Shoes and the Gender Binary

the arbitrary gendering of shoes and feet


I stand in front of a small athletic store, looking at the 50% percent off footwear sign, and brace myself to go inside.

I head straight for the shoes, ignoring the staff in my field of vision, and study a cacophony of blues, oranges, pinks and electric greens.

The only sign of the division between women’s and men’s shoes is a subtle separation in the shelving. Ugly purple appears only on one side.  More blacks and greys appear on the other.  Most of the shoes, however, would fit on either set of shelves. Some styles are even identical.

I rule out the purple, anything that seems to scream “I am a fit lady!!”, and anything that looks like it should be worn by a rapper.

I am intrigued by a pair of grey shoes on the men’s side with lime green laces. They’re not too dull or lurid. They strike a balance, a different balance to the pair I bought at Winner’s and then lost.

I ask the saleslady for a couple of pairs of women’s shoes. I ask for nines. They don’t fit. My feet are too wide.

While she gets nine and a halves, I think about the grey shoes. The shoes I’m trying on are like a new highlighter, almost greenish, fluorescent. Garish.

She only has an eight and a half in the grey and green laces. They fit.

A mother and son come in. She’s looking for shoes for him. His feet are narrow, she says, and small. The shoes he’s wearing are women’s she thinks. Size six.

He’s not trans, probably. Just young, willowy, with bony shoulders and narrow hips, an inverted triangle even before the muscle of puberty. He’s pale and quiet. He’s fingering through wilder colours and patterns.

I realize it’s futile trying to weld footwear to my identity.

I could look at other shoes, but I don’t. I don’t want a frustrating shopping trip. I’m a little worn out. But I’m grateful for the reminder that the shape and the size of our feet aren’t the arbiters of gender. Nor are the colours and patterns we wear.