Monday, September 12, 2011

Sexist Messij T-Shurtz Suck

My first-grade daughter can count simple groupings in her head. Last year, she zipped through her kindergarten math workbook problems with a confident cry of "This is so easy!" On road trips, she begs me to give her addition and subtraction questions to solve.

But in a few years, she'll be hitting the mall with her friends and finding shirts like this at Forever21:

Last year, she got glowing remarks on her report card. Her science teacher smiled as she told me, "Sarah is the kind of student who will do well in any subject."

Maybe not for long, once she starts seeing shirts like these around the halls:

Swell. It's cool to hate both school and spelling.

Forever21 isn't the only store selling this crap. JC Penney had to eat a lot of product and bad publicity when the blogoverse started campaigning against this beauty of a message shirt:

Seriously? I mean, seriously? Didn't anyone in their R&D, design or marketing departments feel a qualm for even a nanosecond that this sentence might just possibly be offensively sexist? Heck, the guys on staff would know what a nanosecond is or how to spell "qualm," right?

Why are we still so in love with the girls-are-dumb stereotype? Why do we insist on perpetuating the idea that math, science and technology should be men's domains? The statistics on women in these fields - we hold just 31 percent of medical careers, 25 percent of all mathematical and computer science jobs and a mere 11 percent of engineering jobs - are nothing to laugh about, on clothing or otherwise.

We're anything but "allergic" to these subjects. One study from Cornell found that girls scored as well as or better than boys in math all the way up through college. And we're not necessarily trapped by a glass mathematical ceiling: the Cornell psychologists found that women were actually slightly more likely to be offered tenure-track science, technology and math positions. But somewhere along the line, women stop thinking of math and tech as a calling. Some switch over to more organic professions like biology and veterinary medicine (where we do outrank men); others, notably math professors, find it hard to maintain their demanding careers once they have children.

And maybe, just maybe, some internalize the message that women aren't meant to excel in traditionally male professions. Why bother trying when, as Barbie notoriously said not long ago, "math is hard"? Being a smart woman is only acceptable if you're also cute and pick a glamorous profession. We admire Natalie Portman's Ivy League degree, but we wouldn't gush over her as much if she were merely winning a Nobel in astrophysics instead of an Oscar. We give Hillary Clinton props for her political accomplishments, but unsheathe our claws if she wears the wrong pantsuit or looks a trifle jowly.

Ironically, Forever21 also sells shirts with far more empowering messages - "Believe in Me" and the like. Several are Christian-themed, cross and all. Would Jesus tell girls that they didn't have to worry their pretty little heads over algebra and spelling?

This isn't meant to criticize girls who do find math difficult, or who choose more artistic professions. Guilty as charged on both counts. But my mother-hackles bristle when I see retailers selling negative messages about education to girls with developing minds and ideas, all in the name of humor and profit.

I see my daughter skip down the street to school every morning and run out smiling six hours later, talking about the "awesome" day she had. Her joy in learning is every parent's dream.

Maybe the geniuses at Forever21 should visit her skool school and see what real girls think of math.


  1. These shirts make my blood boil with a righteous hatred.

    The Christian-themed slogans calling for devotion—at least in proximity to the above—are the other side of the disempowerment coin, unfortunately.


  2. I really hate those shirts too. I just find them - insulting.