One shoe could fit all — if shoes weren’t gendered

Editor’s Note: Author Christine Cox is a student in the Spring 2009 Feminist Theory class in The University of Akron’s Women’s Studies Program. To read more student posts, click here.

Why do we separate women’s shoes from men’s shoes?shoes

I work in a shoe store, and I’ve noticed how people behave when it comes to the whole gender issue. Our kids’ shoes are separated by size, with boys on top and girls on the bottom.

Parents are quick to ask if tennis shoes are “boys” or “girls.” Does it matter? If their child likes them, what difference does it make?

We only carry work and hiking boots in men’s, but some women won’t even try them on. They just leave in search of a store that has the exact same shoe in the women’s section, so they can remain safely in their gender zone.

Several men come in looking for women’s shoes, but usually bolt when anyone comes into the aisle they’re shopping in. We don’t bat an eyelash at a woman buying men’s shoes for herself, but a man buying women’s shoes seems to be something to snicker at.

Women pull their children closer to them as if the man has to be a sexual deviant to buy women’s shoes. Teens huddle together and laugh openly without concern for the man’s feelings or humiliation. Funny, these same teens don’t mind when the canvas high tops in style at the moment are only found in the men’s section.

Unfortunately, the customers aren’t the only ones who snicker. I talk to my coworkers about treating cross-dressers with respect and dignity. If I can’t appeal to their moral decency, then I appeal to the bottom line. The LGBT community spends more than $700 billion annually. Not an amount to be snickered at!

What if we sold shoes by size and style, instead of by gender? Modifications would have to be made to expand choices for everyone.

At the moment, kid’s sizes start at one for babies and go to size 13 ½ in kid’s. The process starts over again at size one for kids and ends at size 4 ½.

Kid’s sizes go straight into men’s size five, and proceeds up to size 15 or more. Women’s shoes are two sizes smaller than kid’s/men’s, and start at size five up to size 13 or more. In other words, a woman wearing a size seven could wear a size five in men’s or kids extended sizes, expanding her choices.

Starting at size one for babies and going all the way up to size 28 or more in men’s, with no difference for women’s would simplify the whole process.

Instead of the typical Brannock device used to measure feet, which has men’s sizes on one side,and women’s on the other, only one size and width would be necessary. This would be a larger version of the device we use for kids.

All shoes would have to come in regular, wide and extra wide. In other words, a current women’s size nine wide would be a size 20 wide. A men’s size 10 wide would be a size 23 extra wide. If a woman needs a wider size, she can choose an extra wide, and if a man has a narrow foot, he can choose a wide or even a regular.

All size 17 shoes would be together. Women’s, kid’s and men’s dress shoes displayed dark to light. All the sandals, casuals, athletics and boots displayed dark to light.

People with wider feet or bunions will find comfortable shoes more easily. Everyone would have a greater selection, and eventually we would stop stereotyping people by which shoes they wear.

Granted, it might take a while for pumps or pink sparkly tennis shoes on men to be accepted, but why are we so uptight about it?

And why stop at shoes? This same concept can be carried into all apparel. By simply having “fitted” styles on one rack and “loose” styles on another we can expand choices, while getting the right fit for out tastes.

We sell floral sheets next to solids and stripes. Why should we sell clothing any differently?

It’s time we get out of the gender box. I’m not suggesting we stop making pink sparkly tennis shoes, just that we stop worrying about who wears them.