Gender stereotyping. Girls wear pink, boys wear blue. Boys play with trains, girls play with dolls. Women are nurses and men are doctors. Males are strong, females are weak. Females show emotions, a real man never cries. It’s wrong, all of it. And as a society, I hope we are working on it. But it goes further than that and on an everyday level, businesses are losing money because of their attitudes.
The bike incident
My husband works in a small city and on his lunch break, he sometimes has a look around the shops. I’m not one for buying things unnecessarily, whereas my husband – well, he loves a good spending spree. And at the moment, I’m the focus of his spending attention.
You see, my husband has decided that I need a mountain bike. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I disagree, but I don’t think I need one just yet. My road bike is fine and at the moment, when my husband and the girls ride their bikes, I run alongside Lia who isn’t great with her brakes.
But soon enough, Lia will get the hang of it and I’ll need a mountain bike to keep up when they’re cycling on the trails. Without much else to spend money on, my husband has made it his mission to find me a mountain bike. Nothing too flash, but something I can ride off road.
So on his lunch break a few weeks ago, he popped into the local cycling shop. As he was browsing, the shop assistant approached and asked if he could help. My husband explained that he was looking for a bike for me, and the shop keeper directed him away from the mountain bikes and towards the shoppers. With baskets on the front.
Now let’s be clear, I don’t have anything against these. But I do have a problem that without taking direction as to what exactly we were looking for, the assistant jumped to conclusions about me. Not only was he completely wrong, but his sexist assumption has totally put my husband off shopping there. I’ll still have a mountain bike soon enough, but not from his shop.
To an extent, the bike incident pales into insignificance next to the ridiculous matter of school shoes. Libby is, in my opinion, a fairly typical girl. She loves a pretty dress as much as anyone, but unless she has an occasion to wear a dress and fancy shoes, she’s happier in sports clothes. Trousers, a t-shirt and some shoes to run in.
And this attitude applies in school as well as outside. At playtime, she wants to run around. They can’t wear trainers, so she always chooses the shoes she thinks she’ll run fastest in. And they never last. In September, we spent £50 on a pair of shoes. By Easter, they’d fallen apart. So, we were back to the shoe shop. And this time, Libby’s choice was a little different.
She went in looking for a shiny pair of shoes, preferably with flowers on. And she searched through all the girls shoes. A few were shiny with flowers on, just what she wanted but she knew they wouldn’t last long. They didn’t look like they were designed for running in. She ran up and down the shop in each pair, they weren’t comfortable when she ran.
Then, she headed off to the boys section. And found a robust, shiny pair of shoes. I checked whether she’d care if people said they were boys shoes. She was adamant that she didn’t care. These were the shoes for her. And the ethos of the shoe companies cost them money then and there. Not hundreds of pounds, but maybe hundreds of purchases. Because this little girl doesn’t care about their gender stereotypes or their archaic attitudes. She wants shiny shoes that she can run fast in. And that’s exactly what she got.
Time for change
I’m happy with a men’s mountain bike. I don’t care if the man in the shop thinks I should be riding around on something pink and girly. Although he is very lucky my husband didn’t explain precisely where he could shove his shopping basket.
But what I’m not happy about is that my little girl can’t have the shoes she wants. Why can’t she choose a shiny pair of shoes with flowers on that she can also run in? Why does she have to choose between feminine and practical? And while we’re on the subject, why should a boy have to buy girls shoes if he wants them to have flowers on?
We don’t subscribe to the ideal that you have to buy things from the ‘right’ section of the shop. If the girls want a t-shirt with dinosaurs on that happens to be in the boys section, that’s what we’ll buy. But I do get cross that people’s archaic attitudes are so ingrained that they would rather lose money than accept that not everybody conforms to their stereotypes.