I spent most of today shopping in the Canberra Centre. As its name suggests it is a shopping centre in the middle of our national capital. Initially I was very impressed. The average age of customers was about 30 years less than that in my own home town and there was a large turn out of policemen, ambulance men, SES men and servicemen promoting white ribbon day with both sincerity and aplomb. The coffee was of a high standard too.

After lunch we then began the serious task of choosing shoes, trousers and a slightly formal shirt for my fourteen year old grandson who played as a soloist in a cello concerto tonight. A half hour task we guessed.

My knowledge about the unquestionable stall of feminism since the inroads we older women made in the 60s and 70s has already been confirmed. My conviction about the good sense and the vision of many women has already been shaken to the core. Many of these issues have been discussed on DtJ, but I still did not expect what I found today.

In my past I had and raised children of both sexes and instilled the idea of equaIity across the gender divide during their upbringing. I thought, and still think, that women and men are equal. I feel that their are some significant gender differences but neither sex is or should be superior to the other and we all should have equality of opportunity in all areas.

I now have eleven grandchildren. Only three of them are girls, and they are among the younger ones. I knew that they are, sadly, subjected to overwhelming pinkness and the extended “princess myth” but I had no idea that the recent distortions in girl’s fashions has resulted so markedly in distortions to that of boys. OK, so I knew that the pink/blue divide was strong for little ones then it becomes a pink/camouflage divide.

I did not know that if you were a 14 year old youth it was de rigor to dress only in T shirts (and pyjamas) which are adorned with skeletons, guns or punk rock and negative messages. I did not know that only two or three items per shop would be all that was devoted to their needs whereas the girls of the same age had their own half a floor as a rule. In  one leading retailer this was named cutely, “The Princess Road”.  (Of course ths road was almost completely pink and silver.)

I had no idea of the derision which teenage boys experience at the hands of most sales staff and how dismissive of them most staff and most adult men’s shops are whilst teenage girls are very welcome in women’s shops.

After some hours, foot weary and frustrated, we at last found plain black pants and a suitable ordinary shirt, only just one in the entireI retail complex, that fitted the stipulations. That is, it was was plain, long sleeved and not black or white and slightly more formal than a school shirt and fitted an average fourteen year old male.

But next it was the older girls who appeared to be the victims. In the shoe “warehouse”, buying male shoes was quite easy. The men’s shoes were smart and very foot friendly. But in this whole huge warehouse of shoes, there on proud display arranged at the very front, were row upon row of shoes designed to ruin our expectant princesses’ feet before they get very far along their road. And ugly! The stilettos were about 10 cms high. The soles were perhaps 3 cms high. Some were decorated in garish colours, some were bejeweled and all were very, very stiff. They cried out “broken ankle”, “ancient Chinese foot binding” and “you won’t get far in those. Ha, Ha”.

Among all the stiletto heels that we protested against yesteryear, I never saw any so high or so gross.

The polite, loyal and very professional sales girl countered my expressions of dismay with “women must be given freedom of choice”.

I ask “Why?”

We do not give freedom of choice in other areas where damage is likely to be done in terms of our own or other’s health or safety. Why should this be any different? Workmen would not be permitted to wear any of these shoes to work for health and safety reasons. Why should women?

And as I have often said before, if there is to be freedom of choice there must be a complementary freedom to criticise, and as loudly as one likes, both the choices made and of the manufacturers’ and the advertisers’ desires to exploit. I am now doing this and on this issue I do not think there should be any freedom of choice,  particularly for under age children and in the workplace or at school functions.

And there should be no taxpayer support of medical treatment if subsequently needed.

I can, and do, whilst so criticising, laugh a bit at the return to restrictive female undergarments or silly gendered colour choices.  I can laugh wryly as grown men are belittled in some sexist advertising jingles. 

But I can only internally weep at the destruction of a generation of young women’s physical health or at the manipulation of the psyche and even perhaps ultimately the mental health of a generation of young men.

The gender divide may now be less significant in the workplace. But it is etched ever more strongly in the place that most influences the vulnerable, the young and those who have had fewer educational opportunities, in retail.


About Anne Powles

I am retired from paid employment. During my working life I have been variously and sometimes contemporaneously, wife, mother of four, lawyer, teacher and psychologist. I have also been a serial education junkie. As are we all, I have been an observer of the world around me. Here I have recorded some of my memories, observations and theorisings.
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2 Responses to Equity

  1. You said you asked ‘Why?’ when she said “women must be given freedom of choice”. I don’t believe many women are really given freedom of choice, because it takes huge self-confidence to ignore the crippling glitz on offer and wear something else. The pressure on them comes from so many quarters, and if they aren’t slave to current fashion then they’re sent to Coventry by their peers.

    They must conform. Their freedom of choice is totally limited and restricted for all the commercial reasons you’re aware of. Their choice, such as it is, is confined to what’s on the racks in front of them. It’s heresy to demand or wear anything else.

    I’m not saying there’s no willingness to take part in this. New bling is fun and leads to peer approval. It is as it’s ever been. I looked at my mother’s feet in old age and was aghast at what 1930s fashion had done to the structure of each foot. it’s not quite footbinding, but it’s on the way there.

    I’ve got two great examples of professions that tend to buck the pressure because they’re above it, but I better stop.


  2. Anne Powles says:

    Thank you for you comment. I did not know whether to call the post, “After Box Pleats” or “Freedom, Feminism and Failure” so I just left it with its working title. I must say that my concerns about young boys caught in this artificiality does not entirely fit within the feminism label, although it is all connected. I agree that the concept of freedom of choice is often very illusory. I would be interested in what you think are the two professions that buck the pressure? I can think of two but the members of each would feel that they are somewhat incompatible with the other so I will not mention them in the same sentence.

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