In December 2010, Ms. Blogger Caroline Heldman reported on a galling T-shirt sold by Tilly’s, the popular surf and skate clothing chain. The LRG-brand T-shirt, as Heldman explained, 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.”
LRG promotes itself as “a company designed to overthrow the masses by our influence.” Its slogan describes the company as ”underground inventive, overground effective.” Yet the fact is, there’s nothing underground about denigrating women and silencing their voices. That’s about as mainstream as it gets. If the stakes weren’t so serious, I’d respond to LRG’s corporate “vision” with a simple one-word reply: YAWN!
As Heldman points out, the “enjoy the silence T-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 … 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.
Students at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) saw this shirt at their local Tilly’s store and decided to hold the company accountable. An online petition sponsored by Care2 and the Ms. Blog soon followed:
We are writing to express our objection to the sale of shirts that degrade and dehumanize women and people of color, and one that implies violence against women. Many of us are college students, all of us are community members, and we are all consumers, some of whom frequent Tilly’s.
We hope Tilly’s would not want to promote violence against women. While this design may have been intended as a joke, it sends a message that is closely tied to abuse toward women and the silencing effect it has. This image caught our eye because it is inconsistent with the rest of LRG’s T-shirt designs.
We are asking that this shirt and others that openly degrade women and people of color be removed from all affiliated stores and websites immediately to prevent perpetuating this message of violence any further. Also, we would like LRG to reconsider designs of this nature in the future. We also strongly suggest that you donate the money you have already made from these offensive shirts to an organization that addresses issues of domestic violence. Please keep in mind that your target demographic is strongly influenced by brands such as Tilly’s and LRG. We know how important your customers are to you and we hope that you take this matter seriously.
Today, the Ms. Blog is pleased to report victory. Jennifer Flores from the Tilly’s Corporate Office responded to the CSULB/Ms.-generated public concern with the following:
I just wanted to inform you that we have received feedback from customers, and have taken action to have this shirt removed from all our locations as well as our website. … Thank you for taking the time to follow-up on this. We have taken action regarding this shirt due to feedback we have received from our customers.
The takeaway? Our voices matter! We made a difference.
Although this victory may be partial since other questionable T-shirts remain in the LRG line-up, the fact is that successful cultural pushback is often incremental. It takes time and energy and information. We need to care to make a difference.
We thank all those who participated in this campaign, especially the astute students who first noticed the problem and stepped up to the challenge of culture jamming. Our appreciation also goes to Tilly’s for pulling this shirt from their Website.
Next on the to-do list: Let’s take care of this offensive DGK T-Shirt on Tilly’s website! The DGK (Dirty Ghetto Kids) brand T-shirt features a half-lidded cockroach with an afro, a pick and bling. Need we even mention that conflating a black person with a cockroach and the labels “dirty” and “ghetto” is openly degrading?