T-shirts: street harassment without the audio

July 21, 2006

When a person, a man, wears a t-shirt that says something sexually vulgar, something offensive like “Ladies don’t spit” or “Down with panties”…what are we to make of this? In my opinion, when someone wears a t-shirt like this and he knows that the rest of the public is going to casually read it…it becomes a passive aggressive form of street harassment. Is the person yelling “Ladies don’t spit” at you? No, not in an audible way. But the visual unspoken landscape is just as offensive and significant as what you hear or say. It’s the same reason I would be offended, disturbed and taken aback if I saw someone wearing a giant “KKK” or racial slur on the sleeve of their shirt. One doesn’t have to literally SAY something to put fear over others.

Anyways, I guest blogged recently over at Shrub.com so I thought i’d share:

With the popularity and availability of screen printing and selling t-shirts over the internet, seems like everybody’s got some idea, phrase or illustration they want to market in t-shirt form. So for anywhere from $7-25 bucks, you get to wear not only a piece of clothing but something that says something to everyone else. It’s what you want other people to read or notice or learn about. For that moment, whether it’s a wayward glance on the subway or the start-up of a conversation in line from a deep gaze, the t-shirt and its modern storytelling (oh, lets say in the past couple years) reveals another form of violent backlash and aggression by men to women.

The t-shirt: It’s about half-way between a bumper sticker and a tattoo. With a bumper sticker you face a limited landscape where simple text is the main projection and chances are you don’t see the person whose politics are being espoused unless you drive up and give them a good stare-down. With tattoos, you don’t know what you’re getting because it’s a tattoo. Some people hide them, other display, some mix and match. Now, with a classic t-shirt with illustration/text on the chest area, you’ve got something that says “this is what I think, this is what I think is cute/funny/cool.”

Now, I could give a shit what people wear on their t-shirts, skin, cars or whatnot. If you want to wear a tattoo with the Pythagorean theorem, great. A t-shirt with all species of marine life? Even better. But lately there have been a growing number of people and companies cashing in on misogynist, homophobic, and racist “humor” meant to be funny or worse yet, rebellious and gutsy. In other words, while what Ariel Levy calls “Raunch Culture” oppresses women (and men) through hegemony by co-opting sexual degradation and objectification as liberation and empowerment, for men, the passive-aggressive sexual aggression to women whether in t-shirt form with something like this or in street harassment with “cat-calls” and lewd sexual gestures, the patriarchy of men’s control and power over women is reinforced yet again.

So when a man wears a shirt that reads “If you’re already this close, why don’t you just suck my dick?” what are we to make of this? Is this just crude and typical guy humor? No, I don’t think so. Men, women, everybody engages in stupid, crude humor but when it becomes an immediate projection of sexual aggression similar to street harassment, that’s not funny, witty, rebellious or charming. It serves no purpose other than for men to exert their patriarchal bullshit sense of physical and sexual power over women. This is essentially delusional and idiotic men from the normalized pornographic culture that says treating women like you would a doormat, a sexual object of no humanity or worth, likes being treated like this. In many ways, such shirts become mental Viagras, immediately creating this impressive yet ultimately fleeting and hallow masculinity for men to be crude and somehow held unaccountable for the words on the shirt. “Hey, I didn’t say anything, you read it sugah.” In other words, its what they’re thinking, what they believe, what they think is appropriate and an acceptable way to talk to people, namely women.

But this isn’t just for gender issues and men’s sexual aggression against women. Just as in any areas of patriarchy you find sexist oppression, there are elements of racism through stereotypes. Can you start to sense who these shirts are marketed towards? A very specific demographic, isn’t it? And where there are issues of racism and discrimination are often the general glorifications of physical violence as well as generally being “rebellious” by deliberately being insensitive and “un-PC.” As a culture, we don’t encourage sensitivity. With how stigmatized Politically Correct has become, the cool thing isn’t to use a respectful words, its cool to go around with the “I don’t care who I offend” Eminem/Carmelo Anthony/Avril Lavigne/Ozzie Guillen type attitude that operates under the guise of being raw, real, and unfiltered.

Warming Up: For Exhibit A we have the obvious offender in Urban Outfitters. You’ll remember that they carried the infamous “Ghettopoly” board game a while back so these people aren’t very bright. Anyways, they chime in with some fratty type humor with these losers. “Down with panties and “Let’s make a dirty movie.” hahahah awesome shirt, Brad! Dude those panties will drop real quick when these chicks see it! Idiot.

Head on over to the women’s section of print t-shirts and you find….nothing remotely like what they got at men’s. Surprise? The only t-shirt I could find objectionable was one that just had the first names of famous supermodels which was just blah. This presents an interesting situation. Sexual aggression becomes extremely gendered because it’s a man only thing to street harass, to wear crude sexually charged t-shirts. In that sense, it becomes a sort of unearned gender male privilege to not be subject to sexual harassment or the visual filth of these types of t-shirts. But even so, as you’ll see below, there are a few t-shirts geared towards women to essentially “wear t-shirts like a man”/”have sex like a man”/engage in raunch culture.

Now we’re jumping straight into the icy water with this group. Presenting, the people of Santorum over at T-Shirt Hell.

Let’s see, where to start? How about “Ladies don’t spit” or the aforementioned “If you’re already this close, why don’t you just suck my dick?” or how about “Thousands of my potential children died on your daughter’s face last night”. Obviously these folks are going straight for the jugular with flat out offensive material under the guise of being funny, over-the-top and “we’ll say anything, fuck the FCC!” (raises fist).

How about
“I like my women like I like my coffee (ground and in the freezer).”

”If this is on your floor tomorrow…WE TOTALLY FUCKED (now go make me some breakfast, bitch)”

”Pirates do it for the booty.”

”Save a horse, ride a cowboy.”

”Soldiers need hummers. Please support the cause.”

”Everything is bigger in Texas.”

”I’m ready for a female president [to sit on my cock]”

Or, if you saunter over to the idiots at YQue.com how about some t-shirts poking fun and celebrating the rape cases involving famous celebrities? Free Kobe. Free R.Kelly. Or if mass-murder is your calling, how about Charles Manson?

If those aren’t to your liking, the “Anti-PC” “Anti-establishment” band-wagon is gathering steam. The conservative case here with these t-shirts is essentially that the world has gone soft and that actually having and respectfully recognizing difference, different likes and preferences and lifestyles and cultures is a bad thing.

”I Hate The Environment.” Real witty.

Don’t like the spirit of America, I mean, “illegal immigrants” coming to the US? How about this shirt. How about some more latino stereotypes?

Remember those Burger King and Jack In The Box commercials celebrating macho meat-eating men? Now this.

How does the old saying go? “To not know is bad, to not want to know is worse”? Disturbing to see how that motto doesn’t resonate anymore.

Remember how I was talking about Raunch Culture being celebrated and normalized? Kinda like how that Pussycat Dolls “Dontcha” song is so popular?

“I taught your boyfriend that thing you like.”

”I taught your girlfriend that thing you like.”

Women pressured to make out with other women at parties? Girls Gone Wild normalization, anyone? In comes this bs.

Or how about jokes about rape or even child-rape, or those who are pro-choice?

T-Shirt Hell obviously creates a majority of the crap you’ve seen thus far. They’re fully aware of how offensive this is, but for the sake of the almighty dollar (and from what I imagine to be a crappy sense of rebellion and ego) they produce this shit at the expense of women and inevitably, men.

Even with all this, I mean god it’s just a t-shirt isn’t it? Obviously these people aren’t being serious. It’s just a joke. You’re taking this too seriously.

It is a t-shirt. So just as long as you put it on a t-shirt means its free from hate-spewing, sexism, racism, homophobia? If we’re going to be critical of oppressive legislation, the media, the tv shows we watch, the movies we buy, the music we listen to…why not the t-shirts that we see day-to-day?

What can I do? Seems like these crazies aren’t going to listen to reason so what’s the point of arguing. Aren’t you just promoting their website and giving more attention to them?

It’s true, I am giving attention to these websites and so I’ll try to offer some alternatives in the process.

A. You can write them to protest their garbage with something along the lines of:

Tshirthell.com – info@tshirthell.com

Urban Outfitters – http://www.urbanoutfitters.com/custserv/customerservicemain.jsp?cid=7

YQue – admin@yque.com

One Horse Shy – http://www.onehorseshy.com/customer_service/

B. Spend your money elsewhere. There are plenty of great people out there making anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-sexist, conscious, responsible t-shirts that don’t pull Andrew Dice Clay shtick and actually have something meaningful, original and funny to say.

www.blacklava.com is one famous for their “I will not love you long time” t-shirts. I know there are more out there…let’s hear everybody’s favorite t-shirt joint :)

###UPDATE: Hey everybody! Found some more dumb t-shirts.

Dirty Shirty is a real piece of crap. Basically, this whole gimmick is trying to cash in on the Christina Aguilera drrty bit (which the video itself, I know to some has potentially redemptive qualities if you take it as a satirical piece criticizing the double-standards of sex, gender and music) and the idea that women who participate in Raunch Culture are then more attractive as women. Look at the shirts for men and women, many (6) of the t-shirts for women loudly display “DIRTY” while for men, only 3 do. For men, we have some frat-type humor t-shirts. That is where in comes in with this t-shirt in the men’s section: Because men think with their dicks, dude. You know, and those women always think with their hearts.

11 Responses to “T-shirts: street harassment without the audio”

  1. Tony Geinzer Says:

    It is unbelievably rude that some of these shirts are, because it is not even funny to try to say anything slick that will turn out to be far from roses because I definitely agree with Ms. Ariel Levy that there is a Rape Culture and it really does make me mad to know some
    of these felons only want to troll the campuses just for an attempt for a cheap party and the ongoing ligitation down the line.

  2. Cam Says:

    Surely a country that elected and then re-elected George Bush has to have a few million idiots in it. Is it really surprising that people buy and wear these T-shirts? I’m not surprised at all.

  3. lele Says:

    Way I see it, let ‘em wear the passive-agressive raunchy shirt. Makes it easier for me to avoid them, or warms me to be prepared for the attitude. Either way, I have a warning and they don’t. Idiots.

  4. robin.g Says:

    I think your friends at Holla Back NYC might have sent you this tidbit, but I found badmouthtees.com, who sells a shirt that reads, “It’s not rape, it’s surprise sex!” PLEASE, everyone write to them and tell them what you think!

  5. deedee Says:

    just thought i’d mention…i am almost positive that the “raunchy” shirts on onehorseshort.com are meant to be worn with a sense of irony/sarcasm…all the others, especially tshirthell disgust me.


  6. Another one of these websites that are “witty” is http://www.tshirtcrib.com, they have a few sexually explicit t-shirts, such as “It ain’t rape if she ain’t awake” and “A peice of ass should be seen, not heard” Please check them out and see what you think for yourself.

  7. Daniel Says:

    Uh, so a couple years ago I wore a shirt to bumbershoot that said I’m with stupid & had an arrow pointing down. What can I say, I thought it was funny. I hope it wasn’t aggressive to anyone.

    Coincidentally I saw a guy wearing the “I … on you daughter’s face” t shirt this year at bumbershoot. I couldn’t stop staring. I mean, wow. I figured it was a sunny day, music festival maybe I’d do some flirting, I just couldn’t figure out why this guy would wear a shirt that would cause women (among so many other people) to glare at him all day. Who needs that?

    I’m fairly certain he was there with his wife who was wearing a shirt than said “I’m not single for but available for hotties.” I’m guessing there’s a story there. Gag gifts or something?

    What’s with all of the “your girlfriend” or “your daughter” (or “your boyfriend”) shirts lately? The possession & aggression thing is completely out of control. Even ignoring the possession thing, it’s very aggressive. I mean, you can’t treat it as though they actually said this stuff to you, but I can certainly silently loath you as you silently insult me. What is wrong with these defectives?

  8. Chuck Says:

    I always took the “macho” Jack In the Box commercials as making fun of the mentality (e.g., the one that exposed men as liars, saying that they no longer had the excuse of going to the strip club to get Buffalo Wings with Jack In the Box’s latest offering).

    I do have a problem with the “Juicy” product line. What self-respecting woman (who isn’t a whore) would wear a pair of pants that said “Juicy” across the ass?

    I see the barely teens wearing T-shirts that say “Size Queen.” While I can forgive them their ignorance, where are the parents and what are they thinking?

    I was behind an El Camino that had seen better days, when I noticed a bumper sticker that said, “No ugly fat women.” I had to see what kind of man would put a bumper sticker like that on his vehicle. Interesting. He was fat, homely, and by all appearances, likely made his living driving nails into concrete using his face.

    Any establishment that carries the Stop Snitching T-shirts (big red stop sign, with the word “snitching” scrawled across it) should be driven out of business. (The dregs of society have been known to wear them into courtrooms in order to intimidate witnesses. I’m guessing thes are the same scumbags who complain that the police never help when someone they supposedly care for is the victim of crime.)

  9. Helena Says:

    At your suggestion, I wrote the fucks at T Shirt Hell a little note suggesting they peel their eyes off employees’ asses and slap their corneas on what they’re selling.

  10. Nick Says:

    I recommend OffWorld Designs for fun t-shirts: http://www.offworlddesigns.com/

    They’ve got clever gags that both required thinking in the process of making them and require some thinking in the process of understanding them (f.ex. if ya don’t know who Cthulhu is, Cthulhu-shirts lose some of their edge).

    The shirt-gags primarily spoof geek culture and the most offensive t-shirt I have seen there says: “If you don’t talk to your cat about catnip, who will?”

    As for their cardgame Lunch Money…Catholic school girls attacking each other for lunch money…not my thing (thus, I won’t put any money into it). They state, “All of the designs are in good fun, but may offend some of our more conservative customers. Beware!”

    Just go for the shirts :-)

  11. Joseph Uzel Says:

    I’m reading these posts about a year after they were written, and I’m happy to say that a number of the links now lead to statements from the websites saying that those particular shirts are no longer available. They say, “We are sorry, some of our items are Limited Editions, which we only sell for a short period of time. We are no longer selling this item and don’t know if it will be back.” I know that its extremely unlikely any rational reasoning actually influenced them, but I can hope, right?

    I have never understood why anyone would deliberately
    wear a garment that arrogantly parades their stupidity
    for all the world to see (and be offended by). I’ll
    never forget the first time I saw something that fit into this category: a big, angry looking man walking around a typical neighborhood grocery store wearing a
    black shirt that said “Fuck You!” It was like reading
    a joke that I “didn’t get”. How is this funny? The
    only conclusion I could come to is he liked fighting.

    Over time, I’ve concluded that its kind of like the animals in nature that have bright stripes to mark them as poisonous, or the sound of the rattlesnake.
    That these supposedly thinking beings mark themselves
    is the fascinating part. We can only be grateful they
    warn us all of the poison lurking in their minds.

    I arrived at this site while trying to investigate something I saw on the bus. I’m a pretty liberal, and
    liberated, person. And I’m usually hard to shock. Or
    embarrass for that matter, but I believe I blushed over this one. This guy came walking down the aisle of a Metro bus, and right past my wife and a friend who were talking intently and somehow didn’t notice
    what I couldn’t possibly avoid seeing! He had on a band T-shirt (and I wish I could remember the band name, but I can’t…I’m guessing alternative rock or
    punk). It only had the band name and a photo…a super-enlarged photo that covered the whole shirt.
    As a result, it was distorted, and because of the abnormal size and seeing it outside any remotely sane context, I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at for maybe 10 seconds. I just stared at this strange
    organic-looking image. Then I realized it was an
    extreme close-up of a woman’s genitalia, which she was
    holding open with her hands. It was an image out of
    the most tasteless pornography, or a gynecological exam, and it was enlarged to the point that her clitoris was the size of my fist. I can’t tell you how shocked I was. I came so close to walking to the
    back of the bus and talking to the guy out of simple
    scientific curiousity about the sociological and psychological aspects of it. What kind of guy wears that? What reaction does he get? Isn’t he even slightly worried he will be…I don’t know…stoned?!?
    I have to admit I was a little surprised the bus driver even let him board the bus! I’ve been asked not to board for having a drink! So, if anyone reads
    this, and wants to discuss this weirdness, I’ll check
    back.


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