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Sexism is complicated. Now excuse me while I put on some Alanis and feed my cats.

9.01.2011

in big gay liberal post,media,ranting,things that make you go argh

Yesterday I found myself sucked into a little drama around a t-shirt on sale at JC Penney. Maybe you’ve heard about it?

It’s not the first sexist t-shirt that’s bummed me out and no doubt it won’t be the last. But I’m not one to shut up when I see something that pisses me off.

Clearly I was in the majority on this one, but not everywhere. Not at all. A few times, I found myself the single person on a blog trying to explain to a bunch of other moms why no, it’s not “funny,” and that while of course a t-shirt is not the end of the world, it’s worth speaking up about it.

On one blog where I commented, my line of thinking boiled down to this:

We live in a world right now that makes it harder and harder for girls to want to succeed. Snooki is getting more air time than the First Lady, and there’s a pervasive culture of sexuality that children are getting sucked into far before they should.

As a mother of two girls, I find it something I have to battle every day. I have to work so so hard to make sure they know that the messages in the media are not always right. I have to explain away t-shirts that say things like “future gold digger.” Soon, I will have to explain why song lyrics refer to women as bitches and hos.

After that, I will have to explain why it’s not okay to perform sexual acts on a boy just so he will like you. Because that’s the kind of thing girls do, when they believe their only value is how attractive they are.

So is a stupid little t-shirt (promoting everything I find deplorable) the end of the world? Of course not. But it’s symptomatic of a larger problem that only stops when we stand up and say something. And if giant retailers can become part of the solution, promoting more positive messages for girls, our job as moms becomes a whole lot easier. And I think, the world becomes a better place.

We should never stop fighting for the things we believe it. Even if the things you believe in are different than mine.

(Why yes, I  have been reading Peggy Orenstein. Funny you should ask.)

The argument always falls on deaf ears, of course, with rebuttals falling predictably into one of four camps:

1) It’s just a joke and you’ve lost your sense of humor.

2) Shouldn’t you be focusing  on more important issues?

3) It’s a publicity stunt.

4) You have too much time on your hands.

The one thing these arguments have in comment is they aim to discredit the person on the other side of the debate. They never actually make a case for why the shirt should be sold; just why you’re an idiot so shut up already.

At least the one guy on twitter who referenced the free market attempted to say something vaguely original.

You know, I sometimes wonder if people would make the same arguments if the shirt read, oh, say…. I’m Jewish so I don’t have to do homework. My parents are buying my way in.

Or, I’m Black so I don’t have to do homework. I can play basketball!

Some people would say yep. Still funny. And by the way, it’s a publicity stunt and you have too much time on your hands and shouldn’t we be talking about world hunger instead?

Sexism is pervasive. It creeps into our daughter’s lives in stealthy ways, before they’re able to identify it and refute it. Before they’re able to understand irony. Before they’re able to separate out the messages we tell them at home from the ones they see on t-shirts or posters on the subway. Man, if only they were one and the same.

I guess that’s all I’m going for here.

For those women who still ask why we need feminism (or equality, if you don’t like the f word) forget the t-shirt and skip right to any number of posts I discovered yesterday alone.

-The one from Jason Sperber that described beautifully what it means to be a man–having nothing to do with love of sports or beer or engine parts.

-The one defending an ad glamorizing domestic violence. (Because nothing says sexy like a man beating up a woman. Rowr!)

-The one about the guy at an improv show who described a date rape that he had committed as if it were a comedy monologue.

Sheesh, how did I come across all these posts in one day? It was like a giant gender-issue laden meteorite, barreling toward my RSS feed.

I don’t know how to fix it, besides continuing to talk about it and explaining that no, I don’t have other things I should be focusing on right now. This one is just fine, thanks so much for asking.

I do know one thing we can do though: understanding that idiocy knows no gender.

This is not a men versus women thing, although I saw that meme repeated continually yesterday.  One time, disturbingly, it came from from the Women’s Media Center twitter stream. Yes, that Women’s Media Center. (I know!)

It started with a series of tweets about sexism in advertising (yeah yeah, ads can be sexist, same as t-shirts, music videos, and Congresswomen from Minnesota). And then, thanks to my friend Susan, I saw this:

Maybe women ought to break into the field and stop sexist ads from the source?

Are you kidding me?

Yeah, if only I could  get a shot at writing some real copy! Me and the other girls in the steno pool. Then maybe we could put on our pillbox hats and a fancy tweed suit, crash a meeting of men, click our heels three times, and change all sexism in advertising. From the inside, see? Or wait, maybe I’m just not trying hard enough.That’s it. I’ve been given this huge opportunity to personally save the ad world from the evils of sexism, and I’ve squandered it by spending my lunch hour on Facebook instead of slipping copies of Ms. Magazine under the doors of my superiors.

This is 2011, folks. Advertising is not sexist because men are writing ads. The same way t-shirts are not sexist because men are designing them.

Messages are sexist because people are sexist.

Messages are sexist because people are lazy. They fall back on stereotypes because it’s easy to get a laugh, easy to get an idea approved, easy to move onto the next thing on your to-do list.

I know because I’ve done it.

Hey, it’s easy to make a joke about men who love cats or White Zinfandel or Alanis Morrisette, sometimes all at once.

(See?)

Or sometimes the people creating the messages are simply not that insightful. Or sometimes they’re just not that smart. It’s not a man bad, woman good thing, and if we think it is then we’re falling into stereotypical traps that are just as bad as the one we’re supposedly fighting.

The reason brands like Nike and Dove and Ikea have traditionally done such strong advertising is because very very smart, insightful people, work very hard to come up with good ideas, and then very smart, insightful clients work very hard to champion them and ram them through the system.

I have had male clients who fought tooth and nail to promote progressive values in their ads. I have had female clients who believe only 19 year-old anorexic blondes can represent their products.

It’s complicated.

But here’s the big secret that no one ever wants to say out loud.

Know where good ideas die?

With you.

The consumer.

The moms.

You ask, why is it always women doing the shopping in ads? Why is it always the women doing the laundry and straightening the kids’ rooms?

I’ll tell you why:

Because consumers like it that way.

There have been times that I have fought hard for ads that promote progressive, contemporary views of women and family, gotten it through some dubious marketers, and remarkably, into a focus group of consumers.

That’s when the pain begins, on the other side of the two-way mirror.

If you put an ad featuring a man grocery shopping into a focus group, the first thing that happens is the women roll their eyes. Then they talk about how their husbands rarely do the shopping. Then they talk about how when their husbands do go shopping, they get the wrong things. Then they all laugh and high five and dig into the bowl of MnM’s and we move onto the next ad while my client thinks, told you so. We move onto the storyboard featuring the mother shopping, maybe while her kids whine a little or pull things off the shelf when she’s not looking.

That’s the one that elicits the smiles, and the response, oh yes. I can relate to that.

And there’s your ad, ladies.

Maybe that JC Penney tshirt was created the same way. By a bunch of women who scribbled a line down, laughed, and thought I can relate to that.

So where does sexism end? When we all say we’re not buying it. We’re not buying the t-shirt, we’re not buying the stupid ad, we’re not buying the message that our girls should only be valued for their looks, their kindness, and their housekeeping skills.

When there’s no buyer, there is no seller.

And so yesterday, I spoke up.

177 shards of brilliance… read them below or add one

Marinka September 1, 2011 at 8:31 am

and can we talk about what an ugly ass shirt that is to boot?

It’s really depressing how pervasive sexism is. I find it hard to believe that anyone would find that shirt funny. But then again, there are people who enjoy Andrew Dice Clay.
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Morgan {The818} September 2, 2011 at 6:09 pm

That’s what I’m sayin’. YOU might be to pretty to do Homework, but your shirt’s not…and you clearly have no sense of fashion…or probably other things…so why don’t you just go ahead and do that homework, kiddo.

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Mom101 September 2, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Oh lord I just laughed.

And boy is it ugly. You and Marinka have it right.

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Kristen Chase - Motherhood Uncensored September 1, 2011 at 8:32 am

Thank you, Liz. Sexism IS pervasive and so I’m glad that people, like you, and others, have spoken up about the shirt because it means that misogyny has not yet won. That there are still people, MEN AND WOMEN, fighting the good fight.

Lest we all forget, women still don’t get equal pay. We’re still considered a minority even though there are more of us than men.

It’s true: A shirt with racial stereotypes would have gotten a much louder cry. Because we’re much more aware of those issues in our society.

But gender? We’ve still got a really long way to go.

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Amy McHodges September 1, 2011 at 8:37 am

Thank you. We have to choose what we value and we have to recognize the messages we send.
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Kristen Chase - Motherhood Uncensored September 1, 2011 at 8:46 am

I had to add this:

You know who will help stop sexism? MEN. Men standing up and saying THIS IS BULLSHIT.

Loud female voices are needed too, don’t get me wrong, but we need more men to be pissed about the injustices. Just like we need more white people to be pissed about racism. And more straight people to be pissed about discrimination based on sexuality.

We the majority need to take a stand.

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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 8:48 am

Oh I so agree Kristen. That’s why I loved Jason’s post. And people like David Wescott and Doug French who aren’t afraid to call it out. Oh, and Bill Childs!

I still remember my brother marching at a pro-choice rally with us and being interviewed about why he was there. “If I’m not here,” he said, “then people think this is just a woman’s issue.”

I think that holds true here too.
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Jeannine September 1, 2011 at 12:37 pm

YES YES!

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wendy @ mama one to three September 1, 2011 at 8:48 am

this was such a great response. I wish I could say it half as well. What we say about each other, the things we say have no value, those we say it’s acceptable to make fun of– this all matters enormously. It’s clear in our society today that mixed, hurtful images of girls are okay. Don’t get me started on Snooki.
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Theta Mom September 1, 2011 at 8:49 am

Just when I think we’ve made SOME strides in breaking those gender stereotypes, it’s crap like this that continues to set us back – and you’re right, it’s not just THAT t-shirt that’s the problem…it’s the collective effort mainly by the media projecting those constant messages that make our job as parents that much harder – and I am trying my best to raise my daughter in a society that seems to negate her “real” worth but also trying desperately to raise my son to be cognizant of these issues, knowing how to properly treat a girl – and it starts with his mom and sister.

I don’t have the answers, but I am comforted in knowing there are those out there like you Liz, who give a voice to important issues and at least, in my opinion, raises awareness – so proud to share this social media space with you.
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Sami Beth September 1, 2011 at 8:52 am

Thank you for writing this! I mentioned the T-Shirt to my husband and he did not see why I was upset. We have a 9 year old daughter who is constantly bombarded by media to live up to this stereotype, even though I do all I can to combat this image! Tonight I will sit him down and make him read your post. You have expressed everything I wished I had said in my rebuttal, but fell far short.
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Jen September 1, 2011 at 9:02 am

Wow, I cringed when I saw that shirt (I’ve only seen the picture here, I haven’t seen an actual one in a store or anything). I have a son, no daughters, so maybe my job as a mom is not quite as hard as yours in this regard, but I would still hope to instill values in him that are pretty much opposite to this message – I don’t want him seeing things like this and thinking that they are ok either. I don’t have to worry about how this message affects his self-esteem the way you do, but I do have to worry about how it affects how he will treat other girls.

It’s interesting, when I was growing up, I think I was about 16 before I realized that there was a stereotype about how girls are not good at math and science. I had really supportive parents and good teachers. I have a degree in chemical engineering and not once did I encounter someone who thought I should consider a different path, because I was good at math and science. (I could complain about one professor I had in college – he was 200 if he was a day and I’m not sure he was all there , but the part about how girls don’t know science sure was!) Anyway, I can only hope that your girls grow up in such an environment, that they never even have a thought that some people think they wouldn’t be good at something because they are girls. And it sounds like they are off to a good start.

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Abby September 1, 2011 at 9:56 am

I think that as the mother of a son your job is equally hard. You have to teach him that even though it seems like the whole sexism thing benefits him, it doesn’t, that his friends are wrong when they laugh at jokes that disparage women, that defending the female characters in books in tenth grade English class does not make him on “the girls” side. And even if it does that, isn’t an insult. Even when it is hurled at him. I teach high school where all of this societal training comes to a head in front of my eyes. More parents of boys need to realize the power of actively teaching their boys what they would have taught him if he were a girl, the girls wouldn’t have to fight so hard.

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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 10:59 am

Phenomenal points. Amazing.

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Goddess in Progress September 1, 2011 at 9:06 am

Liz, you are awesome. Don’t shut up. Don’t ever shut up.

I totally agree with everything you’ve written. Blah blah oversensitive no sense of humor blah blah. Look, I can laugh at crude jokes as much as the next person. Just because I want to raise my kids with a sense of purpose and equality and potential doesn’t mean I have no sense of humor.

But that also doesn’t mean I can ever, EVER send the message to my daughter OR my son that something like that is OK or even remotely appropriate. I may not always have the words to articulate where that line should be drawn, but that awful shirt (and so many others like it) are WAY over that line.

My head feels too jumbled to be coherent, but I just wanted to chime in with another “right on,” and that yes, you ARE focusing on something important. Keep it up.
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Suebob September 1, 2011 at 9:20 am

When I tried to make my point about the shirts yesterday on twitter – that it’s not about the shirts, it’s about the drumbeat of pretty is most important, over and over, I got attacked by some guy…it began before this, but it devolved pretty quickly, even though I never got nasty or mean, but tried to keep it on a rational level…

@suebob wait, are you mad that I called women who act like whores and cunts, whores and cunts? Because I used accuracy in my despcription?

@suebob to women who don’t respect themselves you mean? Of you allow your daughter to become a whore, that’s what she’ll be called. Simple.

At this point, he had used the phrase “whores and cunts” at least 5 times, so I said “I think I’m done here” but he continued…

@suebob I think you were done the moment a tshirt subverted your motherdom.

But then this came out of the blue…because I dared to argue, to speak up, I got this:

@suebob also, I’m sorry that you’re such a bitch. Being entitled is not a right, it’s a privilege which you have abused.

So a man thinks he needs to explain to me that I have “abused” my “privilege” by talking about something I feel strongly about. THAT is what this is all about for me – the idea that it is ok to tell women what they get to say and call them bitches even when they are being reasonable, rational and calm. Mm hmmm. Fight on.
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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 9:22 am

Hooooly sheet Suebob.

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Romy September 1, 2011 at 10:49 am

Great article Mom101, amazing. Suebob – if you haven’t read this, you might relate given your recent twitter run-in. It’s about mansplaining and it’s a gorgeous post, written by another great author. Long, but worth the read. So very worth the read. If you don’t have time, start at the line “Ha ha yeah. WHAT COULD THE POINT POSSIBLY BE”.

http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/08/29/chronicles-of-mansplaining-professor-feminism-and-the-deleted-comments-of-doom/

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Lorien September 1, 2011 at 12:05 pm

I just read that entire post — fantastic! She utterly and completely breaks down the connection between harassment and ‘mansplaining’. Brilliant.

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red pen mama September 1, 2011 at 9:29 am

The message of the shirt aside — which I agree with EVERYTHING you say here, I wouldn’t let my 6yo daughter buy a shirt from Target that said “YUM” — it’s an ugly, ugly shirt. The buyer should be fired, probably, but the designer should be shot.
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MD September 1, 2011 at 9:33 am

Have I told you today how much I love you, Liz? Great post. As a single father to a 6-year-old girl, I’m constantly thinking about these issues.

That t-shirt? FUCKING BULLSHIT.
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elissaPR September 1, 2011 at 9:40 am

I took note of the tweets coming thru on this issue yesterday, and am glad yours was the first (and likely only) blog I want to read on this post.

I’ve been on the other side of that glass. I’ve eaten the potato chips (I prefer the salty snacks vs the M&Ms) and I never fail to be astounded on the ‘thought process’ of the consumer. For the most part? People don’t like change. They’d rather stay with the status quo.

It’s like voter turn-out. When’s the last time you heard about an ‘incredibly large voter turn-out’ in an election? Any election.

People like to scream for change. They’ll just never put their hands up to act on it.

And in a sick/curious sort of way…I’d like to know the sell-through on that particular item. If JC Penny is stupid enough to put it on their sales floor, they’ll likely be crowing about the sales figures soon enough.

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elissaPR September 1, 2011 at 5:37 pm

So. I don’t usually reply to my own blog comments – but, I talked to my DD11 about this T-shirt and asked her opinion. She looked at me like i had 3 heads.

“Mom, it’s a joke. Do you really think anybody would take this seriously? It doesn’t mean girls are stupid. It’s like that T-shirt we saw at Christmas…”Dear Santa…I can explain…””

Me: “But don’t you think it puts down girls?”

DD: “Mom. Get real. Only adults would think that.”

hmmmmm

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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 8:15 pm

I used to tell my mom “you just don’t understand… all the time. Looking back, she did. Better than I did.

And she should remember that maybe she, at 11, is in on the joke. A 7 year old isn’t.

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Boston Mamas September 1, 2011 at 9:45 am

My brain just exploded when I saw that image. GAH.
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Melissa September 1, 2011 at 9:45 am

Wonder if they’re doing anything about this one: http://www.jcpenney.com/jcp/X6.aspx?GrpTyp=PRD&ItemID=1aa1802&cat=girls+7-16&pcat=GIRLS&catid=81457&pcatid=77892&x5view=1&cattyp=RLE&Ne=4294957900+29+3+1031+8+18+949&NOffset=0&SO=0&CatSel=4294932515|tops+%2B+tees&Nao=21&N=4294932515&dep=GIRLS&SelDim=4294957900~&deptid=77892&PSO=0&CmCatId=77892|81457&sa=1%22

OR: http://www.jcpenney.com/jcp/X6.aspx?GrpTyp=PRD&ItemID=1c4064f&DeptID=77892&CatID=81457&SO=0&SelDim=4294957900~&CatSel=4294932515|tops+%2b+tees&NOffset=0&Ne=4294957900+29+3+1031+8+18+949&pagesize=1&x5view=1&shopperType=G&N=4294932515&Nao=99&PSO=0&CmCatId=77892|81457&sa=1

OR: http://www.jcpenney.com/jcp/X6.aspx?GrpTyp=SIZ&ItemID=1c9c1ed&DeptID=77892&CatID=81457&SO=0&SelDim=4294957900~&CatSel=4294932515|tops+%2b+tees&NOffset=0&Ne=4294957900+29+3+1031+8+18+949&pagesize=1&x5view=1&shopperType=G&N=4294932515&Nao=99&PSO=0&CmCatId=77892|81457&sa=1

Hello stereotypes, gender normative likes, and only-boys-and-consumerism-can-make-me-happy.

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Alison September 1, 2011 at 9:53 am

Thank you, thank you, Liz. What bothers me is that there are people who would actually buy that t-shirt. Thank you for standing up.
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John Bowen September 1, 2011 at 9:53 am

I really appreciate your point of view, Liz.

As a single father of two girls, I came up against that focus group all the time…at school, the doctor’s office, the playground. Often it was a subtle expression (let’s call it ‘eye rolling’) that, as a man, I was somehow unqualified to be a caregiver. Occasionally, it would be more overt: I was accosted at the diner one morning by the mother of one of my daughter’s classmates, who informed me (in front of my daughter) that “a child should be with her mother”. Nevermind that her mother had subjected her to (mostly subtle) physical and psychological abuse.

Perhaps we need to draw a distinction between ‘sexism’ and ‘feminism’. Sexism is a form of prejudice. It cuts in all directions, and stems from stereotypes that have developed out of traditional roles which don’t apply as much as they used to. Feminism (let’s break into the ad world ladies) is advocacy. It cuts one way, and while it does good in balacing some of the evils perpetuated by sexism, it advances sexism at the same time through its unquestioning advocacy. I am by no means studied in this…possible my view is simplistic. But I am happy to hear from others on this.

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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 11:00 am

And that’s why you raised two amazing girls, John. Miss you.

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John Bowen September 1, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Right back at you, Liz!

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Tali September 1, 2011 at 10:03 am

I could comment and praise nearly every single post you write and this one certainly resonated with me. I saw the huffpost piece on this shirt and wanted to hurl on my computer. Thanks for standing up to the bullshit. I’m a mom of two daughters too and every day I fight the good fight to raise them well. I cringe at t-shirts, struggle with my oldest daughter’s obsession with princesses, didn’t know whether to laugh or cry this morning when she said “mom you’re beautiful, but you’re not THAT beautiful,” scoff at music videos and performances because it seems that all women artists and dancers do is hump the air, etc. etc.
I know we’ll be fighting the sexism war forever, so it helps to see a brilliant mind such as yourself with a platform doing it loud and proud.
Boo ya! Now excuse me while I go contract out my work to a man today. I’m just too busy pms’ing to do it. ha

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Eva September 1, 2011 at 10:04 am

Amen, Liz. Amen.

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Paul S. Gumbinner September 1, 2011 at 10:06 am

Most people, especially men, don’t actually think about these kinds of things, they merely react viscerally. And, on the surface, it seems immediately funny until you think about the stereotypes that this perpetuates. Women are more sensitive than men. They just are. And so it is your job to make the men in your life see beyond the surface.

Unfortunately, we still live in a culture of stereotypes – guys have to drink beer, love sports and generally be obnoxious in order to be considered masculine. Women have to have big boobs, drink cosmos and wear revealing clothing (bra straps showing, anyone?) in order to be feminine. Ads continue to reflect these unfortunate images and, consequently, there will always be a large group of people, male and female, maybe even a majority, who foster and encourage these images. And there will be some who vigorously defend them in the name of free speech, free trade, free thought. You just have to continue to speak up and make people aware of how these images hurt them and their children.

I tried to raise my kids to be sensitive and considerate. I also taught them to speak up for what they believe in. I guess I succeeded.

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Rabbi Steve September 1, 2011 at 10:54 am

Thank you Paul — both for your post here, and for assuredly creating the environment that succeeded in allowing Liz to take her natural skills and become who she is. You SHOULD be proud of her — you clearly DID succeed.

And your expansion of the discussion from the specific to the general here is equally spot on, enlightening, and frightening. I am glad to find someone else who still recognizes and can identify root causes – -we are, alas, a dying breed.

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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 10:57 am

I love my dad.

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Beth September 1, 2011 at 11:12 am

I love your dad, too. Would that my father had subscribed to this theory rather than the disown her when she showed a mind of her own school of thought. Sigh. I am part of the family again because I provided the first grandson.
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Jeannine September 1, 2011 at 9:25 pm

You have indeed raised your kids (I can speak for the one I know) to be incredibly sensitive, considerate, passionate and eloquent.

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Julie Marsh September 1, 2011 at 10:12 am

Given how I’ve groused under my breath at the men at the grocery store who don’t have shopping down to a science like I do, it seems I need to check myself too. Pervasive, indeed.

I watched Food, Inc. yesterday, in which the point was made that consumers vote every time we shop. Granted, they were speaking specifically to food, but as you noted, the same applies to all purchases. We have to stop buying into it.
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kylydia September 26, 2011 at 11:54 am

The tough part I see, here, is: What if I love love love the product but hate the way it is promoted?

Take sports as the best example. I am a sports lovin’ girl through and through. Not watching sports because of the advertisements they choose to air to generate revenue for those sports would be cutting off my nose to spite my own face, right?

Instead, I try to avoid those brands with the offensive advertising. But that still drives up ratings for the networks airing the games.
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Katja of Skimbaco September 1, 2011 at 10:30 am

I have absolutely nothing to add because you said it all. And you said it well. And also – Paul is awesome, and I hope I guessed right that he is your father.
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Peggy September 1, 2011 at 10:41 am

As I’m reading your post (after getting over the initial shock that a tshirt like that exists), all I kept thinking was, I agree, I agree, I agree. You said it so much better than I could have ever hoped to. As the mother of two young daughters, I know that I have many battles ahead of me to make sure they stay strong to who they are and don’t take these kind of external messages to heart. I consider it one of my most important jobs as their mom.

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Annie @ PhD in Parenting September 1, 2011 at 10:46 am

I love this post, Liz. I did, however, cringe at the two way mirror focus group story. I hate that advertising perpetuates and reinforces all that is wrong with society, rather than projecting an image worth striving for. Why is it that we like to laugh at how stupid things are right now? Is it a survival mechanism? Or is it that we find comfort in the way things are even when they suck? I’m not sure, but I don’t like it. I don’t like that anyone who is outside of the (often patriarchal and oppressive) norm is seen as odd and that their images are not reflected in the media and advertising.
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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 10:56 am

I love laughing at how stupid things are. I think Seth McFarlane is the master of that kind of thing, and he’s in no way PC. But a shirt like this isn’t in on the joke, you know?

I will also say that advertising testing is designed in a way which preserves the status quo. People will always respond better to something they’ve seen before than something they haven’t. But that’s a whooooole other post.

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Robyn September 2, 2011 at 8:39 am

When L’oreal first introduced their hair color line “Feria,” their slogan was “I see myself in Feria.” Say that three times fast. Sounds an awful lot like “I see myself inferior,” doesn’t it? My friend Adam brought that to my attention. I thought, at the time, that it was clever and very enlightened of him to notice such a thing and to express it. Even more impressive was the boyfriend I had years later who used to become infuriated every time he saw the typical goofy, clueless white male. For whatever reason, I grew up thinking that men, like my Dad and my three older brothers don’t pay attention to such things, because they don’t need to and don’t care and that they are instantly bored to tears by all “feminine” issues (a blog for another time).

When I read the bit about the focus group, I thought “that’s so true, that’s exactly what they would do.” I think that’s because of the way women are raised to relate to one another and be non-confrontational (yet another blog for another time). Peer pressure and mob mentality and the need to keep the peace by giving five or ten people something to which they can all relate and have that hearty, ice-breaking laugh, and it’s off to the races with the easy route.

The problem with focus groups is we don’t shop in groups of five or ten. We are often by ourselves, where our response to messages on t-shirts or magazine ads or boxes of hair color or whatever is experienced on a different level…the one where it’s just us and our fully-developed brains, allowed to quietly run rampant and have a complete thought and fully-formed opinion, where it can be concluded that the impact of such messages is, in fact, NOT something you would prefer to perpetuate by giving this to your daughter to wear. “Focus” groups focus on the wrong thing.

It’s 2011, and people with internet connections everywhere are dying to give their opinion and be heard…can the ad world not find a better way to find out what people really think about the crap they’re about to peddle?
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Rabbi Steve September 1, 2011 at 10:48 am

Moments like this are WHY I have been in Jewish education long enough to remember you as a teenager yourself :) If I had even a small part in helping to create the environments and the opportunities that allowed you to become who you are (which, honestly, I probably didn’t, at least not in a recognizable or quantifiable way), after reading this brilliant, and sadly accurate analysis, so well and positively written, then I can retire (eventually) a happy person for having succeeded in my life’s goals. And I hope that did not come across as too paternalistic, because, in writing those words, the most important word in the sentence was “if.” I am, in no way, trying to steal even the smallest dust mite of the credit your essay deserves. Simply to add to your message.

With my own daughter now (hopefully) safely ensconced in the ivory tower of her freshman year of college, studying psychology and special ed, I hope I have had a part in giving her half the awareness, the intelligence, and the gumption that you have always displayed. But I have my severe doubts, in part because of her embrace of crap like “Jersey Shore” (over my strong objections, which I KNOW she heard by the roll of her eyes!).

I have raised her (with her mother’s strong assist, but the mantra is mine) to hear and know (and hopefully to internalize) that “Cute is not forever.” One day she will wake up, and no longer be able to get what she wants simply because she can bat her eyes and look good. I think she gets it — and yes, I have raised her younger brother with the SAME mantra — but I would LOVE to have more clear and empirical evidence of either of them acting on it than she has provided in 18 years. Because, darn it, she knows how to use what she has got to her best advantage.

And I know the hot post-feminist logic that applauds behavior like this as evidence of the movement’s ultimate success, by saying that she is free to CHOOSE to act in this way, and by “working it” to her advantage she is exercising the same (or similar) rights and opportunities that used to be reserved only for men. It is the same logic that allows me to be comfortable with her decision to go into teaching, in part because of the strong and positive example of her grandmother — my mother — who probably had little choice in how to use her math and science strengths and interest back in the 50s when she went to college, BECAUSE it is HER choice. (Ah, the irony, which also makes the post-feminist case — a part of me still wishes my daughter aimed higher — by my yardstick — because she chose freely the same path to which my mother was limited, because she was female in the 50s, even after I have made my peace that she is exploring the path of her own choosing and comfort!). I have always found this argument more than mildly disturbing — a rationalization akin to how good the emperor looked in his new outfit.

But, of more concern, I also saw something yesterday that made me sit up in concern, cringing, at first blush, at the (presumably unintended) impact, and then later waiting for the blow back that never came. It wasn’t a t-shirt.

It WAS a feature on ESPN’s SportsCenter — which, not incidentally, is not nearly as much fun for me to watch with my daughter away at college (yes, you read that right, the one place where I KNOW I have succeeded, however insignificant it truly is in the larger context, is in creating a daughter who can hold her own with the most sports crazed boys and men when it comes to knowledge and analysis of at least football and baseball!).

In the feature, the third of a series, Herm Edwards, former NFL star player, successful coach, and now ESPN analyst, goes back to the high school he attended on the way towards his eventual success, to spend a day coaching the current players there. In theory, a great idea — both in terms of content (role modeling the ideal of giving back by those who have made it by “paying it forward”), and marketability (the contrast of the first two personalities featured earlier, both of them expressing their love of the sport that made them rich and famous and the personality and values that made them successful in their own way, so effortlessly, was GREAT TV).

Edwards, for the most part, succeeded the same way the first two coaches did, in getting across the skills and his personality. But, at one point, he was addressing the defensive players, trying to get them to be more aggressive in going after, and creating, fumbles. He asked them, with equal ease and comfort, if they have girls in their school. Then he started to imitate the swagger and and strut of young male athletes trying to get the attention of the “beautiful girl.” He ended by holding up the football, and imploring the players to “go get the beautiful girl.”

I had to watch it twice to make sure that I had heard both the intended message, and far more significantly, the unintended one, accurately. Then I braced for the fall-out — that NEVER came. The same network that suspended Tony Kornheiser for critiquing a female colleague’s clothing choices in a pejorative simile, has not even acknowledged that there was a problem in these words.

What did those “alpha male,” Southern California (sorry — it IS so easy to slip into stereotypes, isn’t it!) high school football players, or, for that matter, anyone else watching the segment for content and NOT with the critical eye and ear that I apparently brought to it, hear in those words? That only the “beautiful girls” are worth their attention and effort? That whatever it takes to “get” the “beautiful girl” is more than okay, even necessary? Including the same behaviors that they would, by now, instinctively, exhibit to get possession of a football rolling on the ground?

Will the next football player who gets caught attempting or committing date rape when the “beautiful girl” exercises her right to put on the brakes be the one to finally point out the damage in this ESPN clip, when his attorney uses it as part of his defense? Or will it be HER attorney who does so, by adding the network to the list of those from who damages are sought in the civil suit? And why should it take such an incident to draw our attention to the deleterious power of this example? Why does it seem we will have to wait until someone is hurt — or worse? Will anyone speak truth to power even then?

No, it is not easy, Liz. It is enormously complicated, and sadly, appears NOT to be getting any less so over time. And this man, for one, both agrees with your analysis of the real reasons for this sad truth, and is trying very hard (with hopefully more success than I can see the proof of yet) to do my small part to help be the change I wish to see. So I am happy, and proud, to have such powerful support — or to be, in my way, a small part of the solution. Keep fighting the good fight, and calling things like you see them, no matter what crap you have to field in the process. Because, if we give up, then we will surely all lose. Thank you for being the model of that behavior, and of pushing me to be even more careful in both what I say and how I say it (I cannot remember the last time I proofread a blog post 3 times before posting, as I have now done here!).

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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 10:54 am

Wow Steve, if only I knew you were this smart way back when. I do remember a dance party you hosted in which I won a Steeley Dan 45.

Thanks for the amazing comment. And for being another man committed to raising strong girls.

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Rabbi Steve September 1, 2011 at 10:59 am

I think you just dated BOTH of us while pushing us under the bus :) You are VERY welcome.

Two quick responses — both now apropros (IMODO). First, if I had let you know that I was this smart back then (which I assure you that I was NOT, yet!), as a teenage girl, would it have helped me to succeed at what I was trying to do with and for you all? Or would it more likely have gotten in the way?

Second, don’t forget to thank your father — for the comment above AND for helping you to become who you are :) And, I am pretty sure, there was another pretty good and strong role modeling partner there as well :)

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Amanda September 1, 2011 at 10:56 am

THANK YOU! i just linked this to the link of the tshirt that i posted on my fb yesterday morning. i have over 60 comments – most saying exactly what you pointed out in this blog post by naysayers. i tried to argue exactly this, but it never comes out right on fb.

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allysha September 1, 2011 at 10:57 am

And it’s not just the idea of being “too pretty for homework” that is problematic, it’s that the brother is the one doing the homework. Because…he’s your slave? or he’s ugly? or because boys are smarter /dumber that you are?

I don’t like any clothing that label my kids, but these put me over the top.

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Yvonne DiVita September 1, 2011 at 11:02 am

Ok…my beef with the t-shirt and the back lash is this – you young mothers have it easy. Seriously. I’m a Grandma and I can tell you that back in MY day, this was common – not common, but totally accepted and expected. Girls and women were definitely sex objects and woe be it to the woman who wanted to create a career for herself instead of a job. Or, one that refused to get the boss’s coffee and shop for gifts for his wife. I wonder how many of you actually understand how hard we worked so you could have the right to protest as you do.

So… saying “we live in a world right now that makes it harder and harder…” is just wrong. You live in a world where you can make a difference. You live in a world where you can speak out and change things, with the support of a lot of men. You live in a world where your daughters should be as offended by this T-shirt as you are. We did not have that luxury…

I agree, the t-shirt is offensive. I agree, Snooki is offensive – here’s my disconnect: Do you watch Desperate Housewives? (no, I don’t and never have) Do your daughters take dance and if so – how many dances have offensive background music (which folks say is okay because no one listens to the words! as if!) and seriously bad costumes, which are totally sold to sexy -up the dance? (I’m guilty of this – daughters who danced and wore costumes I did not approve of). Do you allow your grade school girls to wear Madonna costumes for Halloween? (just as bad as the t-shirt, IMBO). Do you shop at Burlington – where the latest commercial shows a 12-13 year old girl showing off her fall wardrobe complete with HIGH HEELS and off the shoulder tops? Where’s the backlash on that?

In the end, I applaud the backlash. But, change begins at home and I’d love to see a ton of blog posts about how Moms are being responsible today – showcasing the proper attire they’re buying for their girls and where they’re buying it (the implication will be there and this will stop giving JC Penney press); posts from Dads supporting the intelligence their daughters show, instead of praising them for being pretty; and I’d like to see some girls speaking up. If we’re raising them right, they should be as offended as we are. ” I don’t need a boy to do my homework! And I don’t need this lame T-shirt cause my brain is pretty fantastic looking all by itself!”

Just saying…
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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 11:08 am

Thanks Yvonne, I can always count on you for a thoughtful perspective. I agree we have it easy in a lot of ways. But the sexualization of girls is at a crazy all-time high, the longtail effect of the post-feminist “reclaiming our sexuality” theme. I really encourage you to read the Peggy Orenstein book which lays it out fantastically.

Also, there’s plenty of backlash on all those things. Remember the Single Ladies controversy? http://www.babble.com/CS/blogs/strollerderby/archive/2009/03/30/little-girl-dancing-to-quot-single-ladies-quot-disturbing-or-adorable.aspx

And not to toot my own writers’ horns, but check out Cool Mom Picks sometime. It’s an entire community that supports shops like this http://coolmompicks.com/2010/03/tween_cool_hold_the_hoochie.php and tees like this
http://www.coolmompicks.com/2011/08/smart_girl_tee_shirts_-_smart.php

We’re here. Promise!

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Polly September 1, 2011 at 11:06 am

Sharp as a knife (in the gut, or in the tasteful countertop butcher block counter holder: your choice).

Thank you for all of this: what you think, where it is you’re doing your work, and your demonstrating what it looks like to follow through with your convictions.

“When there’s no buyer, there is no seller.” Says it all.
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Airiane September 1, 2011 at 11:07 am

I agree with everything in your very well written article except the comment about Dove’s marketing campaign. I too loved the very clever anti sexism marketing of Dove… until I found out Dove was owned by Unilever which also owns Axe. Axe is known for it’s overtly sexist adds.
Seems to me Unilever is just full of brilliant money making adds. It also appears that in the spirit of making money somewhere in a big “boredroom” someone said let’s gear one of our product lines to women who hate “traditional sexism” in advertising (sexist and stereotypical in itself don’t you think?) and another brand full of sexism to pop culture obsessed teens. I assume someone in the office then popped open a bottle of champagne an said, “we are going to be rich”, very rich indeed.

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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 11:46 am

I appreciate your thought, but I can’t take as cynical a perspective as you. Multinationals are complex, and different brands speak to different audiences as authentically as they can (if the marketer is good). The Dove work shouldn’t be diminished because of what another brand did, from another agency in another part of the country, with other brand managers approving it. It stands alone.

That said, I am okay with the Axe work. I think it’s appropriately irreverent because, as I said above somewhere, we’re “in on the joke.” I know it’s polarizing. But it makes me laugh. That’s why I say…it’s complicated.

Full disclosure: I work on a Unilever brand right now. One that I’m proud to work on, with amazing clients supporting progressive thinking. If my campaign launches in the US, I think you’ll like it too.
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Airiane September 1, 2011 at 12:12 pm

I appreciate your and respect honesty .

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Meredith September 1, 2011 at 11:07 am

rock on sister !

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Anyabeth September 1, 2011 at 11:14 am

What was frustrating to me about yesterday is that taking down the shirt doesn’t do anything. That shirt was up because those types of things sell. And they sell to JCPenney’s customer. If they didn’t they wouldn’t sell them. So taking that down yesterday made the Internet hive five itself but it didn’t really do anything. I guarantee their next delivery has something just as bad.

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Issa September 1, 2011 at 11:37 am

I kinda disagree. They took notice when so many of us said, that is crap and we won’t shop at your store while it’s there. They noticed and they took it down. Maybe, hopefully they will think more next time. No store wants to be boycotted.
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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 11:48 am

I agree Issa.

When JC Penney is getting negative articles about them everywhere from the LA Times to ABC News to the very mom bloggers they’re courting…it makes a pretty strong statement. I imagine their buyers will think twice about what “sells.” And whether it’s worth the backlash.
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Susan @WhyMommy September 1, 2011 at 12:42 pm

I hope so, Liz. If it makes one person stop and think, and say, “Mmmm, I don’t think so…” and give him/her ammunition to back it up in the the right meeting — then it was worth it.
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Anna ~ Random Handprints September 1, 2011 at 12:47 pm

forgetting for a moment the despicable message of the t-shirt, what i don’t get is where penney’s was just a few months ago when there was a huge social media/mom outcry over forever21 selling a magnet with “i’m too pretty to do math.” it also got pulled immediately, but certainly someone on penney’s pr/mktg team must have known about it – and if no one did, well that’s even more inexplicable to me…
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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 12:52 pm

I doubt that their PR team is entrenched in the buying department. I would imagine this is one of a series of tees the buyers purchased from the Self-Esteem (ironic!) label, and there it sat, unnoticed…until yesterday.

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Rabbi Steve September 1, 2011 at 4:36 pm

A quick story about how advertising works from the client end — when I was a teenager, my dad was working as sales manager for a brief period for a bicycle company. He came home from a meeting with their ad team, and rather out of context, threw the tag line of the new media campaign at me. They were going to call their product “The Great American Bike.” This was at the same time that a fairly well-known motorcycle manufacturer was already using “The Great American Freedom Machine.”

Knowing nothing about copyright infringement and other niceties like that, I looked at my father and pointed out the similarity, which he had not recognized, although I assume he had seen the same commercials I had, and new the line.

Long story short, no one else on either side of the table had made the connection either! They changed the campaign, and avoided finding themselves on the wrong end of a huge lawsuit. And insisted on rewarding the vigilant teenager who saved them… :)

Rita Arens September 1, 2011 at 11:20 am

I agree with you completely, Liz. Consumers have so much more control than we think we do — look at the upsurge of green products after people started voting with their dollars that they would pay extra for something good for the environment and less toxic to their families. More and more green products, and then? They started getting cheaper.

I saw an article somewhere showing how the covers of Rolling Stone had been getting raunchier and raunchier over the last ten years, always with pictures of women. Half naked women. And then we buy them, which tells Rolling Stone, hellza yes! More tits!

We have to vote with our dollars and our voices, but most importantly in capitalism, our dollars.
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Liza September 1, 2011 at 11:25 am

Yet another example of why I have so much respect for you, Liz. Great post! Thank you.
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Samantha September 1, 2011 at 11:26 am

I haven’t had a chance to review all of the comments, but have you seen the commercial from Go-gurt? It talks about DADs buying the Go-gurts for kids. I LOVE it when I see commercials that show Dads as smart and family-oriented. Hate the commercials that display Dads as bumbling idiots when it comes to taking care of their kids.

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Mom101 September 4, 2011 at 10:21 am

Ha, funny enough another commenter below mentioned this ad too. I’m not familiar with it. But as it turns out, it’s all about the dad getting notes all around the house reminding him to pack the Go-Gurt…because he’s an idiot and wouldn’t remember if it weren’t for the mom reminding him.
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Amelia Sprout September 1, 2011 at 11:28 am

I just sort of keep nodding. I think it was touched on, but people need to stop being stupid and complacent and give a damn. Everyone. Men, women, dogs, cats, everyone. The world is going to be shit if we don’t.
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Anna September 1, 2011 at 11:31 am

We need a focus group revolution. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen good ideas die in scenes just like you described above. Not to mention the fraud taking place where basically professional focus groupees show up time and again just to earn a free coke and $50 bucks. Maybe we can infiltrate the focus groups filling them with radical women who want to see men cooking in the kitchen, doing laundry and pleasing a woman just cause they want her to like him.
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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 11:52 am

Oh Anna, from your lips to R+D’s ears.

Tell me where to sign on.
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Polly September 1, 2011 at 7:49 pm

As Annie upstream noted, a lament your response confirmed, the design of a focus group seems to be to triangulate the position of the least common denominator, where “comfort and familiarity with the status quo” defines the least-most point.

I have no idea what role focus groups play in advertising, but I can tell you it’s one of the things that deep-sixed the No on Prop 8 campaign in CA. I was on a statewide conference call about 6 weeks before election day, in which activists from LGBT family orgs were desperately trying to flag the attention of those steering the campaign messaging. Where are the LGBT families in a campaign whose rallying cry was “protect the children”? In other words, where the hell were OUR children?

We were told that extensive focus groups were held, and the message the No on 8 campaign folks derived from them was that “it’s scary to think about what I’d say to my kids” if any of these issues came up. Gay families? With kids my kids will pair off in class and do math problems with, or carpool to soccer practice with? No spot in the brain to put that. So focus groups’ fears/ ignorances, coupled with a lack of vision and courage on the part of those engineering the campaign messaging to actually address and correct them, basically made kids in LGBT-headed families utterly invisible. The very ones who stand to gain the most safety and protections from marriage equality.

Granted, an ad and an electoral campaign have very different aims. But I do think that all messaging in the public sphere operates dialectically. That is, while it feeds on the simplest/ most demonstrable element of popular sentiment, but it also contributes to what we believe is possible. And honestly, what’s the point if we don’t work to make things better?
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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Polly, let me know if you ever want a job in advertising.

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Issa September 1, 2011 at 11:34 am

I agree with everything you’ve said. I do. I also think there are so many shirts like this. I won’t even buy my girls the ones that say Princess or Diva on them. Why put a label like that on someone? People can argue till they are blue in the face that it’s just a shirt. But it’s not.
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Jen Singer September 1, 2011 at 11:46 am

@Paul Gumbinner, you did a fabulous job raising your daughter. Also, I would like to join you in creating a campaign to put undergarments UNDER garments where they belong. We can call it: “I See London. I see France.”

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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 11:56 am
Sondra September 1, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I agree the shirt is STUPID and UGLY but if we want to look at who is keeping sexism around, we should look in the mirror too.

As far as Snooki is concerned, she gets more airtime than the first lady because the American people (specifically women) love watching train wrecks and could care less about politics. My husband is the chair of the Utah Libertarian Party and I am usually the only women in the room, women simply are not doing enough to be involved in politics, world issues, etc. If we stop watching Snooki (or stop buying shirts like this!), the markets will stop providing it to us!

Now, nearly 80 percent of jobs that have been lost during this recession were in industries that belong to men and women now dominate the workplace. More men than ever before are having to take on what once was a “women’s work” around the house and in most of our mothers and grandmothers day that was unheard of.

On a side note, I personally feel like we have feminized our boys so much so that these days young women who want to be stay at home mothers can find a man that will provide for families the way they used to. Mothers these days aren’t teaching their sons duty and chivalry.

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Sondra September 1, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Sorry, I am trying to write quickly while working.

In my last paragraph I meant to say “women who want to be stay at home mothers CANT find a man that will provide for families the way they used to.”

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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 12:31 pm

I have a lot of issue with those statements Sondra. Please read the Jason Sperber post I linked to.

As the primary earner in my household I can assure you that “masculinity” is not about being the sole employed parent.
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Sondra September 1, 2011 at 2:34 pm

I am also the primary earner in my household, an entrepreneur in what is still a male dominated industry and I do understand first hand what it takes to be the voice of women in business. However I also understand that the women in mini skirts and bikinis on the trade show floor (in the booth next to me) are also to blame for the sexism I experience, not just the men.

I am so proud to have a husband who supports my entrepreneurial spirit, who allows me to be a proud business owner (by helping care for our children, cleaning the home, etc) and a mother of 2 children with another one on the way.

I completely support any man who wants to stay home and raise his children (if its something that all parties agree too and that is what’s best for that family unit).

I do believe that if we are going to fight sexism, we as women and mothers need to do better about teaching values like individualism.

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Sondra September 1, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Honestly Mom101, I think we are saying a lot of the same things (I agree with you on most everything) I just may not be as good at communicating it. :)

BTW, There is a great book Female Chauvinist Pigs. I really enjoyed it, I think you would too!

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TheFeministBreeder September 1, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I have a sense of humor about a lot of things. I’m as sarcastic and rowdy as they come. I’m usually the person cracking everyone up at the party. However, I have zero sense of humor about things that like this that are deeply, inherently problematic, and only serve to destroy women’s power.

Like you, I’ve seen many of my own female peers try to discount the feminist/humanist rage with “Oh, lighten up… it’s only a joke.” Yeah… if only it were a joke. But it’s not. We are still not equal. We’ve got a long way to go. And it’s not just limited to the obvious t-shirts like this. Any time we discount a woman’s voice over the way she’s dehumanized, belittled, and/or controlled, we send our sex sailing back into the dark ages. The fact that shirts like this even get made shows exactly how far away from equality we really are.

Thank you for recognizing this. May WE all pay a little more attention, and quit acting like feminism/humanism is something passe, or something only reserved for those humorless, man-haters. We have a LOT of work to do.
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Brandice November 6, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Grade A stuff. I’m unqtuesionbaly in your debt.

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priest's wife September 1, 2011 at 12:27 pm

It is ALL about the parents- as usual…..I am going to go shopping with my kids and I will only let them pick out clothing that is relatively modest and NO words. (like no ‘juicy’ on the behind)

wish me luck- by the looks of things, most moms are thrilled with this junk. call me a feminist- my girls deserve better

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MIM September 1, 2011 at 12:35 pm

We can fight it the same way we women fought it in the 60s and 70s. Protest. Boycott. March. Speak out. In 1967 I was repeatedly sent home from school for wearing “pants” and “slacks,” because public school dress codes in those days didn’t allow girls to wear anything except skirts and dresses, even in winter. My mother fought against the school district, and eventually they let me alone. Within a month, other little girls were wearing “pants” and “slacks.”

These days, it’s as if the Women’s liberation Movement never happened (anyone remmeber “Free to Be You and Me?”). Young women embrace being sex objects as rabidly as they did when I was a kid 50 years ago. Women allowed the brain-rewashing to happen since the 80s, and now they’re suffering the consequences.

Girls and women must fight. Protest. Boycott. Speak out. March. And be willing to face the anger and hostility and even violence we women did back in the day, because you don’t make change otherwise.

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Susan @WhyMommy September 1, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Exactly. Because when we don’t speak up? The messages multiply faster than we can stop them, and we end up with little problems turning into big problems, like women not working in the fields they love — simply because the messages they heard, over and over, are that those jobs are for boys.

And that’s why we end up doing remedial work like I do at womeninplanetaryscience.com – trying to get women’s voices heard – in addition to trying to push the boundaries of the field itself, like discovering the nature of the center of an asteroid or taking a picture of an extrasolar planet. If we’re smart enough to send men to the moon (and yes, the lucky ones were all men), then why can’t we be smart enough to see beyond gender, and encourage all our children to work hard and follow their dreams?
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Heather September 1, 2011 at 12:41 pm

This is a wonderful post. I saw that shirt linked on Twitter yesterday and shuddered, thinking of how I will have to negate these types of messages for my daughter as she gets older. She’s only four, and already she comes home from preschool saying things like, “This is for girls, that is for boys,” and I have to try to dismantle these little gender stereotypes she’s already building in her head.

How do we change something like this? How do we evolve our consumer culture to reject ideas like “girls suck at math” and “men don’t shop”? How do we get consumers to stop buying this shit so companies will stop making it? I guess we do what you’ve done: Become a voice in opposition. Talk about it, write about it, and be willing to be “that bitch with no sense of humor” to someone who doesn’t recognize the pervasive undercurrents of misogyny in our world. I guess we have to go ahead and speak up when we see something as minor as a T-shirt that sends the wrong message. Because even if that’s not a “big deal,” it’s a part of the problem and we have to point that out. Every time.
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Elizabeth Flora Ross September 1, 2011 at 12:45 pm

This is a fantastic post! My daughter is only 2, but I already worry about these issues, and am concerend about raising her with the right values when I have to fight all of these influences.

We received a catalog in the mail the other day full of Halloween costumes. I was shocked by how provocative many of the girls’ costumes were. I found it inceredibly disturbing, and so did my husband.

Many have made this point – companies sell what people buy. Period. It’s called supply and demand. Only if enough of us stand up and speak out will any real change take place.

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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 12:54 pm
Jeannine September 1, 2011 at 12:45 pm

This topic has sparked a great discussion with my 13year old daughter who is “totally thrilled” that one person and a community of people can impact something so important. You are not only a rock star to me but to my teenage daughter who is inspired.

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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Oh Jeannine, how wonderful! What an awesome girl you must be raising.

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oilandgarlic September 1, 2011 at 12:48 pm

I really can’t believe that anyone would use that copy and get that shirt all the way to production and distribution. I think we will always need feminist groups, which is really about equality, not women vs. men or women being better than men.
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Kristin September 1, 2011 at 12:48 pm

From four common reasons given (sometimes on both sides) to discredit the other arguer, to the wonderful reminder that ads are sexist because people are – of both genders, you’ve done a fantastic job putting this in plain, clear, here’s what the deal if folks language.

Thank you.
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Carrie September 1, 2011 at 12:54 pm

This is wonderful. Thank you.

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Tammie September 1, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Liz, your writing is always so outstanding and the true test of that to me is that you have the best comments of any blog I’ve read. I don’t have anything to add to this topic that your or other commenters haven’t already said except when I initially saw this in the Shine section of Babble, I was dumbfounded that the first five pages of comments out of some 2000+, were overwhelmingly in the “it’s a joke, lighten up” camp. I quit reading after that.

What you say about voting with our dollar is true, but it saddens me to see that there seem to be equal numbers of voters out there buying this stuff for their kids.

Also, that monologue video about the date rape was the creepiest thing I’ve seen on the internet.
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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Thank you Tammie – nice to see your name here.
I am also awed by the thoughtfulness of the commenters here. I’ll take my little audience over that one at Yahoo any time.

And yeah, the video…eek. I know some of those guys from UCB. I could feel their discomfort and it was painful.

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Evin Cooper September 1, 2011 at 1:46 pm

I have two daughters and it’s a struggle to buy them clothes that aren’t just flat out stupid. I bitch that Daddy gets mad when I buy them pink sparkly things (because I like pink sparkly things!) and he buys them stuff from the boys department, but really, if I want my girls to be dressed in a way that doesn’t basically turn them into walking advertisments for a dumb slutty stereotype, we really DO have to shop in the boys’ department.

The Bratz dolls and Diva shirts and even the Disney princesses are doing SO much to eff up our daughters – and our sons! When my son sees Tinkerbelle being a hateful, jealous little bitch, he thinks all girls act that way. A shirt like the JC Penny’s one tells my son that he’s going to have to do his sister’s homework, because she’s too dumb.

I want my son to be the type of guy to say “I don’t care how pretty you are, do your own homework” and I want my daughters to say “I already did my homework, kiss my ass.”

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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 9:07 pm

If your son and daughters turn out to be those kinds of people, they will rule the world.
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Sarah Moon September 1, 2011 at 1:57 pm

I cheered. Yes. Brilliant!

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Loukia September 1, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Fantastic post, as usual, Liz. I wrote something about this, too, linking back to you, of course, because, well… you said it best of all.

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kdiddy September 1, 2011 at 2:07 pm

“They never actually make a case for why the shirt should be sold; just why you’re an idiot so shut up already.”

YES. Okay, so you don’t think it’s bad, then tell me why it’s good. And “it’s funny” isn’t an answer because it’s not even that funny. It’s sexist AND it’s stupid and a lazy attempt at humor.

And there’s absolutely nothing anti-free-market about consumer outrage leading to a company ceasing the sale of a product. At no point, did anyone involve any governing body. We simply said, “We, the majority of your customers, will not buy this or any other product from you because we are offended that you would sell this to us,” and then left the ball in JCP’s court. They CHOSE to remove it, which sounds pretty free market to me. I tell you, as a pinko, I’m getting tired of explaining capitalism to people who supposedly love it so much.
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Yvonne DiVita September 1, 2011 at 2:09 pm

I had a really long rant…in support but also adding thoughts about other ways our girls are being inundated with the wrong messages. I deleted it because…although writing it made ME feel better…the tone wasn’t right.
This is a great forum to discuss ways we can create the positive, supportive messages we want our daughters to learn – as well as a place to stand against messages that go the wrong way.
Thanks, ladies!
Now… are we all going to boycott the new TV series based on the Playboy Club? AND…the new series about flight attendants – both of which are so off-base and insulting, they make me cringe.
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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Have you seen the Pam Am series? I went to a screener of the pilot and it’s not insulting. It’s kind of campy retro-fun. And at least it’s for adults. Although it could use a better script…

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Yvonne DiVita September 1, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Hmmm… while the Pan Am series MAY be for adults, a LOT of young girls will be watching. I have only seen commercials and I find them insulting and obnoxious, and too sexually oriented. Having lived through the days – when you had to be thin and PRETTY and under 30 to be a flight attendant, I find it interesting that you think this is campy retro-fun. What’s the difference, seriously?
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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Good question Yvonne.

To me, a show like Pan Am, from what little I’ve seen, is a period piece (no pun intended) – it takes place during a time that women were treated far less equally than they are today, and it offers commentary on that through parody and camp and [nudge nudge nudge wink]. I believe a show about a sexist industry is not the same as a sexist show.

I also happen to be okay with sexy shows, and Desperate Housewives (though I don’t watch it) and Louis CK routines and The Family Guy. I am 100% for irreverence when it’s done well. Don’t ask me to try to define it too much though! Like that old saying about porn, I know it when I see it.

And, back to my title, this is why it’s all so complicated.

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Tere September 1, 2011 at 2:32 pm

This is so excellent; thank you for putting it so precisely and so eloquently.
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Tammie September 1, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Liz, your writing is always so outstanding and the true test of that to me is that you have the best comments of any blog I’ve read. I don’t have anything to add to this topic that your or other commenters haven’t already said except when I initially saw this in the Shine section of Babble, I was dumbfounded that the first five pages of comments out of some 2000+, were overwhelmingly in the “it’s a joke, lighten up” camp. I quit reading after that.

What you say about voting with our dollar is true, but it saddens me to see that there seem to be equal numbers of voters out there buying this stuff for their kids.

Also, that monologue video about the date rape was the most vile thing I’ve seen on the internet.

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Becky September 1, 2011 at 3:03 pm

I cannot say how much I agree.

I spent many years working in a bookshop, and now work in publishing. I got SO TIRED of parents/grandparents picking out the pink books for girls and trucks for boys. (Without the kids prompting the choice.) Lots of people blame the publishing industry for the *sparklepink* phenomenon, but every single focus group shows that, for example, people will NOT buy a book with a girl as the main character for a boy, especially over the age of five. Just won’t.

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GaranceD September 1, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Let me comment on one minor point out of this article about a much larger issue. The article says:

“The one thing these arguments have in comment is they aim to discredit the person on the other side of the debate. They never actually make a case for why the shirt should be sold”

Stores are FULL of products where I don’t have any idea why they are sold. If I can’t come up with any reason for THIS product to be sold, that is just one more product out of thousands of products which seem pointless to me. There are entire stores where every single product in the store is pointless to me. But I can’t go raging at every single product which makes no sense.

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GaranceD September 1, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Or to say it another way: I don’t like this T-shirt. But then, I probably don’t like many other T-shirts that are sold at JC Penny, and which aren’t as sexist. If I’m not defending the sale of ANY of these T-shirts, then it is totally insignificant when I do not defend the sale of this specific T-shirt.

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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 3:44 pm

One could conceivably defend a shirt in the name of fashion, irony, freedom of expression, promotion of an important viewpoint, the support of garment workers, manufacturing quality, value, or simply the fact that it’s cute and affordable.

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Amy from Resourceful Mommy September 1, 2011 at 3:27 pm

I’ve always said that it has been one of the greatest gifts of my life that I am perfectly average looking because I know that people will take me seriously.

That sucks.

But not as much as that shirt.

Thanks for a great post, Liz.
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Jayme September 1, 2011 at 3:34 pm

My daughter just turned one. I cringe to think what it will be like in 5 years, 10, 20. Everyone calls her pretty, I call her smart. Someone got her a baby doll and shopping cart for her as a birthday gift, I returned it and bought her books. I’m a stay at home mom, so I already feel like I’m going to be fighting popular opinion when trying to convince her that women are no longer relegated to the kitchen. Thank you for standing up, as we all should. It’s 2011, for Christ’s sake. Sexism, in any way, on any platform, is unacceptable. Let’s stop teaching our children that it’s funny.

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tracey - justanothermommy September 1, 2011 at 5:18 pm

I’ve read a lot of posts about this, but I like yours the best. You rocked the points and have me wanting to high five you, now. But not over M&M’s. Yuck.

There was a commercial for GoGurt (I think) that I got excited about. It showed a dad packing the son’s lunch and he kept finding notes saying “Don’t forget the GoGurt!”

“How cool!” I thought. “They’re showing a father PARENTING. Awesome.”

Then I saw it again and saw that the notes were from his wife. His wife who obviously knows what an incompetent father he is that he cannot figure out to pack a GoGurt into his kid’s lunch box.

Sigh…
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sashalyn September 1, 2011 at 5:24 pm

thank you for this amazing post, that got me to thinking…
it’s really hard to talk about sexism without talking about all prejudices, inequalities, etc., isn’t it? as i was cleaning my dining room (the in-laws are coming tomorrow) i realized that it really, truly is about power and dominance, all of it. whenever a woman is dismissed as less intelligent, an african american male is called a “boy”, whenever a rape victim is blamed for his/her attack, whenever a father who doesn’t fit the mold of “dominant male” is marginalized, every time we use the words “gay” or “retarded” in a derogatory manner, every time a young latino man is automatically assumed to be in a gang- it is keeping that power and dominance of the wasp male in place. it is not about not having a sense of humor, or having too much time on our hands, or being better than everyone else… it’s really about dismantling the pervasive culture that gives certain people privilege while keeping others down. if there weren’t those who were “less than”, those who benefit from the current patriarchal, capitalist, homophobic, racist, able-ist (the list goes on and on…) structure of our society fear they would “lose everything”. it really is about fear. eve ensler said (i can hear the backlash for invoking her in this rant now), “It seems to me there’s this tyranny that’s not accidental or incidental, to make women feel compelled to look like somebody they’re not. I think the effort is being made to get us to turn our time and attention to this instead of important political issues.” it is a diversion. it is an effort to having us devote our strength and energy to pleasing the dominant culture (as mentioned in your post, ourselves included!) we don’t want to be called names. we don’t want to have our motives criticized or devalued. we often sit in silence, rather than speaking up, when we see injustice being perpetuated. we think, “that’s not MY issue, so why should i get involved?” we must get involved. always. for everyone. until everyone is given value and rights, none of us will be completely free. /end rant
(i am purposefully not going back to edit this comment for errors, because i don’t want to sensor myself, and fear that if i go back, i might. sorry grammar police! i’m usually one of you!)
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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Wow Sashalyn. Amazing. You and my mom would get along just fine.

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Brenda September 1, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Oh dear. I just showed the t-shirt to my 12 year old. She can’t see anything wrong with it, and wants one (could be the mention of Justin Beiber…). And I thought I was bringing up a smart, hard-working girl who understood her own value. Sigh, more work to do!

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Lorette Lavine September 1, 2011 at 5:43 pm

This is such a great discussion…the shirt is offensive to me not funny. It is not just the feminist thing that is bothering me…it is the whole concept behind the statement.
Just as you said…if you are a college athlete you are privileged in college when it comes to grades and class attendance. None of this makes too much sense to me. What do we place value on???
I am in teaching and healthcare and would not want a teacher, nurse or physician who did not truly earn his/her degrees.
I am glad the shirt is no longer available.

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Sharon September 1, 2011 at 6:43 pm

Liz, this post is right on! I am a preschool teacher who is also the parent of three teenagers, so I am familiar with how sexism impacts both children and teens in our society. (And no, Yvonne, I don’t think it is easy to be a young mother today – between the technology and cultural messages available, our young children are being exposed to things that we couldn’t even fathom “back in the day”.)

I really appreciate that you mentioned the importance of teaching your daughters that it is not necessary to be sexual with a boy to gain their approval. That, to me, is the biggest issue I have with things like this T-shirt. We are sending a message to our daughters that it is OK to be an “object” and to our sons that it is OK to view and treat women as “less than”.

And, yes, I do discuss song lyrics with my teens! Especially when we hear a bouncy song (Enrique’s “Tonight I’m F____ You” comes to mind) with lyrics that I consider to be disrespectful to women. My kids roll their eyes a little bit but the important thing is that we are having that conversation.

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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 9:09 pm

What a cool mom you are, Sharon.

And teenagers terrify me. Just saying.
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Marta September 1, 2011 at 6:53 pm

I feel like I can’t contribute anything more to your brilliant post, or the other comments. Perhaps I’m too pretty to contribute. Maybe because it’s engrained in our brains that somehow we’re not enough and someone else will come and say something cleverer than you, so its’ best to keep silent. I don’t know where I was taught this message, but somewhere in my subconscious it exists. When people talk politics, or religion or any sensitive subject my brain tells me not to join in. Even if I have an opinion. Because this is a conversation for smarter men to have than little old me. I hate that.

My daughter is turning a year old in a few weeks and I wonder, what kind of message is she going to get? Will she let her older brother take the conversation by virtue of his age and gender? Will she lean towards the message that looks and sex are the only way for a woman to get to the top? Will she ever make as much money as her male counterpart? I can only hope for the best, for my verbal opinion of course could never matter.
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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 8:13 pm

The great thing about parenting, Marta – you don’t just hope for the best. You actually get a chance to influence her values.
Believe in yourself. It’s the best way for her to know that she can believe in herself too.

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BusyDad September 1, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Know what’s sad? JC Penney will probably get some good press for “doing the right thing” by pulling this shirt. And I’ll bet you their designers are hard at work drawing up the next “girl power” cliche empowerment sweatshirt to show their commitment to this. And then they’ll turn this into a “how to leverage a PR disaster into a win” case study, and of course, more sales. Kind of like the prodigal son-esque, this whole thing. They had to do something bad before they could be recognized for doing something “good.”

And in the meantime, Abercrombie breathes a sigh of relief and puts in another order for girls’ push-up bikinis.
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Catherine Evanoff September 1, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Thank you! As someone born in the 50′s, I’d hoped these battles were behind us. So I thank you for for realizing that while this matter seems “trivial,” we must continue to say “this sends the wrong message.”

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Dorf's Daughter September 1, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Two amazing children, each unafraid to speak truth to power. When we try to teach our children to find their voices, we fail to remind them that it won’t be easy. They will upset the status quo; they will makes enemies they never even knew; they will have moments of doubt. But they will never retreat, because once you ‘ know’ you can never, ever ‘not know’ without making yourself sick. You are beautiful inside and outside, Liz. Sexism, racism, homophobia-all have been issues you’ve fought against. I’m proud to stand behind you or next to you. But never in front of you, because you have led the way for all you life.

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Mom101 September 1, 2011 at 8:54 pm

This is the comment every daughter hopes to hear from her Mom one day.

Thank you.

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Kristen September 1, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Liz, this post is outstanding, but this comment for your mom has me weeping. Wow.

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sashalyn September 1, 2011 at 9:32 pm

i am crying, too. being the voice for those who are marginalized is a heavy burden, but with support like you have from your parents and your readers, you have a strong base to operate from. i am honored that you would say that your mom and i would get along- i will continue the good fight each and every day, in every way, in hopes that our daughters will have the time to innovate, create, and change the world- without having to worry about trying to fit into an impossible mold. like your mom said, liz, you are beautiful, inside and out- and i believe that every woman and girl has this in her. every one.

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toyfoto September 1, 2011 at 9:12 pm

I tend to dismiss T-shirts like these, unfortunately, although I do cringe when the “I’m a princess” shirt winds up in a bag of hand-me-downs. But I applaud you for taking a stand. I really take for granted my place in this world. I have a husband who cooks and grocery shops and does laundry from time to time.

Sometimes we all need reminders that sexism is not only complicated, but it can show up at times and in place where you least expect it.
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Ron September 1, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Wonderfully expressed post, Liz!

I love your passion.

And I have to agree with you 100% on the shirt.

It’s these ‘little things’, which over time subliminally affect the way we see ourselves.

I think you hit the nail on the head when you said….

“You ask, why is it always women doing the shopping in ads? Why is it always the women doing the laundry and straightening the kids’ rooms?

I’ll tell you why:

Because consumers like it that way.”

Exactly! Because it’s comfortable. It’s easy. Humans beings love categories and roles. It’s safe.

“That’s the one that elicits the smiles, and the response, oh yes. I can relate to that.”

Bingo!

I honestly think we’ve gone backwards in our thinking. We have tried to get away from the typical 50‘s ‘Donna Reed’ image of what women are suppose to be like, only to come back to the beginning of the cycle.

And being someone who has been in the beauty industry for over 25 years, I see this kind of thing constantly and it truly irritates me because the industry just keep perpetuating what women are supposed to be through ads, and they keep buying the ‘image.’

“So where does sexism end? When we all say we’re not buying it.”

Thank you!
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Jane September 1, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Kudos to you! This is wonderfully written. As I read it, I was thinking of counter-arguments and at every step, you addressed what could have been a debate point. I love how you think and I will keep in mind — as a consumer — what you have said. Thank you so much for you insights.

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Karen September 1, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Bravo –

What I don’t think many people realize is that everywhere we go, there is an always subtle, and sometimes overt, message to women and girls that we are somehow ‘less than.’ We see it in our clothes, our toys, our lunch boxes – hell, our underwear – that THIS is what we’re “good for.” Women and girls are meant to be in a certain box and not to be taken seriously or make any attempts to break out of that box.

Our daughters deserve better.
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MB September 1, 2011 at 11:49 pm

It’s not just sexism against women that’s out there anymore.

Sexism against men is gaining ground. Anyone remember the commercial from Windex: “If only your husband worked as hard as windex”? A good number of commercials construe men as lazy, dumb creatures easy to fool. Take a look at some of the Zoosk commercials as well.

If the first thing through your head when you read that windex line was, “But they are!” then you are just as guilty as men are of being sexist. This is no different from the thinking of the 50′s and 60′s that did the same to women. The same rules apply, including the belief that if you hear it enough, it must be true. Boys are already starting to lose ground in schools in test scores, and women are a majority in a lot of co-ed universities. My first exposure to women trying to take their sexist frustration out on men as 20 years ago in college when a women’s studies teacher marched into the class (of mostly women) on the first day and proclaimed, “White men men are the ruin of all civilization!!!” and dared the guys to try and defend themselves.

So it’s not just women being the targets…

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Mom101 September 2, 2011 at 6:53 am

I agree to some degree and other commenters have made similar points. We have to do better by our boys as well. But I tend to bristle at comparisons of the subjugation of a minority (or a group not in power) to the finger-pointing at the majority.

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Rock and Roll Mama September 2, 2011 at 3:34 am

I’m glad you spoke up, and that I saw it through you. I’m glad I have moms of girls who think like me, and feel that the more “Subtle” forms of telling our girls they are not enough are worth calling out.

The part that slays me is how many DIDN”T GET PULLED on the same site. I felt slightly sickened as i made the collage of screenshots that is my homage to dumbassery, but it also made me think. About how many unicorn or peace sign shirts my 7 yr old daughter needs. About why my 5 yr old son rocks an “I Love Data” shirt, and one with an earth about changing it.

I take my girl to Girls Rock! Camp shows, but am I doing enough to reinforce that they rock on so many levels- math levels, science levels, kick your butt at business levels- instead of falling into simplified “Go Girls Yeah!” messaging, that may only serve to make my sons feel diminished.

So basically, it made me think. Which I like, despite its exhausting qualities. So let me say: MOMS WHO PAY ATTENTION AND TELL OTHER MOMS ON FB ROCK! Thanks, LG.:)

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deborah l quinn September 2, 2011 at 4:35 am

Wonderful post and great, thought-provoking comments. There are times when I’m glad I have sons, even though I am almost always wistful about the daughter I don’t have…but I figure my ultimate, most important feminist act, will be to raise my boys into men who think that shirts like this (and those with “juicy” and “princess” and “diva” and etc) are crap. I do, however, disagree with the idea that feminism is simply advocacy directed at elevating women…Feminism as I choose to define it, and as I define it for my students & my kids, has to do with bringing equality of access and opportunity across lines of gender, race, class, sexuality. Which means dads staying home full-time while moms work, letting gay men & women marry and raise children…etc etc. And, yes, it absolutely means standing up against products and attitudes that demean and demoralize…and maybe (to the shock of many, I know) even using HUMOR to explain why a particular point of view is a problem. So perhaps the only good thing that could be said to come out of this ridiculous product is a stronger commitment from those of us who do the shopping to buy products whose attitudes we support.
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Biddy Greene September 2, 2011 at 5:06 am

Just want to say thanks for this. You’re creating awareness and that’s the beginning of change.

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Roxane September 2, 2011 at 6:20 am

Yes!! You go girl! As a momma of a little baby girl (5 months) we’re still new to all this, but already Daddy knows that he should praise his girl for being smart (or, being able to touch her feet), and not for the pretty dress she’s wearing.

My personal dresscode, by the way, is comfortable and easy: my job at the University requires me to be smart, not pretty, so I wear jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers. Just like the boys do :)

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Klara September 2, 2011 at 6:51 am

you are absolutely right! our creepy world is full of pedofiles and so on… don’t let the risk grow. it’s insane what nowadays happens with the children-fashion. our daughters aren’t sexual object!peace

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Carolyn September 2, 2011 at 8:43 am

I have to say I enjoyed reading your piece on this subject after I saw the countless articles about this T shirt yesterday. I have to wonder if the designer thought they were doing girls a favor by inferring that they were in fact smarter than boys and thought that people would be in on the joke (the ones that would possibly be offended) and it backfired in their face. Either way it is clueless, or at least an ill guided attempt to be cool with kids despite what the parents think as it has been demonstrated that tweens/children have great influence over what their parents buy. Which is where we come in as parents and explain why something may not be a good idea and hope that they listen.

I have made it a point to not purchase any slogan shirts for my kids as I think they are tacky almost all of the time. Personally, I have a long standing love for bumper stickers, quotes, etc so while I love items that make a statement, I don’t want them on my kids until they are old enough to understand what that statement is. I about died a couple of years ago when I came across a tee in the clearance section of Old Navy Girls that read “Hot to Trot” with a horse on it. Am I so old that I was horrified and no one understood that one? What about all these tees with statements involving “…my brother” or “..my sister” that totally reinforce the negative aspects of sibling relationships? I always see those at many retailers. Or my favorite.. “I have autism – what’s your excuse?” I’m sorry, but as the mother of 3 kids with autism I cringe when I see those. That just seems wrong on so many levels. NOT funny.

Thanks for the thoughtful piece.

- Carolyn
mom to 2 girls, 2 boys

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Angelique September 2, 2011 at 9:47 am

I have a two – almost three year old daughter, (as well as a 4 month girl) and she’s definitely “girly-er” than I’ve ever been. Your post made me realize I need to wake the h*ll up and realize that yes, I do compliment her profusely on her shoes just to get her to put them on without throwing a fit. And yes, I make a big deal about how great she looks in a pony tail just so I can keep her hair out of her eyes. And no, my lame occasional reminders that compassion and other invisible things are more important have not been nearly as significant as the oooohs and aaaaahs over superficial accomplishments. So, I’m snapping out of it. thanks

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Mom101 September 2, 2011 at 2:34 pm

That’s so cool Angelique.

I love the woman on twitter (wish I could remember who!) who reminded me to ask girls what books they like to read, not how they like their hair.

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Tinne from T and T September 2, 2011 at 9:54 am

I couldn’t agree with you more! That shirt is wrong on many levels.
When I was younger I was mocked by girls who’se personal credo could have been that t-shirt.
Well guess who is the pretty one with the well paying job now huh! That is right the one who did her homework.

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Karen September 2, 2011 at 10:53 am

One more thought…..there is a national organization named Girls, Inc, and they have programs for girls. One of the programs they are trying to launch is a media literacy curriculum for girls starting at age 8. http://www.girlsinc.org/girls-inc.html

There is also a movie out that took prizes at the Sundance Film Festival named Miss Representation. http://www.missrepresentation.org/home.html

There are people out there fighting the good fight.
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Mom101 September 2, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Thanks Karen! Love it.

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Bernadette Noll September 2, 2011 at 11:30 am

Yes. We can speak up with our pocketbooks. We can not get the Disney channel that tells our daughters that only dumb insipid pretty girls get what they want. We can avoid the popular chain stores that tell our 8 year olds they need a padded bra. And we can tell our daughters NO. We don’t do it that way in our house. They might argue at first but eventually they’ll get it. They’ll get why we fight these fights against the status quo. Thank you for this brilliant post.

Bernadette Noll Austin, TX

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Jen G September 2, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Thank you for so many good points. I always enjoy the shards of brilliance posted here, too.

I also have 2 daughters, they are 12 and 15. We talk a lot about how products influence who we are and say things about us. My girls are beautiful, but both struggle mightily with their looks — I think it is just part of growing up and feeling awkward. Both went through this starting around 12 years old. They started being embarassed by everything – their hair, what clothes others were wearing, how other girls in the locker room had bodies that were different than theirs…

These ideas start young. Kids notice so much that you don’t realize. Comments on TV, words on the cover of magazines in the grocery store (read all the covers one day, especially the ones with cleavage on the front, and know those words are rattling around in your 12 year old’s head).

Is this one shirt the end of the world? no. what about “cute butt” sweat pants for 11 year olds? (available on abercrombie.com) or shorts for 15 year olds that have a 1 inch inseam?

Individually, no — not the end of the world.

It is the collection of messages that build up in their minds, that cloud the messages of love and self-acceptance that good parents try so hard to instill in their kids. It chips away at them until they break and parents can (hopefully) pick up the pieces.

Nothing, not any book or blog or tweet, prepares you to hold your daughter while she cries about hating herself for not being pretty enough, not being smart enough, not coming anywhere close to some imagined ideal.

Was it because of a t-shirt? No.

It is because life is complicated, sexism is complicated and growing up is damn hard.

I am just saying that it would be really great if the world would (instead) conspire together and just be a little nicer and a little more realistic about how totally average and boring we all are.

I think we would all be a little happier as a result.

Jen
@IC_Jen

a little more of the story…
http://www.workingmother.com/kids-stuff/when-i-look-mirror

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PopMommy Pam September 2, 2011 at 12:27 pm

I also wrote about this shirt yesterday. I agree with you that it’s appalling. My post was about raising a girly daughter who loves pretty things and wants to be pretty. The issue comes in when advertising/society/PEOPLE want to convince her that pretty equals dumb. Or pretty equals lazy. Or irresponsible. Or sexual, etc. Of course, I disagree.

She can be girly and smart. She can get her nails done and ace her math exam. I don’t like when people go to the other extreme and, for one example, knock Taylor Swift for having CoverGirl as her concert tour sponsor. There was a Huffington Post writer who told moms not to attend her show because there were CoverGirl makeovers in the lobby which gave little girls the wrong message.

I’d love to hear what you think about that, Liz. We do have to stand up to these sexist messages. But we don’t have to take the “girly” away to create strong, smart, independent women.

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Mom101 September 2, 2011 at 2:25 pm

I agree with the idea that pretty is fine. It is. Makeup is fine and wanting to feel good about how you look is fine; as long as that is not the biggest priority in your life. Sounds like your girl is on the right track.

I liked the huffpo piece, though. Her point was that she was hoping to see a talented singer sing inspiring songs, and instead found the spectacle and the sponsorship overwhelmed the event. I didn’t think she was trying to take away girlie; I thought she was saying that when “get your makeup done” is the predominant message to very young girls, we’re missing an opportunity to communicate messages like “write great songs” or “work hard toward fulfilling your dreams.”

Did you read it differently?

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Chara September 2, 2011 at 2:21 pm

I would just like to let you know that I’m completely with you on this. It pisses me off to no end that we put up with crap like this. I was talking to a friend about it the other day on FB and I can’t tell you how many friends spoke up. It’s disgusting.

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6512 and growing September 2, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Thank you, thank you and thank you again.
Sexism is alive. And when you’re bringing up a daughter who is 4 years old and already in love with the idea of being pink and beautiful, it’s a scary force.
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Noel September 2, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Yes, excellent points (love the fervor!), and would like to add some more food for thougt. For one, it is true that the few media corporations that generate most of the marketing in the country are ran by older white men, so it does make some sense to me to try to balance the powers that be with more diverse leadership. That said, stereotyping actually pays off for marketers, so that is why they do it, and it works out great for them if consumers keep buying into such stereotypes. So yes, if we as consumers stop buying sexism, that will certainly make a difference, but fundamentally we need to begin valuing people over wealth to create lasting change. It is much easier for companies to market products if they can boil down “masculinity” and “femininity” to a few traits and then market to 1-2 different type of guys or girls than a diverse market of 20+. Also, marketing messages aren’t sexist because people are lazy or not that insightful-quite the opposite. Everything about marketing is intentional. The Dove Real Beauty campaign that supposedly celebrates women for who they are and promotes social change, is not a result of some enlightened group of marketers who worked hard to push forward a great idea. Dove is owned by Unilever, the same company that makes Axe products for teen boys and relegates women to sexual objects solely for men’s pleasure. This is because Unilever is trying to create marketing campaigns that sell to a cluster of stereotypes- appealing to the hypermasculine guy, the “I wanna be loved for who I am” woman, and even the “sensitive” guys (Dove carries a “men’s plus care” line that has the same ingredients as their “Axe Detailer” products that they want the hypermasculine guy to buy so he spends as much money on his skin as he does on his car…) http://maggiebrookes.wordpress.com/2010/06/07/body-image-messages-from-unilever-dove-and-axe-promotional-controversy/

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Mom101 September 2, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Noel, please see my comments above (somewhere) about Dove/Axe. Having worked in marketing and advertising for 20 years, I can”t agree with you that that’s how or why things work; or about such a cynical assessment of Dove. There are a ton of inspired, inspiring, dedicated, progressive amazing people at advertising agencies (and in brand positions) trying to use the soapbox to promote values they believe in. That’s how Dove came about. That’s how some of my campaigns have come about. Ad creatives are generally less interested in stock prices than in art and communication–for better or for worse.

And trust me, people who settle for the proverbial first idea (often sexist, stereotypical, or cliche) are lazy. Ideas get fresher the more you think about them.

That said, I think we come from the same place with the same goals in mind. I really appreciate your comments.

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Audrey September 2, 2011 at 4:53 pm

I really appreciate this post — when I react to things like this, I feel like the wack-o mom. And I admire that you’re not apologizing for standing up about this.

Two few years ago, when my daughters were 3 and 5, we were in the women’s locker room at our local recreation center. We happened to end up near the scale, where literally every single woman walked up, weighed themselves, and then sighed, commented, or… Finally two teenage girls commenced a typical, “I’m so fat,” “Oh my god I can’t believe you’d say that! I’m fat!” “You are so NOT fat! Look at my thighs!” Of course my girls had their eyes glued on the older girls. I asked them (probably more shortly than I meant to!) not to talk like that in front of my two little daughters. They did stop, though they were shocked and who can blame them, because this is such a common conversation between woman! Another mom there with her daughter thanked me for speaking up. I asked a manager about putting up a note or something asking women to remember to project positive body images, especially with little girls around. She looked at me like I’d lost my mind.

But generally I feel good about speaking up, and I love this conversation. I gave those two teenagers something to think about, and my kids will at least be aware of these kinds of sneaky pressures (along with how crazy their mom is!). People like you bringing this up, and engaging in conversation about it, is an important part of changing the culture and imparting a new awareness to our children. Thank you!

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Babs September 2, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Yes, we are the problem and the solution. I gave up Real Housewives for this very reason. I won’t consume this anymore, not even “just for fun.”

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Miranda September 2, 2011 at 9:08 pm

As the Mother of a 3 year old molestation victim, I cannot agree with you more. I am disgusted that young children, specifically girls, have been turned into sex objects. It’s a depraved, twisted mentality and I think it absolutely starts with something as small as a t-shirt slogan. I would never buy this shirt.

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Luda September 2, 2011 at 9:47 pm

I wrote a post about this yesterday as well. I did not explore the serious implications that a shirt such as this represents, like you did, but I did want to stop by and commend you for so well articulating my thoughts on the subject. It’s like you’re inside my head. And that means I like you so can we be best friends?

Also, if you haven’t seen this, please watch it. It’s amazing and really fits well into this whole issue:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6wJl37N9C0
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Mom101 September 3, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Wow thank you Luda. That video is wonderful.

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anymommy September 3, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I had lots of thoughts, including that my initial reaction was: who is responsible? the marketers or the consumers? I found your focus group perspective very enlightening. But then my four year old boy asked me what I was reading and I told him that I was reading and thinking about a t-shirt with unkind words on it. He asked me what it said and (keeping it simple) I told him that it said that people who were pretty weren’t smart and we knew that wasn’t true. All kinds of people are smart. And all kinds of people are pretty and everyone needs to do their work because learning is exciting.

He said: “I know that. You’re pretty and smart and Saige is pretty and smart.” I thought, here we are, raising kids and making changes, one child at a time. But then I told him that he was pretty and smart too and he told me emphatically that only girls are pretty.

Touche, Quinn. Well played.

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Margie September 4, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Yes! Yes! Yes! And I will do my best to continue to use my dollars wisely and talk with people, including my daughter, to help move us along! As always, thank you for your clear, wise, sharp thoughts.

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Mindy September 4, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Amen, and thank you. I am also the mother of two girls, and I am so happy to know that there are others out there fighting the good fight.

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Mom101 September 4, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Thanks Mindy. And best of all, the mothers of boys on this thread are fighting the fight right along with us.

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AmyeToTheRescue! September 5, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Bravo, once again Liz. I am extremely proud you are my Stepdaughter and you are also my idol!
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Mom101 September 5, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Thank you Amye! xo

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Karen L September 6, 2011 at 10:18 pm

I have definitely not been through all the previous comments. I just wanted to add this link to blue milk (tagline, subtitle, whatever: thinking + motherhood = feminist) , which takes on the “but that is what consumers want” issue. http://bluemilk.wordpress.com/2008/06/28/if-parents-can-stop-it-why-dont-they/
Summarising: Parents buy into it (raunch culture, in this case) because :
1) they’re desensitised to it
2) they’re teaching their children how to fit in
3) they’re too tired to fight about it
4) there is a lack of public critical thought

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Mom101 September 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Thanks, Karen.

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Rachael September 8, 2011 at 8:52 pm

You bring up very good points. Unfortunately, the world for most people is black and white. The gender roles that people give in society has been ingrained each and every person since the dawn of time. I completely agree that it is wrong and it needs to be fixed, sadly, I don’t know how to fix it and I doubt many do. Instead, whether we are with the majority or not, the minority who put such faith in ‘gender roles’ like in focus groups, they will always win out.
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JulieBouf September 9, 2011 at 11:44 am

Let’s put aside the issue of sexism for a minute…..what brother wants to do homework for his sister?!?! I’m sure he’s not more willing to because she’s pretty….or that’s a whole other issue. They could have at least said “so my boyfriend has to do it for me.”

While the sexism of it does sicken me…I’m even more bothered by the message that if you’re pretty you don’t need to be smart. Although, I could totally see the older sister on Modern Family wearing a t-shirt that says, “I’m too pretty do homework, so my little sister has to do it for me.”
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No Drama Momma September 10, 2011 at 6:33 pm

This was the most insightful argument against that damned shirt I’ve read so far. Thank you for pointing out that it’s not just men; women are sexist, and that attitude is holding our daughters back. The best part was the bit about stereotypes–they are lazy, and paint just a hint of a picture, enough to make you think you have the real deal. Nope.
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Dr. Minette Riordan September 11, 2011 at 9:14 am

Wow, I am so impressed with the depth, content and feeling of this article. First, you are a great writer. Second, I completely agree with you! Until Moms stop buying these products and other clothes that promote beautiful is better, how can our girls learn to appreciate themselves and to value their strength, intelligence and ability to rule the world, even if that world is their own home as mothers, daughters and sisters. Change can only come from within us and what we model for our daughters.

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Mom101 September 11, 2011 at 9:41 am

Thanks so much for your comment Dr. Riordan. I wish more moms could understand our actions speak louder than our words.

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Steph September 22, 2011 at 11:44 am

Rarely do I respond to a post but this one hit the spot. As a mom of both a boy and a girl I really really relate. Enough is enough.
(and btw. ugllly t-shirt)
Thank you!

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Lisa @ MMT November 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Wow, I am amazed by this post and the fact that a shirt like this was actually in stores. I’m glad to see someone actually post about something so real in life and take a stand against it. I have a two year old son, and to be honest I am afraid of having a girl in today’s society. The portrayal of women in the media is disheartening. How do you raise a girl with constant images of the ‘perfect’ body, provocative clothing, and women being used as sexual objects. I know it’s not just a problem for parents with girls, I just feel their is more pressure there. I hope I can teach my son to respect women and sexism is not right.
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Meg November 19, 2011 at 11:05 pm

AMEN!

I hate to say it, but I’ve definitely been in the “why is this such a big deal?” camp on issues like this before. But… now I have a 4 month old daughter. And things like this T-shirt makes me angry in ways I never thought possible.

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Allison March 21, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Rational and logical people do exist. Thank you for spreading a little bit of that with each new post.

Allison

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Mom101 March 21, 2012 at 12:30 pm

That’s so nice. Thanks Allison. I might add, a lot of them are right here in comments too.

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Rainy April 24, 2012 at 1:46 pm

I love love love you, I’m trying to conceive and have two stepdaughters. Their mother buys them shirts and clothes and dolls that focus around beauty, sexuality, immorality. One of them showed up wearing a t-shirt that said something along the lines of that shirt and I passive aggressively threw it away while doing the laundry. I know I can’t control how they’re raised, I barely have a say in it. I love them to death but if babies x and y (future children, I’m a science major) are in the future influenced by this kind of attitude it would drive me crazy. Keep fighting the good fight, you children will thank you for it later when they’re strong, level headed adults.

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Mom101 April 24, 2012 at 9:53 pm

Thanks Rainy. Good luck to you too. You can only do so much, you know?

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