Late yesterday, on my Twitter feed, I saw a few friends ranting about a t-shirt being put out by JC Penney. Since I was already frustrated and exhausted, I thought I’d up my daily rage intake and see what the fuss was about.
I was not prepared for what I saw.
Just think about that for a minute. I’m all for clever t-shirts. But this goes beyond a funny t-shirt to a t-shirt that reenforces a dangerous notion, that girls should be more interested in what they look like than school.
Yes, this is dangerous. Already, if you look at any women’s magazine, 90% of the editorial content will be about making yourself look better. 100% of the ads will be pushing that ideal as well. Eating disorders are becoming more common in younger girls, who look at the images of celebrities that are plastered everywhere and aspire to become that.
Not only that, we keep pushing this fantasy of the “reality star.” Where all you have to be is someone who looks good, and fame will follow. Kids are too young to realize that particular brand of fame is fleeting- that a reality star who doesn’t have any actual talent usually doesn’t hang onto the public’s attention for more than a couple years. Or that the young actresses who get cast on TV shows that aren’t particularly talented actresses, but are really pretty, have short careers too. It only takes growing a little older to suddenly find yourself out of work.
I should share that the JC Penney story has a happy ending (sort of). After the outcry from the internet and media, the t-shirt has been removed and they issued this apology:
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.”
While this shirt was pulled, it should never have made it onto the sales floor. Not only did someone design it (probably hired to create a bunch of “clever” tees in a short period of time), but a buyer thought it’d be appropriate and decided to buy up those t-shirts. There were plenty of opportunities for someone to have seen the shirt and asked JCP if this was a good idea.
I hope that more retailers wise up. Every couple years, someone tries to sell a t-shirt like this, or put out a toy that belittles intelligence (remember that Barbie who said “math is hard!”?). Hopefully, the internet continues to galvanize and point out that this is just plain wrong- and not accept a quick apology. After all, my boys both apologize when I catch them doing something wrong. It doesn’t mean that they know not to try it again.
Yes, I have boys, not girls. But obviously, I’m a woman, and was a girl. A smart girl at that. I skipped kindergarten (back when it wasn’t an academic class) because I knew how to read. I excelled in math, science and reading. In middle school, I started to teach myself simple commands in BASIC and wrote text-based programs. When we had to take part in the school science fair, I didn’t just do a project that I thought would earn me a passing grade- I thought of one that I thought might take me to the state science fair. (Alas, I didn’t make it past the county level… but I tried)
I was lucky that my mom always encouraged me to learn more, and taught me from an early age that there was nothing wrong with being a smart girl. We went to museums, zoos, and just about anywhere that my sister and I wanted to go that was learning related. My parents encouraged us to learn how to use computers- which seems like a silly thing now, but back in 1989, not everyone had computers at home.
We as a society should be doing that for girls. We still fill commercials with toys that encourage boys to innovate, build and learn, while we encourage girls to nurture babies and look nice (link: Here’s a great YouTube video about that from 2010). Not saying that nurturing is a bad thing, but I say there’s no harm in letting little girls play carpenter with pretend tools or giving them erector sets to see what they come up with.
But the first step is making sure that we keep telling companies that t-shirts like this are unacceptable. We should be telling girls that being smart is the way to make it in the world.