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.
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).
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.
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?
Women pressured to make out with other women at parties? Girls Gone Wild normalization, anyone? In comes this bs.
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 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Urban Outfitters – http://www.urbanoutfitters.com/custserv/customerservicemain.jsp?cid=7
YQue – email@example.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.