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“I’m too pretty to do homework” T-shirt: What’s funny about sexism?

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Earlier this week, the internet was on fire about a T-shirt sold by JC Penny that read: “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me.”

Opinions were divided about the shirt, which was marketed to girls age 7 to 16 and which the retailer pulled off of its website early Wednesday. Was the shirt demeaning or degrading? Or do parents just need to get a sense of humor and lighten up?

Personally, I fall into the “I would never buy that for my kid” camp. I think it sends three big messages, all of them wrong: that physical beauty is more important than brains, that you should use your looks to manipulate other people, and that girls should leave academics to the boys. In fact, it immediately reminded me of Teen Talk Barbie from waaaay back in 1994, which complained “Math class is hard!” when you pushed a button on its back.

For the record, I think the anti-boy shirts out there are just as bad. Sexism is sexism. But I’ve yet to see a T-shirt marketed to boys that says “I’m too handsome to do math.” The shirts that are degrading to boys are intended to be worn by girls—and what’s also appalling is that the anti-girl ones are, too.

There’s nothing wrong with calling attention to being pretty, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with puns or irony. The problem is when parents let their kids flaunt statements like “Future trophy wife” or “The stupid factory: where boys are made” because the think it’s funny. Why do I think that’s a problem? Because while parents and young adults just see the humor, a 7-year-old is likely to believe that their parents think it’s the truth.

That said, manufactures can make (and retailers can sell) whatever they want. There are plenty of other shirts out there that make the same kind of not-so-funny “joke,” but I won’t be buying any of them either.

What will I be buying? Maybe some of these:

Melissa Wardy launched her own clothing line, Pigtail Pals, in 2009. She designed her “Pretty’s got nothing to do with it” shirt on Wednesday, in response to the “I’m too pretty to do homework” controversy. “Girls deserve better products in the marketplace,” she told me. “There’s nothing wrong with being girly. I’m not anti-pink. I’m not anti-princess. I’m anti-limitations.”

Gimme Dat Gear offers graphic T-shirts with bold designs and positive messages, like this shirt that says, “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

Think Positive Apparel has simple shirts for women, teens, and tweens. Two of my favorites: “I’m beautiful on the inside, too” (pictured above) and “Smart is the new Sexy.”

I love the simplicity of this T-shirt by Average Girls Tees: A small star with the words “Be Brilliant” under it in tiny letters. Their other shirts are just as understated and cool (a rough-drawn peace sign with the words “Don’t Fight,” a crescent moon with “Half Full,” a steaming coffee cup with “Wake Up,” and an emoticon with “Be Happy”).
Life is Good is all about optimism, and their products offer nothing but positive messages, regardless of gender. This soft yellow “Social Butterfly” T-shirt speaks to a girl’s popularity and outgoing nature without reducing her to just a pretty face.

So, what do you think? Is a shirt just a shirt? Or can a message written on one mean something?

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2 comments so far...

  • I wouldn’t buy any of them for my kid or for myself. I don’t let some shirt company speak for me, first of all. Secondly, I think the ones that aren’t plain stupid are too self-absorbed. True, you define yourself TO yourself, but you don’t tell other people “I’m pretty” or “I’m smart” or “I’m social.” You leave it up to them to decide that, mostly by focusing on THEM during your encounters. Right?

    Can’t figure out who on this earth would buy a shirt saying “I’m too pretty to do homework . . . . ” Especially for their kid. At department store prices.

    SKL  |  September 4th, 2011 at 9:36 pm

  • I bought my daughter two shirts at Target this year, both from the C9 by Champion brand:

    “Play like a girl - beat the boys”
    “Yeah, I play like a girl - Jealous?”

    I liked that they celebrate athleticism, and turned the old ‘you throw like a girl’ saw on its head.

    akmom  |  September 5th, 2011 at 4:55 pm

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