Just yesterday, retailer Forever 21 began offering for sale a shirt for girls emblazoned with the slogan "Allergic to Algebra." And a few weeks ago, JC Penney offered similar girls' shirts with the slogan "I'm too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me."
Sexist slogans like these play into and perpetuate the offensive stereotypes that women are innately bad at math or that being pretty is more important than being smart. By selling these shirts, the stores give their implicit support of these efforts to convince girls that, to be stylish and fit in, they must be bad at math or less interested than boys in academic achievement.
After backlash from outraged customers, the both shirts were pulled from the shelves and online stores.1 But how did the sexist shirts get there in the first place? Clearly, something is totally broken within the corporate culture of these retailers. There is no effective review process for the clothing sold at JC Penney and Forever 21 if offensive clothing like this that demeans young girls makes it to their shelves.
These retailers are clearly sensitive to public pressure, as evidenced by how quickly they pulled the shirts after a public backlash arose. But that's not good enough. We must pressure JC Penney and Forever 21 to make the changes necessary at corporate headquarters to ensure sexist shirts like these never even come close to making it to the shelves.
Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people at JC Penney and Forever 21 encountered these shirts before they were made available to the public. Why didn't employees of these retailers at some point say, "Hey, are we really going to sell shirts to young girls that say 'I'm too pretty for homework' or 'Allergic to Algebra'?"
It's obvious that these shirts perpetuate offensive and harmful stereotypes about the ability of women to achieve academically relative to men. Of course, many studies have confirmed that these stereotypes are baseless, and that women's minds are just as well suited to performing academically as men's.
But, because popular culture is so powerful, many women and girls will conform to negative stereotypes of what a woman is supposed to achieve if they are continually reinforced. Stores like JC Penney and Forever 21 help shape that culture through the clothing they sell.
It's clear that these stores listen to public pressure, but we must pressure JC Penney and Forever 21 to take concrete steps to ensure that clothing this sexist never even comes close to making it onto shelves again.
Thank you for standing up to sexism.
Ali Rozell, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets
1. "J.C. Penney Shirt Teaches Girls That Being Smart & Pretty Are Mutually Exclusive," Ellie Krupnick, Huffington Post, 08-03-2011.
"Forever 21′s 'Allergic to Algebra' Shirt Draws Criticism," Christina Ng, ABC News, 09-12-2011.