No Comment: Tilly’s Teaches Women How to Listen

Listen up, ladies.

Tilly’s, the popular surf and skate clothing chain, is “teaching women how to listen,” according to an LRG-brand t-shirt it’s selling. The front features a woman, nude from the shoulders up, with tape over her mouth, captioned “enjoy the silence,” and below in parentheses, “drawing of girl with tape on mouth.”

Offered in men’s sizes, this shirt sends an overt message that women are to be seen and not heard. It infantilizes women by implying they are like children, and by setting up men as “teachers” and women as “students” to be taught how to listen. That’s listen to men, of course. But there’s also a more subtle–and violent–message here: The way to teach a woman how to listen is to physically bind her lips.

This shirt joins millions of other images that promote violence against women through dehumanization–when members of a group are deprived of human qualities in order to portray them as inferior. In this case, the “girl” on the shirt is deprived of speech.

Dehumanization of a group is the first step in promoting violence against that group (e.g., Nazi dehumanization of Jewish people). And violence against women is a national epidemic. One in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and 1 in 6 will be sexually assaulted. Images that degrade women, like the one on this shirt, should trouble us as a society, but, instead, we have become increasingly desensitized to their content and consequences.

Thankfully, some students at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) saw this shirt at their local Tilly’s store and decided to hold the company accountable. Working with Professor Shira Tarrant (another Ms. blogger), they drafted a letter to Tilly’s and the shirt manufacturer, LRG, urging them to stop selling the shirts and to be more sensitive to concerns about violence against women in the future.

Consumer activism like this is an indispensable tool to fight the widespread dehumanization of women seen in television shows, movies, advertising and even on t-shirts. Corporations are interested in drawing attention to their products, so they break through the clutter of messages with increasingly shocking content, too often at the expense of girls and women. The only way to break this cycle is to threaten their bottom line through organized boycotts, a disinvestment campaign, culture jamming or damage to the corporate brand through public truth-telling.

The CSULB student campaign will hopefully get Tilly’s to think twice about peddling dehumanizing images to its teenage clientele. The company also sells other offensive clothing, including a series of “wifey” shirts with women in bikinis performing household chores. The message here is that the “good wife” is a stay-at-home sex object who does dishes and vacuums her husband’s bear rug.

And then there’s the Dirty Ghetto Kids (brand) t-shirt, featuring a half-lidded cockroach with an afro and a pick. Portraying a black person as a cockroach with the labels “dirty” and “ghetto” is openly degrading.

Tilly’s website has a “we care” link listing ways the company can get their brand into schools under the guise of supporting “various academic, art and athletic programs.” They need to care more about the images they are selling to their young consumers.

You can add your voice to the CSULB students’ campaign:

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  1. OMG – what century is this? How f*****g insulting to women and men.

  2. Thank goodness a petition was created, these shirts are terrible! Thank you for shaking things up 😉

  3. Sandie Reed says:

    I will tell everyone I can about these shirts, and recommend that they not shop at Tilly's. I know I will not be shopping there and take my money elsewhere.

  4. What the hell was that. From the thumbnail I even thought it could be some sort of badly executed campaign against domestic violence, but this, I don't even have words for that.

  5. anandaleeke says:

    Many thanks to the students for organizing the petition.

  6. The irony here, is the "No comment" in the title.

  7. Pam Redela says:

    Wow. I'm (almost) speechless. I knew the surf/skate industry was sexist, but this is a new low. Besides not spending our money at stores that carry this crap, how about publicly shaming anyone we see wearing it? I'm in!

  8. megan wangall says:

    The individual who sells these shirts is obviously ignorant to what is going on in the world. You may have a very different view if your sister or mother was beat up or raped. People like you are repulsive and need their mouths taped shut.

  9. Never heard of Tilly's – certainly won't be shopping there ever.

  10. Years ago, a boyfriend invited me out to lunch in a peace-offering gesture. The restaurant he chose was "The Quiet Woman" in Newport Beach. The sign out front was a woman with no head. I knew then where that relationship was headed (as it were).

  11. There's "free speech" and "hate speech"… these t-shirts represent the latter.

  12. Nothing much to say, except fuckin’ A-hole men !!

  13. Oh these are skeate shirts- I thought they were to raise funds for the Wheeling West Virginia Police Dept.-it is their motto-women seen and not heard or we will arrest-and its legal-"we'll call it obstruction and expose her body parts in public"

  14. Thanks to everyone who shared this on Facebook, if you haven't signed yet, please do so! We really appreciate it.

  15. what’s the status on the petition?

    has it been sent out to Tilly’s, and do we have a response?

  16. You are all being WAAAAAAAAY over sensitive about this unimportant issue.. The shirt is obviously meant to draw a reaction… mission succeeded. The actual message of this piece of art is not as clearly defined as you all seem to think it is, a tad abstract, and really did not directly carry the negative connotations until you put them there for yourself. Big ups to the Lifted Research Group for making people think again!!

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