“Girls Can’t Jump In Muddy Puddles” – Unconscious Sexism At The Shoe Shop

By Sofie Thomson

When my daughter turned just seven months she did something that completely took me by surprise. She walked.

We hadn’t really seen it coming, it just happened and although most parents take immense joy in watching their precious child take those first steps I felt a lump of mixed emotions building inside me. She was simply growing up far too fast.

My daughter loved walking and she was soon running. The main worry about her early steps was the huge amount of bumps she collected on her little head. She was completely and utterly unaware of her surroundings and happily ran into the wall, time and time again.

The health visitor was stunned when she visited! Not by my daughter’s young age but rather her complete insistence on running into the wall with the greatest speed she could master. She ordered a bumper helmet for us but I was instructed to try and keep my daughter as protected as possible whilst we waited for the protective head-hugger to arrive.

I whisked up a short term solution in the shape of a baby hat stuffed with cotton wool and I covered the floor in the spare duvets. It didn’t stop her from running around full of excitement, it just made the collisions less bumpy.

My daughter never stopped. She was wild and kind and just full of joy, she still is. Every day was filled with a new adventure and with walking she was offered a whole new world of exploration. There were puddles with her name on them, waiting to be jumped in.

Every day was filled with a new adventure and with walking she was offered a whole new world of exploration. There were puddles with her name on them, waiting to be jumped in.

Initially she ran around the garden barefoot with the fluffy, warm grass under her feet, but as she wanted to explore further I decided it was time to get her some shoes, she was now almost ten months old. I had a clear idea of what I wanted and I had heard that the shop we chose had soft sole shoes which were barefoot-friendly, so off we trotted to get her fitted for her first pair.

Upon entering the shop, a young lady offered us assistance in helping my daughter to choose her first pair of shoes. We needed a pair of light shoes but also a pair of welly boots for all those muddy puddles. The assistant presented us with several choices, each one more pink than the other. The pile of shoes looked as though it could transform into a sparkly, pink unicorn at any minute.

My daughter toddled over to a blue pair of dinosaur wellies and growled fiercely at them. She tried so hard to reach the boots but her little arms weren’t long enough. Before I had a chance to help her, the assistant had spotted my daughter and was busy telling her that she could absolutely not have the blue wellies. “You don’t want these sweetheart, they are for boys. I’ve got nice girls ones over here.”

Of course my daughter had no idea what the lady was talking about and desperately continued to reach for the wellies.

I stood there quiet in complete disbelief. My face must have expressed the words my mouth were unable to voice as she turned towards me ready to justify what she had just said. “They are made for boys feet, you see,” she said in a decisive voice.

I didn’t think I could possibly find this situation any more confusing, but this was just one of those moments where you find yourself questioning your entire existence. “Sorry?” I said in a rather surprised voice. She looked serious as she repeated that indeed these shoes were made for boys feet.

I asked her if she could explain this further, as I simply didn’t know that boys feet were somehow different from girls. I mean, it’s just feet! Of course I’m aware that girls and boys have different anatomy, but I had never heard that feet were also gender specific.

You see, my husband and I, being similar shoe sizes, shared shoes on a daily basis, and my feet were yet to become terribly deformed as a result of wearing shoes made for male feet.

I was so stunned that all I could do was to pick my daughter up and leave the shop. It’s not often I’m lost for words but this was most definitely one of those rare occasions.

When I phoned the shop later to complain about the absurd statements and the negative experience, the manager was very apologetic and said that the assistant was simply trying to help my daughter choose the shoes suitable for her, from the “girls” selection. She admitted that of course there is no actual difference between the shoes, bar the colours, and she personally believed that the assistant was just trying to help me make the right choice, a choice apparently limited by my daughter’s genitals.

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