Shoe company Clarks in the UK set off a storm last week with two of its new school shoe designs which were were attacked as sexist leading to the girls’ design being quickly removed from sale.
A report in the on-lign Australian edition of the Guardian newspaper said the girls shoe range was called Dolly Babe. What made it worse was that the equivalent version boys shoe was called Leader.
“Both shoes are made from black leather, but the Dolly Babe had the added cloying detail of a pink insole printed with hearts, while the version for boys – which remains on sale – has a football detail”, wrote Maev Kennedy.
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was among many who found the firm’s choice of design barely credible.
“It is almost beyond belief that in 2017 a major company could think this is in any way acceptable. Shows what we are still up against,” she tweeted.
Politicians from all parties strode into the debate: Carolyn Harris, shadow minister for women and equality, described the designs as “blatant discrimination”; Sarah Ludford, a Liberal Democrat peer and shadow Brexit Minister, tweeted “So depressing”; Maria Miller, chair of the Commons women and equality select committee, said retailers had a responsibility not to reinforce stereotypes.
Even the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, usually the most unbending upholder of traditional values, told the BBC: “To call a pair of shoes for a girl Dolly Babe is dreadful. It’s wrong in all sorts of ways … this is just really silly.”
The issue was first raised by Miranda Williams, a councillor in Greenwich, who was horrified when she found Dolly Babe in an online search for new school shoes for her twin daughters. She tweeted: “The idea that we should be bringing up a generation of boys to aspire to become leaders while the best hope for girls is to be Dolly Babes is just grim.”
Clarks responded that it was removing the shoes, “an old and discontinued line”, from its stores.
To many campaigners, the controversy has a wearily familiar ring, with many many precedents: last year the clothing firm Gap was lambasted over an ad promoting a little girl’s T-shirt with a pink G for “the social butterfly”, while her opposite number, “the little scholar”, sported a T-shirt with the face of Albert Einstein