Last week I mentioned, in passing, how angry I was about some t-shirts I saw in the window of a local branch of a cheap menswear chain. I’ve been angry about it all week – ever since I saw them in the window of the shop. They were all world cup themed, having several for different football teams all with one thing in common. Nearly naked women. Some sitting astride footballs. Some with footballs covering their breasts. Some with nation flags as little thongs.
It should tell you something when I have to warn you that those links may be NSFW. Yes, images which are potentially not safe for work – because they are sexual in nature and could get you fired (for A – having sexually inappropriate pictures on your work computer and B – sexual harassment) are not only available for sale but are proudly displayed in the windows of stores and are also available in children’s sizes.
I did a double take when I first saw them. I couldn’t quite believe that here we are, 2014, and somehow it is perfectly OK to sell t-shirts with practically naked sexually objectified women on them? Not just men’s t-shirts, but children’s t-shirts?? And sure, there may be a woman wearing one on the splash page of the shop in question’s website, but just because a woman is wearing it doesn’t render the shirt not sexually objectifying due to some some weird gender waveform cancelling effect.
I became more shocked and disheartened when I started to discuss these shirts with others to find that some didn’t think there was anything wrong with having practically naked women on a t-shirt. Woah now people. WOAH NOW.
There’s nothing wrong with having a nearly naked woman on a t-shirt.
How did we get here? At what point did we become a society that is so immune to sexually explicit imagery, so saturated with images of the sexualised female form, that we (men and women alike) are able to look at those t-shirts and say “where’s the harm?”
I was born at the end of the 70s – when feminism had been a truly powerful force in the previous decade and wrought powerful changes. I grew up in the 80s, where women started to reap the benefits of that success and as the 90s dawned feminism almost started to seem obsolete. I came of age in the 90s, where women sang in rock bands and wore big shit kicking boots and Kathleen Hanna sang “Rebel Girl” and we started to feel powerful and strong – there was still a fight to have but we were going to bring it…
Then what happened in the 00s I cannot say. Was a big red “reset” button pushed somewhere on the control desk of “women’s liberation”? It’s like the progress stalled, rolled to a slow stop and then started sliding backwards to the point where sexual objectification is so every day, so normal, so accepted that we see nothing wrong with selling naked objectified women on the front of a t-shirt to a child.
As Laci Green in her excellent video says:
This is some bullshit. Everyone should be PISSED that this is so normal.
Before we go further, please go back a little and watch Laci Green’s video. The whole thing. Right to the end.
She says everything in that video I could possibly say about these t-shirts. They exemplify a society which sees women as decoration. As things to be looked at, admired for certain ‘qualities’. And we are bombarded with these ideas on a daily basis. What does this do to us? And I don’t mean “us” as in women, I am talking about all of us – men and women alike – growing up and developing in a world which tells us men are people and women are bodies – a collection of parts. And not only are women a collection of parts, but in order to be acceptable as a women, those parts must be the right size, the right shape, smooth and hairless and flaw free. Even the well meaning “real women have curves” is horribly misguided. I have thin friends. They are still definitely ‘real’. I have trans friends who are also very much ‘real’.
I have struggled with my own body image my whole life. I was a short chubby child with early developing boobs, and have remained a chubby voluptuous short adult. I long to put on some clothes, any clothes, and just go out and not give a shit. It is definitely easier the older I get, but I still care desperately. I care what people think of me. When my eye allergy flares up I “can’t go out” because “I can’t go out without makeup”. I have meltdowns when I am feeling “fat”. I can’t go outside wearing shorts without leggings because I am acutely aware of my big thighs and my stretch marks and my cellulite. Mr RDP was driven to distraction on a holiday we took to a very hot climate; he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t walk around in just a bikini top, or without leggings.
He hasn’t been subjected in the same way I have from a young age of being constantly told, subliminally and overtly, in a million tiny insidious ways and a hundred massive blatant ways, that the most important thing about me is my body, my clothes, the way I look and my hair. What I say, what I want to be or become, what I think? All of that is secondary, tertiary, inconsequential even to the way I look.
And the kicker? I KNOW that this is social conditioning. And yet I still feel like this, nearly every minute of every day of my life. The conditioning is so strong, the message so powerful, that even though I KNOW it is wrong, even though I KNOW I am labouring under a false consciousness bourne of a myriad of harmful external messages, I still cannot escape it.
These t-shirts are a kick in the face to every person who believes that men and women are equal beings deserving of equal respect. Anyone that wears one needs to take a long hard look at themselves. And possibly a kick up the arse. And to be forcibly made to watch Laci Green’s video.
This headline in the Daily Mail sums everything up for me.
Someone at the Mail clearly realised at some point that this was perhaps not a wise headline – maybe after the above link had been retweeted 1.5K times – and it has since been changed but the new headline is barely an improvement. Amal Alamuddin is an intelligent human rights lawyer, very respected in her field with one hell of a CV – but the most important thing about her, according to the media, is that she’s pretty, wears nice clothes and is going to marry George Clooney. What sort of message does this send to young women? Is it any wonder, given these sorts of messages, that being a “reality TV star” or “marrying a footballer” are seen as viable career choices for young girls?
It’s the same message as those T-shirts – that women are objects, parts, bodies wearing clothes. That women are for looking at, first and foremost. Everything else is background data.
This is some bullshit. Everyone should be pissed that this is so normal.