes and just vow never to set foot in a Clarks shop ever again. It’s not that simple though, is it?
Princesses Are Not Allowed
This Clarks cock-up demonstrates that these sexist assumptions are still deeply engrained in our society; that gender stereotyping is happening from the moment they set foot in this world. The language we use with our children is hugely important. Girls are often called “princess”. A term I abhor and one that my own father is particularly fond of using when talking to my two girls. A term that makes me want to vomit as soon as I hear anyone using it. The term princess immediately irks me because I don’t want my girls to be praised for being a “princess”, the inference being that they look pretty and are being quiet. No, I want them to be praised for being clever, for articulating an opinion and for being themselves – not for being an identikit princess.
What Message Is Clarks Sending Our Children?
The reason I worry about the Clarks message is that children are like sponges, they absorb everything. Studies have suggested that children learn sexism at school. I think they learn about sexism long before they start school. They are exposed to it as soon as they are out of the womb. Morrisons recent ill-advised t-shirt range proved this point. The t-shirts for boys said “Little Man. Big Ideas.” The girls’ t-shirt said “Little girl, big smiles”. Then there are the toy shops that are arranged to reinforce patriarchal ideals. Girls play at being homemakers and boys build things. By the time girls start school they have already been drip-fed the patriarchal ideals. The belief that girls are subservient and in no way equal to their male counterparts.
I am bringing up my two girls to believe that they don’t have to fit into this very boring patriarchal box. I am showing them that they don’t have to be labelled. I have an 8 year-old who likes to wear trousers to school (despite one of her closest friends telling her that she is wearing boys clothes) because it means she can play football better at lunchtime. However, she also loves going to Brownies and playing netball. She isn’t being restricted by society’s expectations, although it hasn’t always been easy. When she first started school she started conforming to gender stereotypes and once even told a friend of mine that when she was older she wanted to be like mummy and just have babies. My friend found this hilarious as she knew how appalled I would be. We had a long conversation that night.
If we are to empower girls then we need to stop spreading the Clarks’ (and the media’s) sexist message. Our girls can be leaders too. It’s time for Clarks to step into the modern world. Also, a message I have for the CEO of Clarks – Mike Shearwood – is that he tries walking in the shoes of a female so that he is able to understand why we find the Clarks labelling so offensive – “How about it babe?”