Accoutrements of Bipedalism

On Friday, I bought my daughter her first pair of look-at-me-I'm-bipedal! shoes at Stride Rite. The sales associate gave me a receipt with a code for a survey that promised a $5 coupon at the end. Since kids go through shoes quickly, I figured I'd do it. After a couple innocuous questions, I got this one (click to embiggen):

Seriously? I guess the sizes go from babies to toddlers or from babies and toddlers to big kids? All I know is that I bought a size 6 wide. I honestly have absolutely no idea if that's size "8 and under" or size "3.5 or larger." (I picked the first option because, really, does it matter? I just want $5.) There is a whole world of new terms and abbreviations associated with child-bearing and -rearing (attachment parenting, CIO, BFing, meconium, pitocin, etc. - there are even online quizzes so you can test your knowledge!), and I've dutifully learned everything in this new register, as sociolinguists might say. But this survey question really surprised me, as it highlighted that I have a lot more parent-appropriate language to learn as Chickpea gets older.

I also wish I had taken a picture of the wall o' toddler shoes at Stride Rite. The boy-coded shoes were on the left and came in a variety of colors: white, brown, blue, green, black, red. The girl-coded shoes were smack in the middle of the store (directly across from the entrance) and were pink. There may have been one or two pairs of shoes that had no pink on them at all. And a couple pairs that were predominantly navy blue, brown, or black. But I'd say that at least 90% of the options were a combination of white and pink. As an anthropologist, I try not to over-gender my daughter; as a woman, I don't really like pink as a color, at least partially because of its cultural/gender baggage; but as a bargain-hunter, I will give odd colors and styles some leeway. Besides, these are shoes that my daughter will grow out of in two months.

The thorough gendering of kids' shoes did take me by surprise, as I haven't had that much trouble finding girl-specific clothing that's not completely pink. It's especially strange, though, that if we reinforce gender stereotypes, girls should be able to pick from a wider variety of styles and colors - just visit any large shoe store and see how much is devoted to women's shoes and how much to mens'. (At my local DSW, I'd say the ratio is about 75/25.)

Before we ended up at Stride Rite, I had been shopping at Babies 'R' Us. Similarly, the girl shoes were all pink or white, and the boy shoes were way more interesting: colors, camo, action figures, etc. The girl shoes also looked incredibly uncomfortable: sandals and flipflops in styles that I would think twice about buying for myself, and that I definitely wasn't going to buy for a newly-bipedal child. At BRU I found just one un-gendered pair of sneakers: they had Sesame Street Muppets all over them. Surprisingly, they were in the boys' shoe section. So Muppets are male-coded in BRU land apparently.

I've probably been reading waaaaaay too much of my favorite blog, Sociological Images, but taking Chickpea to shop for her first pair of shoes was definitely an odd and surprisingly biocultural experience.


Patrick said…
The store was almost exactly split down the middle between boys' and girls' shoes -- definitely a surprise, given how women-centric adult shoe stores are. There were no unisex shoes at all.

The second surprise was how reluctant Kristina was to consider anything, even fairly gender-neutral shoes like brown or grey sneakers, from the boys' side. Hence the selection of pink-with-polka-dots sandals.

As to sizes: a kid's 13 is about equal to a men's 1 or a women's 2.5. In Europe, they use one sizing convention for all ages, both genders, but not here!
Martha Murphy said…
Waaay back in the '70s I used to buy boy clothes for my little girl because they came in more interesting colors. One day she was wearing a Tshirt in fall-color stripes, Oshkosh overalls, and blue sneakers. In the grocery line the lady standing next to me asked, "How old is your little girl?" I asked how she knew Sara was a girl and she replied, "She has lace on her socks."

You just have to break out of the pink prison on your own. But I warn you, when she's in kindergarden she will probably demand all pink.


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