(In response to Emma Dixon’s Change.org campaign: ‘Remove outdated, sexist signage from Clarks shoe shops. #letshoesbeshoes’

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m going to offend a lot of people by what I have to say. Some women will want to shake me, slap me, shout at me or just lecture me.

This campaign seems a misuse of public space and Change.org’s resources.

The first thing I notice is that, going by the style of shoe pictured for girl and boy, the wording/signs are aimed at young children. Under eights? These children are taken shopping by a grown up (Mummy maybe?)

If they’re aimed at the children, they’re not the ones who are going to pay attention; if they’re aimed at the grown up, adults know better. So suggesting the ‘sexist’ notions are absorbed by the children is erroneous and uninformed. Kids look at the shoes, not the subliminal messages in marketing material. And clever Mum (the military engineer/IT consultant/CEO or Dad the househusband) isn’t going to be influenced.

Then there’s the reality. When girls grow up to be women, they’re interested in the look of the shoe and the style – less so in the durability when kicking walls or squashing bugs.

Men buy differently. Would it help women’s cause if the wording was reversed and the ‘destruction’ copy was used for the girls’ shoe and vice versa? No. Shoppers would be baffled and would make a laughing stock of Clarks for getting it so wrong.

On a subtler point, aren’t the campaigners underestimating the parents’ influence and overestimating the propaganda’s pull?

Is a line in a shop really going to shape a child’s attitude to gender and what’s expected of them? Ha – not likely!

Aren’t the hours of nurturing our children and carefully choosing how to answer their questions, encouraging, explaining, supporting and describing the world to them, is this futile in the face of – gasp! – a copywriter’s bad day at the office trying to meet Clarks’s looming deadline?

Parents raise their children, not shoe shops. Are we so easily offended that we can’t just come out of the shop and say to our son/daughters, ‘Ha, what a silly notice.’

And is there anything wrong with suggesting boys are rough with shoes (they are) and girls aren’t? Are we going to help women by pretending things are otherwise?

The most bizarre and idiotic example of trying to reverse gender expectations is in nursery rhymes. For a while I saw the Doctor Foster one assuming the doctor was female. Nothing wrong with that. But is this the petty kind of change we think will really move things forward (if that’s where we’re really going)?

My respect for Change.org hasn’t faltered. But taking on a really minor issue like this casts a different light on them.

I’m a woman. I too have a son and a daughter. This does not offend me or worry me. I don’t find it sexist.

And the campaigner Emma Dixon, who ‘grew up in the carefree 1970s when kids were kids…’ might be using the era to strengthen her argument since the 70s are now very much in fashion in a nostalgic, glowing sort of way.

As a 70s child myself, I remember being slapped in front of my classmates, made to stand on a chair for being naughty by a male teacher (yes, I think he was hoping to see my undies) and seeing ads which had woman cleaning and cooking for their family as standard. My career advice was awful and the girls’ school I attended assumed we wouldn’t want to do well academically because we were girls (a subliminal message, but there all the same.) We have moved on.

You only need to read footwear descriptions for men and women to see things as they are. I randomly chose Kurt Geiger’s site and saw that their women’s shoes had words like ‘feminine’ ‘lady-like’ ‘delicate’ and ‘style’ where men’s include ‘finish’, ‘on or off duty’. But women still buy the shoes… Regardless of the writing.

This isn’t a personal attack but it can’t be taken seriously. To me, the signage is a fairly accurate portrayal of what boys and girls are innately like.

It must be time to consider what sexist really means today. And let’s not pretend it’s found in thoughtless copy like this.

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