Monday, December 19, 2011

Too pretty to do my homework so my brother does it for me!

Many of us are familiar with the arguably - no, definitely - sexist t-shirts adorning the torsos of college-aged males recently. Usually the shirts are a solid color with a slogan in the middle - slogans like "I'm the one you gotta blow to get a drink around here," "Nice new girlfriend - what breed is she?," "Nice legs - when do they open?," and "Tomorrow I'll be sober - but you'll still be ugly." Check out this gallery; you will find a plethora of them.
They are even described as "sexist" on the site that sells them. Men think they are hilarious and wear them with pride.

But it's not just men - women are wearing them too. Take, for example, the pink shirts that say, "Allergic to Algebra," "If you want it done right ask a brunette," and "Who needs brains when you have these?" (the latter placed strategically over the breasts). For both male and female shirts, the slogans generally focus on sexually objectifying women, a concept that certainly isn't new or surprising.

What is new, and becoming disturbingly more prevalent, is the marketing of sexist clothing to adolescents, kids, and even infants. This fall, the baby apparel company Gymboree unveiled online a new line of onesies that had parents up in arms. The onesies marketed for little boys read, "Smart Like Dad" while those marketed for little girls read, "Pretty Like Mommy." These gender stereotypical messages immediately upset parents (or, should I say, moms). A petition was started and sent to Gymboree that noted that there were no "Smart Like Mommy" onesies and demanded that the company "stop selling clothing with harmful gender stereotypes immediately." Gymboree pulled the onesies off of their website.

But there remained some apparel that were still clearly marketed to boys as being "Daddy's MVP," "Adventure Seeker," or "Mr. Personality" and girls as being "Daddy's Little Cupcake, "A Little Bon Bon," or "MVP: Most Valuable Princess." Gymboree still has a boys line called "Smart Little Guy" which includes garb with math formulas and the label "genius" while girls get "Cozy Cutie," "Pretty Little Ice Skater," and, "Turtley Cute." Great, not only are they sending the message that looks are more important than brains, but they're also making up words like "turtley."

A few months before the Gymboree controversy, J.C. Penney put a girls' shirt (for girls aged 7-16) on the shelves that read, "I'm too pretty to do my homework so my brother does it for me." To make it even worse, the product description online read, "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." A double-whammy: first the message that girls shouldn't care about their homework because their looks are more important, and second, that God-forbid girls be bothered with learning - they should spend their time obsessing over a boy!

Come on, J.C. Penney, did you really think you could get away with this? Well, they didn't. A woman named Lauren Todd started a petition on that demanded the company stop selling sexist clothes. The petition got thousands of signatures and the story was picked up by various news outlets, which put the pressure on J.C. Penney who eventually discontinued sales of the shirt and released the statement, "We agreed that the shirt does not deliver an appropriate message."

The message these shirts and onesies aren't just inappropriate, they're damaging. As Mary Elizabeth Williams points out, kids are force-fed gender stereotypes and expectations from the moment the enter the world. Girls' rooms are painted pink; boys' rooms blue. Girls are put in dresses, taught to be "lady-like;" boys are dressed in pants and taught to be "tough." The media bombards girls with "girly" products, and it continues into adulthood. Girls and women are taught to value material things such as brand-name purses, shoes, and jewelry. Further, the media pressures women with the "ideal" body: skinny with breasts like balloons, perfect hair, makeup, and tanned skin. This ideal is unrealistic yet it has become to important to attain for so many girls and women. Women are taught that looks are most important - make yourself look good, and you'll attract the attention of men. We are all aware of the implications of this body ideal: low self-esteem among young women, depression, eating disorders that sometimes lead to death. The younger the manipulation and stereotyping starts the worse it is. The companies marketing this type of clothing to young girls and babies are disgustingly irresponsible. They are entrenching even deeper the idea that girls are dumb and all that matters is appearance - we should leave the thinking to the boys.

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