Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fashion Faux Pas

Hi, I'm Sue. When I'm in the airport and glance at the magazine rack, I have no interest in their offereings - People, Glamour, InStyle... So I just download the latest issue of Wired to my iPad. And I am an Anomaly.

I've never claimed to be fashionable. I'm like the opposite of fashionable. "Dressing up," for me, involves wearing jeans instead of sweatpants. Okay, maybe that's a little bit of an exaggeration, but not much. At any rate, a couple years ago, I started noticing young girls - probably under 13 - wearing shirts that said "FLIRT" or "SLUT" or "TEASE" in glitter, usually paired with some "fashion" sweatpants that said "JUICY" across the butt. Since then, a lot has been said about the over-sexualization of pre-teen girls. Personally, I thought was the low point of "fashion." Hey, girls! Make sure all the boys know you're easy! That's how to get through life! Just... ew.

But then, earlier today on Twitter (thanks to @BadAstronomer via @MightyMur), I realized that we (that's a societal "we") are not just promoting the sexualization of girls, but also discouraging their intellect. Check out this "back to school" offering from JC Penney:

This t-shirt is being marketed to 7-16 year-old girls, with a product description that reads:
Who has time for homework when there’s a new Justin Bieber album out? She’ll love this tee that’s just as cute and sassy as she is.
(And it has 14 likes on Facebook. FAIL!)

So, what can we take from the text on this shirt? For starters...
I'm pretty, so I don't have to be smart.
Smart girls are ugly.
Boys are smarter than girls.
Because I'm pretty, people should do things for me.
I don't have to worry about personal responsibility.
I'll just get a man to do things for me.

There have already been numerous articles about this (here's one from Skepchick) and there's a petition. I went to the JC Penney website, looking for this shirt, and it looks like it is no longer for sale (good job, geeks!), but you should be able to view a cached copy here. (If that link stops working, let me know - I took a screenshot.)

The worst part, in my opinion, is how long this type of thing has been going on. Remember those talking Barbies from back in the day? "Teen Talk Barbie." One of the phrases that Barbie said was "Math Class is TOUGH!" and then proceeded to ask "Do you have a crush on anyone?" There was a huge outcry and the doll was recalled because the idea that "math is hard for girls" should not be fed to girls of any age. And that was 1992. Almost 20 years later, we're dealing with these same stereotypes on a t-shirt.

It's okay to be a good student, and do your homework, and be responsible. Being smart doesn't make you not-pretty. And bring conventionally "pretty" isn't the be-all and end-all. And don't ever even imply to a young girl or any woman that she doesn't have to worry about school, homework, professionalism, responsibility, intelligence because she can "get by on her looks." It's disgusting.

Staff Writer for Anomaly
Co-Host of Anomaly Supplemental
(B.A. Pure & Applied Mathematics)

Here's a video of that "Teen Talk Barbie":

JC Penney is discontinuing the sale of this shirt and pulling it from stores. They have issued the following statement:
jcpenney is committed to being America's destination for great style and great value for the whole family. We agree that the “Too pretty” t-shirt does not deliver an appropriate message, and we have immediately discontinued its sale. Our merchandise is intended to appeal to a broad customer base, not to offend them. We would like to apologize to our customers and are taking action to ensure that we continue to uphold the integrity of our merchandise that they have come to expect.

Sadly, this does not change the fact that the same incorrect notions that we dealt with in 1992 are being served up to a new generation in 2011.


Jen said...

Thanks Sue. Math class WAS tough for me...I barely scraped by, but I agree wholeheartedly. This is is the wrong message for girls OR boys. Look how far behind the U.S. is in the world in math and science! This shirt essentially celebrates that fact while suggesting that being pretty makes it all better. The sad thing is that some people actually buy into that.

As a designer, I'm curious to know who designed the shirt and how they feel about it.

And contrary to some of the comments I read below the LA Time's online article, NO...we're not overreacting. This shirt sucks in more ways than one. It's sexist and stupid and personally I think the aesthetics lacks a certain "panache".

The shirt has been taken off the rack, which was a good call by JCP...but it should NEVER have been offered to begin with.

Archangela said...

Though I do agree that this is totally silly and sends the wrong message...also the art on the shirt is gross. :) But seriously, I believe that the people who design...okay MOST of the people who design these types of things do it out of a sense of irony, with no thought of the possible consequence. If I had a daughter who was a 16 year old math whiz, I would find the shirt hilarious for her to wear.

As with the Juicy-Slut-Porn Star printed items for young yes I do believe that it goes too far. I hate to get too controversial but how does a society who is apparently so scared of pedophiles that we scour those offender websites and get mad when some random guy smiles at our 8 year old girl in the store...simultaneously put girls into pageants. Oh NO SHE DIDN'T! Oh yes she did. In conclusion I believe all of the things that you bring up are relevant and agree. But I believe the math shirt is the least of the problems of this nature. --Also total PS but the hard math barbie has been a joke of Stephanie and mine since we were 17. Ha! Geez, it's so stupid I have a hard time taking it seriously enough to get upset about it.

Beth said...

Just a few years ago (class of 2007), one of my law school classmates regularly wore her "Juicy" sweatpants on a regular basis. And I don't think she had any irony in her. Hard to believe the professors could take her seriously.