Another Day, Another Demeaning Girls' T-shirt (Thanks, Children’s Place)
Another day, another demeaning message on a girls' t-shirt. Don't worry about mathematics--you only need to know enough to be able to figure out the sale price on those fabulous boots!
The Children's Place, purveyor of reasonably-priced wardrobe fillers for young kids, sold, and then quickly pulled under consumer pressure, a t-shirt that reads, "My Best Subjects," with pink hearts and a checklist that includes shopping, music, and dancing all checked off, and math unchecked with the parenthetical, "Well, Nobody's Perfect."
Self-proclaimed defenders of societal humor say, "Lighten up, feminists! It is just a shirt!" (Of course, they are saying it on the Internet so there are grammar and spelling errors, expletives, and references to Nazis.)
I shop at Children's Place and my eldest girl LOVES pink and ruffles and fairy-princesses riding unicorns across rainbows...but she's also stellar at math and loves building and engineering things and exploring nature. That's why I shop at Children's Place: so I won't care when her $5 pink, ruffly, unicorn-riding fairy princess t-shirt gets paint, dirt, and grease on it.
Not that some girls can't like shopping or a good joke, this t-shirt stinks and I'm glad the Children's Place pulled it. The constant bombardment of messaging that girls are not interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, that to fit in socially, they have to focus on what really matters: make-up, clothes, and boys is exhausting. Who has time for research and lab work? There's a sale at the shoe store!
If a pro-shopping shirt were just one of many options, if there was not a sudden drop-off of interest in science and mathematics when girls hit middle school, if women had equal opportunities in technology fields and were treated as professionals once they achieved in those fields, then this would just be a t-shirt. Instead, it is part of narrowing the definition of womanhood to just a few acceptable areas of interest. According to their closets, boys can be scientists, engineers, paleontologists, firefighters, soldiers, doctors, or anything else that strikes their fancy that day...girls can be fairies, princesses, dancers, or, maybe, if they are super-smart nerds, veterinarians. Hopefully, my son is unlikely to become a pirate or a ninja. However, the consumer culture does not try to proscribe and limit his play and imagination the way it does with my daughter.
One t-shirt won't transform a smart girl into a brainless zombie. Sooner or later, though, the incessant consumer culture does seep through. It colors the way we dress, the way we talk, and eventually the way we think. I can take my daughter to every weekend science workshop in a 20 mile radius, buy her circuit board kits, and encourage her to enter science fairs but she is still going to be surrounded by the message that girls are defined by their love of clothes shopping.
As a parent, it is my responsibility to arm my daughter with the confidence that she can be a physicist, engineer, or mathematician, if she wants. Part of that responsibility is to use my voice and object to messages that subvert that confidence. Otherwise, my passive acceptance just affirms the message: a girl's worth is in her looks, not in her heart or her brains.