Sneaker sexism sets back the feminist movement

"Girlified" shoes in sports store perpetuate stereotypes

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009


I’ve never considered myself a feminist, partly, and rather ignorantly, because of the fear of being considered a “feminazi.” But last Friday, a trip to Masonville Mall made me reconsider the term.

As I passed Athlete’s World, I noticed a new collection of “rare and limited releases” called Sneaker Headz on display at the front of the store.

Excited to see bright old school hip-hop sneakers and funky street shoes, I headed inside to try some on. The men’s wall hosted an array of bold-coloured shoes with standouts like Nike’s brown plaid ankle-hugging boot and a shiny black pair of Pacman skater sneakers circa 1970.

My excitement, however, quickly turned to disappointment, seeing as the smallest men’s size was a seven (a nine or 10 in women’s shoes). As the salesman directed me toward the women’s wall, my disappointment quickly turned into disgust at the heinous display of women’s sneakers.

Baby pink furry leg boots, soft slip-ons with barely any grip and Easter egg pastel-coloured sneakers dominated the rack. They had the Pacman shoes " but it was Ms. Pacman with a huge pair of red lips on the side. Other sneakers had patterns of tiny stars, hearts and cats and some even used lavender ribbon " the kind found on ballet shoes " as shoelaces. I was appalled. This was the women’s section " is this what we’re actually supposed to wear?

I voiced my disgust aloud to the salesman who began to jokingly patronize me by bragging about his plentiful sneaker options and how he should buy the pair that was three sizes too big on me. He even showed off the pair he was wearing and suggested girls should just stick to Ugg boots.

Perhaps I was envious of the fact the men’s section had better-looking, more interesting shoes, but when I came back to Athlete’s World the next day and asked why they didn’t carry the women’s sizes for certain pairs, one of the employees replied, “Most girls don’t really like anything that cool anyway.”

I’m not a very confrontational person but I found it both unnerving and interesting to me that a shoe " something so trivial and everyday " would trigger such a feminist reaction.

But the fact that a shoe is such a subtle, ordinary item is all the more reason to point out the perpetual gender stereotypes in our society.

Even the limited selection of women’s running shoes in most sports stores are overpowered by the latest technological advances in men’s running shoes. Women have to go to the boys’ section to find a strong pair of metal cleats and suffer shin splints from lack of sole support from other shoes. Even sports jerseys are “girlified” " pink Maple Leafs jerseys are made for female hockey fans.

This shoe store incident presented an embarrassing portrait of how women are perceived. We’re still too girly to wear “cooler” sneakers and apparently use lavender ribbons for our hair and our shoelaces. We will never grow out of the baby pink and soft pastel colours we were born into and we would never need shoes to play sports.

Although I’ve never considered myself a feminist, if the idea of being limited to just stilettos and Ugg boots pisses me off, maybe I should reconsider.

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