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Symbiartic

The art of science and the science of art.

Yes, T-Shirt Messages Matter

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Yesterday, I came across a very interesting T-shirt design during my afternoon web surfing. The Children's Place apparently forgot about the great "I'm too pretty to do my homework, so my brother has to do it for me" T-shirt debacle of 2011, and they decided to produce a shirt that reads, "My best subjects" and has checked boxes next to shopping, music, and dancing, but a noticeably unchecked box next to math. Underneath that, it says cheekily, "Well, nobody's perfect."

Yeah.

Of course, the overwhelming response has been complete outrage that a children's clothing retailer could possibly have a lapse in judgment this severe. I was definitely angry about it, but more than anything, when I see something that so profoundly feels like a slap in the face, I want to talk to each and every person in the decision chain that led to the actual design and production of such a horrible shirt because I desperately want to understand the motivation behind such a thing. I want to know how supremely out of the loop they are about the current efforts to get more girls and women in science, technology, engineering, and math careers, how teams of people are working tirelessly to dispel the myth that girls are "just not good at math" and science and anything involving higher order thinking, apparently. I want to know if they have daughters and if they would honestly dress them in such a shirt, and what message they think it really sends.

On The Children's Place facebook wall, people posted openly about their disgust, but a few choice citizens defended the shirt and its message. They contend that it's just a shirt, that it's just a joke, and that messages on T-shirts do not affect people, and will not disempower girls who wear it.

I (obviously) disagree.

Images are powerful. The fact that this message is on a T-shirt doesn't make it less harmful; it makes it far, far worse. For crying out loud, people are putting this image on their daughters' bodies, literally wrapping them in a message about how they are destined by their gender to be a failure at something.

To make myself feel better, I found some T-shirts on Etsy that are the polar opposite.

 

THIS GIRL loves MATH T shirt by foultshirts

Girls pale yellow t-shirt with pi by MKKDesigns

I am Acute T-shirt by EllaKateBoutique

Ah, that's better.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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