I am quite surprised it has taken such a long time to come to the surface. If you work in a nursery it won’t just be footwear that is loaded with gender stereotypical impressions and constraints. Large flouncy dresses that are almost suicidal for climbing, bows that snag, and then of course there are the shoes…
When children start nursery we talk to parents about clothes that need to be comfortable. Easy to change, easy to move in and not ‘special’ because they will get messy (very messy). It seems to make little difference as I see a range of fashions and styles – often better suited to pass the parcel than a day spent in a mud kitchen. As I pack some poor child dressed as Elsa (complete with wedges) into a full set of waterproofs and wellies, I vow to corner the parent about ‘appropriate clothing’ at home time. The response is often one around the morning battle of refusing to leave the house dressed conventionally. Now, I don’t want to be a killjoy, but would you wear your dinner suit paintballing?
I have the same despair when greeting a child in a full-masked Spiderman costume complete with six-pack (there is a growing concern about boys’ body image). The difference is that the Spiderman outfit probably doesn’t present any danger to life and limb (apart from the inevitable wrestling that goes with it).
It appears obvious to me that footwear (and more general clothing) is gender-specific and seeks to disempower (think high heels), but there is another, more worrying, trend in the ‘adolescentising’ of young children’s clothes. We worry about the loss of childhood and then dress under-fives in crop-tops and skinny jeans.
I have compiled a (non-exhaustive) list of clothing I would like to ban from the nursery. Included are: Crocs, skinny jeans, dungarees, all themed clothing, party shoes, expensive Alice bands, dark glasses, strappy tops, huge knee-length puffer coats and anything with a lace. I am sure you have many more to add.
*Clarks has been accused of sexism for calling a range of girls’ school shoes ‘Dolly Babe’, while the boys’ range is called ‘Leader’.