Thursday, December 6, 2012

It's all fun and games until someone is dehumanized

Reader Warning: This post contains extremely misogynist language and images. 

There was quite a stir online this week after popular web comic The Oatmeal compared a computer key, humorously, to a terrified rape victim. I'm not going to go on about that. Facing massive online protest, he removed the offending panel and apologized. Time to move on.

Except that his self-styled "free speech" supporters won't let it go. They accused people who took to the author's social media feeds to tell him why they were so upset about the joke of "censorship". They're probably still at it.

But there is a big difference between criticism and censorship. The former is also part of freedom of speech. The latter is legislative.

I am against censorship, but I will certainly speak out in public when I think something is not okay. For example, racism is not okay. Anyone who spews racism in public deserves the social sanction of people who are not racists. That's a pretty mainstream, accepted, thing now.

But what about misogyny? As the Oatmeal incident shows, it is both embedded in our popular culture and an issue that is becoming increasingly hard to "let go". In the recent United States election, many sexist or even openly-misogynist politicians and pundits were brought down by changing mainstream sensitivity to women's issues. Then again, many still stand.

Which brings me to today's topic: The most asinine tee shirts I have seen this year. 

This collection of shirts is brought to you by an online retailer called Spencer's. It's obnoxious, dehumanizing and dumb, and somebody must be buying the damn things.

But it's just a joke, right? Sure. Racist jokes are just jokes too. The problem with them is that they also serve a social purpose: they both reflect and reinforce a culture of exclusion, where one group is assumed to be superior to another. (The last US election also showed that racism is still very much with us.)

Believe it or not, I have a sense of humour. And I actually make lots of "inappropriate" jokes. But these are made in mixed company, with women who are my friends and my equals. Nobody is calling anyone a fuck puppet.

You might ask yourself whether Spencer's are equal opportunity sexists. There are, in fact, a few women's shirts that have a sexually predatory slogans on them. While this is bad, it's not quite the same problem. Not at this point in history.

Lots of really awkwardly and outrageously sexual things are funny. These tee shirts are not. They simply communicate an attitude that women are things that lack agency or independent sexual desire. They show women as breathing sack-of-meat masturbation devices, for men to enjoy and dispose of.

That's bad, and the people at Spencer's should feel bad.

But I am not trying to censor them. On the contrary, I want as many people as possible to see these shirts and form their own opinion about just what kind of person chooses to design, sell, and wear stuff like this.

Form your very own democratic, free market, free speaking opinion about what these shirts are telling you about what Spencer's thinks their target market likes. A target market of young men who could be strangers or could be among your family, neighbours or friends. Or who could be dating your family or friends. 

And on this day, which here in Canada is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, decide how you want to feel about that.

For more information on rape culture, visit FORCE.

Tip via Buzzfeed


  1. With all this blogging and facebooking, what do you actually do at your job?

  2. On censorship and misogyny, quite topical:

    If I want to send you a picture, how would I best do that?

    1. DM me on Twitter @CreativeTweets, and I'll send you my contacts.

  3. Yeah, it's dumb, but what's dumber is people like you and buzzfeed and a bunch of others giving this asshole free promo! You even link to his web store. How dumb is that?!? This is exactly what the ahole wanted.. to be talked about. As an ethical ad man, you should have ignored this story. Why is it that every time some mook does something stupid, people feel the need to talk about it? It's very predictable.

    1. I believe that people need to know what's out there so they can speak out against it. YMMV.

  4. I like what you are doing. I like that you are pointing shit like this out. Keep doing it. I love you.