This just in: being a child and taking steps to propel you from one area to another is a gendered act. Boys walk; girls sparkle and twirl and make princess wishes. Boys also crouch and pretend to shoot webs out of their hands, because that sort of thing is fun when you are a boy. (The only time that girls crouch is when they are picking up face-up pennies in their never ending quest to make a lot of wishes.)
Reel Girl has posted several Stride Rite ads and products that heartily espouse this batshit line of thinking — as has Rebecca Hains. The contrast between shoes targeted at little girls and shoes targeted at little boys is striking:
Apparently, traditional modes of bipedal locomotion are too active for girlchildren— ew! gross! princesses don't get out of bed for less than 10,000 wishes a day! — so instead, we have "RUN! SKIP! TWIRL!" Boys, on the other hand, are encouraged to use their shoes as mystical vessels to channel "THE POWER OF DARTH VADER."
A quick perusal of StrideRite.com yields these preposterously gendered sneaker descriptions. Rebecca Hains, a professor of media studies, has assembled a sad little round-up. For girls:
- Cinderella sneakers “transport your little princess to a world of fantasy”
- Hello Kitty Keds are “the cutest sneakers on the block”
- Glitzy Pets sneakers help girls “to really shine and steal the show”
- Spiderman sneakers offer “light-up powers,” “no matter what kind of web he spins”
- Star Wars sneakers with “lighted technology” are good for “your little adventurer’s feet”
- Lightning McQueen sneakers, also with “lighted technology,” let boys “be as fast as the legendary Cars Lightning McQueen on-and-off the track”
Part of the Wish Lights sneaker marketing campaign is the concept that, by taking a certain amount of steps, a little girl can activate a pink light that grants her a wish. "The more steps she takes, the more wishes she can make," reads a promotional email from the company. When the pink light comes on, every little girl makes the same entreaty: that she could just lie down in a princess hammock and make more wishes without having to move around so damn much.
In all seriousness, gender stereotyping like this is limiting in a variety of ways, to both young boys and young girls. Not only does it cause children to buy into a rigid gender binary of appearance (only girls can wear princess shoes, and only boys can wear superhero adventurewear), it also dictates what kind of behavior is acceptable for which gender. Boys are allowed to be rough and rugged and playful. Girls, on the other hand, must be pretty and shiny and passive. Boy-shoes act; girl-shoes appear. (As one commenter points out, some of the boys' shoes make noises, but the shoes for little girls are always silent.)
As Hains points out, this is one of the sources of the Frailty Myth:
As Colette Dowling has argued... Boys learn “to use their bodies in skilled ways, and this gives them a good sense of their physical capacities and limits. [...] Girls hold themselves back from full, complete movement, Although it’s usually something girls are unaware of, they actually learn to hamper their movements, developing a ‘body timidity that increases with age.’”
Brb, heading to a StrideRight right now and using my Princess Wish to bring about the end of sexism and gender roles.
Top image via Facebook; all others via Reel Girl.