Brighton writer and blogger Maddie Sinclair is mum to a four-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl. She’s also campaign manager for the Love for Izzy Dix campaign, which raises awareness of bullying, low self-esteem and teen suicide by promoting love, kindness, compassion and respect. Here, she takes a view on a campaign over Clarks shoes...
This month, loyal customers have given shoe company Clarks a bit of a kicking – probably with one of their own sturdy black school shoes, it seems.
It all started when Emma Dixon, a North London lawyer and mother of two boys and a girl, visited the Clarks store in Westfield Stratford City, and found herself face-to-face with these point-of-sale advertising posters.
Horrified by the blatant gender stereotyping, Emma launched an online petition calling for the removal of the ads, which has now been signed by over 20,000 people under the title #LetShoesBeShoes.
Emma sums it up on her petition page: “To suggest that boys engage in active outdoor play of the type that destroys shoes, while girls are interested in fashion and looking pretty, is to reinforce damaging social stereotypes and to deprive both sexes of the opportunity to become who they really are.”
I think we all know what Clarks are trying to get at here. They’re simply attempting to say that their shoes are top quality, stylish and comfortable. OK, great. But in this day and age, they seem to have taken ‘target marketing’ several steps too far.
A spokesperson for Clarks has said: “The wording in these in-store marketing displays was chosen to reference qualities that our customers value in children’s shoes. It is never our intention to cause offence.”
But Emma said: “The actual shoe styles aimed at girls are flimsy and unsuitable for playing outdoors. We are calling on Clarks to produce stylish, sturdy shoes for boys and girls alike – so that our kids can explore the world with total freedom, instead of being restricted by narrow and outdated preconceptions about how they should look or behave.”
Some on Twitter have dismissed Emma’s campaign as ‘political correctness gone mad’, suggesting that ‘stereotypes are there for a reason’.
Sure, there’s no denying that girls and boys are very different creatures, and yes, I must admit that my two-year-old daughter is already starting to demand everything from cereal bowls to toothbrushes in Katie Price’s favourite hue, but the question remains – is this obsession with pink, glitter and sparkles ‘nature’ or ‘nurture’?
Historically, pink was still considered a boy's colour in many circles until as late as 1939, and it wasn’t until after the Second World War that public perception changed to ‘blue is for boys’.
What all this kerfuffle has shown is that gender stereotypes are complex and topical, especially where children are concerned, and consumers are likely to pick up on any attempt to shoehorn the genders into a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
My advice to Clarks is to graciously admit that this probably isn’t one of their best advertising campaigns. They should take the criticism on the chin, limit any potential damage by removing the displays quickly, and then set about improving their gender representation in the future.
After all, as the saying goes: “If the shoe fits, wear it.”
You can sign the #LetShoesBeShoes petition at: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/remove-outdated-sexist-signage-from-clarksshoes-shops-letshoesbeshoes.
Read Maddie Sinclair’s blog at: www.gammonandchips.com.