For girls who don’t want shoes in tampon box colours

Fleek’s the new buzzword for trendy. But when it comes to what’s on your feet, only men can be fleek, writes Haji Mohamed Dawjee. (Getty)

Fleek’s the new buzzword for trendy. But when it comes to what’s on your feet, only men can be fleek, writes Haji Mohamed Dawjee. (Getty)

I can’t find cool trainers because I refuse to wear them in pink or purple or rancid, pukey pastel. My feet are depressed and my mind is livid. Have you seen the variety that’s out there? We’re not living in 1980 when stores were subjected to your average white Power tekkie with the extra rubber sole on the heel.
Or at a push, if you were super-cool, the LA Gear version with little lights in said extra rubber sole section. 

There are options. So many. Ones that look like tractors, or space shoes, some that look like socks or toe socks or whatever, most thin as ice and light as air. But as a woman, I can only choose from a select few and even then, I am limited to three colour options. Pink, purple or some pastel junk.

This is not a new struggle for me. And I am not the only woman who is subjected to this. It’s 2015. Women wear sneakers for fun as well as functionality. We want them on fleek, trendy shit. After posting a status update with a similar rant on Facebook, I came across several female friends who were experiencing the same problem. And why wouldn’t they?

Their femininity is not determined by the fact that they wear sneakers for fashion instead of pumps or whatever the case is, and mostly, it is definitely not determined by the fact that those very sneakers have to be powder blue or buttercup-lily-yellow – because if they’re not, gosh darnit, each of them, and the many others, will suffer a massive existential crisis and question their womanhood and what it’s supposed to look like.  They won’t. We won’t. So can the self-righteous patriarchal knob who keeps limiting sneaker colours for women to just those get on with it please?

I hate running
Here’s the thing, I started running about a month ago (and people say I don’t have goals?). I’m not going to pretend. I hate it. I love going to the gym, I love spinning and before I committed to this I used to make my way into the organised mess that is group exercise twice a day. Now, I go once. Sometimes I even skip a day because of … running. Soul-aching, mind-numbing running. And it’s not just my imagination and body that are paying for it, it’s my shoes too.

After working my Nike Lunar Glides (yes, they were pink with a bit of black, but very obviously pink) into the ground (pre-running phase), I decided to treat myself to something new earlier this year. I settled for the Adistar-Boost: a comfortable, versatile and light shoe that I would get good wear out of.

They were far more pricey than my previous pair but some of the reasons I decided on the shoe – besides all of the above, was that they actually made a women’s size in different colours. They even came in blue, I kid you not. 

I happily dug deep and purchased a pair, knowing full well that I would wear them for a good few years (I’m generally not heavy on shoes anyway and my previous gym shoes lasted me four years). I was wrong. They are in bad shape. Granted, one tear was caused by a fall after some über-macho and very white okes were shouting racist things at me while I was running past Emmarentia Dam. I turned to look, fell and then ran away – air filled with laughter. Theirs, not mine.

Not suffering alone
Still, these kittens are hurting more than my right hip and my left knee. So I thought that perhaps these luminous, on fleek sneaks were the wrong shoes to go trotting around the pseudo-trails with. Best I invest in a sturdier pair and just use these for indoors then, I thought. But after several searches to see what’s out there, I came to one conclusion, I should not bother thinking. I should not ever bother entertaining one single vague idea that after many, many years of having a preference for sneakers (yes, casual ones too), I might actually find something I like, in my size, and in a colour that’s not made “just for women” because all the cool shit is “just for men”.

Several comments on my Facebook status saw other female sufferers trying to grab at straws about how to make sense of it all. One of my friends even said that when she saw all the coolness that was available to men, it made her wish she had bigger feet. She’s a tiny, beautiful person. She does not need big feet. She needs companies to woman the eff up and make cool shoes for her smaller feet. I am a tiny (less beautiful) person who wears a size four. In the past (many times, and I will probably do this again), I have resorted to purchasing shoes from the youth section. The sizes go up to a five, and even prepubescent males – it turns out – have more options. Why don’t I purchase stuff from the girls’ section? Well, if you thought women’s varieties were limited, girls shoes come in pink. Only. At least women have the option to choose the aquamarine-looks-like-someone-pissed-in-a-pool colour. Sometimes.

Who makes these decisions, anyway?

Another group of friends argued for the fact that there are many varieties available, it’s just that South African stores don’t stock them. Not entirely true. Everyone knows that stores cater for their market and only stock the stuff that’s financially viable. If not a single woman in South Africa is ever going to want to buy a red trail running shoe (I don’t believe for a second that this is true) then a store won’t stock it. 

So, I checked out the manufacturers’ websites. Same thing. Nike Air Pegasus for women gets about three dedicated web pages at best for any given country’s manufacturer. Nike Air Pegasus for men? I’m still counting. Also, it does seem like companies, over and above deciding what colours and varieties are more feminine than others, also decide which sports are more feminine. Running shoes, to be fair, do seem to have the upper hand – it is considered a more representative sport when it comes to the sexes – so the Pegasus that’s clocking in at three pages is a vast improvement on, let’s say, a more “male”-orientated outdoorsy sport, in which case you will find three thumbnails worth of options for women and, again, I’m still counting how many pages are available to men.

While wishing there were more, more, more alternatives for me, I must be honest, I did not for a second stop, twiddle my thumbs or pull my hair out and think: “Well shit, Haji, if you don’t choose one of the three thumbnails and go for the colour associated with your average tampon box, however will you know that you are a woman? How?”

Why? Because I am a “fleekin’” woman. I do not have to wear sneakers in pink to remind myself of that. Make me a damn shoe.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee

Haji Mohamed Dawjee

Haji Mohamed Dawjee became Africa’s first social media editor in a newsroom at the Mail & Guardian, where she went on to work as deputy digital editor and a disruptor of the peace through a weekly column. A stint as the program manager for Impact Africa – a grant-disbursing fund for African digital journalists – followed. She now pursues her own writing full time by enraging readers of EWN and Women 24 with weekly and bi-monthly columns respectively. She also contributes to the Sunday Times and a range of other publications. Mohamed Dawjee's inaugural book of essays: Sorry, not sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa, is due for release by Penguin Random House in April 2018.Follow her on Twitter: @sage_of_absurd Read more from Haji Mohamed Dawjee