Clarks withdraws girls' school shoe after accusations of sexism

The Guardian 10 months ago

Clarks are withdrawing a school shoe for girls called “Dolly Babe” after it provoked accusations of sexism, especially as the equivalent version for boys is called “Leader”. Both shoes are made from black leather, but the Dolly Babe has the added cloying detail of a pink insole printed with hearts, while the version for boys – which remains on sale – has a football detail.

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was among many who found the firm’s choice of design barely credible. “It is almost beyond belief that in 2017 a major company could think this is in any way acceptable. Shows what we are still up against,” she tweeted.

Politicians from all parties strode into the debate: Carolyn Harris, shadow minister for women and equality, described the designs as “blatant discrimination”; Sarah Ludford, a Liberal Democrat peer and shadow Brexit Minister, tweeted “So depressing”; Maria Miller, chair of the Commons women and equality select committee, said retailers had a responsibility not to reinforce stereotypes.

Even the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, usually the most unbending upholder of traditional values, told the BBC: “To call a pair of shoes for a girl Dolly Babe is dreadful. It’s wrong in all sorts of ways … this is just really silly.”

The issue was first raised by Miranda Williams, a councillor in Greenwich, who was horrified when she found Dolly Babe in an online search for new school shoes for her twin daughters. She tweeted: “The idea that we should be bringing up a generation of boys to aspire to become leaders while the best hope for girls is to be Dolly Babes is just grim.”

Clarks responded that it was removing the shoes, “an old and discontinued line”, from its stores.

Another parent, Jemma Moonie-Dalton, had already attacked the firm in a Facebook post about the quality rather than the names of its girls’ shoes: “In the boys’ section the shoes are sturdy, comfortable and weatherproof, with soles clearly designed with running and climbing in mind,” she wrote. “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.”

“To the best of my knowledge, all small children like to run, jump & play. If I thought she was sat quietly in the corner looking pretty & dainty all day, avoiding puddles or running games that might scuff her shoes, I’d be heartbroken.”

To many campaigners, the controversy has a wearily familiar ring, with many many precedents: last year the clothing firm Gap was lambasted over an ad promoting a little girl’s T-shirt with a pink G for “the social butterfly”, while her opposite number, “the little scholar”, sported a T-shirt with the face of Albert Einstein.

Tags: gender
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