Creative Destruction

December 23, 2006

Throwing Rocks at Boys, and Pushing Girls through Windows

Filed under: Feminist Issues — Daran @ 3:20 am

The latest flare up in the gender wars concerns a pair of T-shirts, which, so their respective critics complain, justify and encourage violence against males and against females. In addition, those on the Men’s Rights Activist Side have criticised feminists for failing to condemn the anti-boy shirt, while feminists in turn are questioning the motives of MRAs.

Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them!

Wikipedia (which also has a picture) summarises the controversy:

Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them! is a slogan on a popular T-shirt by Florida company David and Goliath. The slogan is printed next to a cartoon image of a boy running away from five stones flying in his direction.

In 2004, radio-host and men’s rights activist Glenn Sacks started a campaign against the misandrous T-shirts, which raised national attention and led to the removal of the shirts from several thousand retail outlets.

[...]

LA-based radio host and men’s rights activist Glenn Sacks initiated a campaign against the T-shirts in 2004. He claims that they are part of a general societal mood that stigmatizes and victimizes boys. The company says that their shirts are meant only to be humorous.

The campaign against the line received support from several men’s rights groups, such as the National Coalition of Free Men, but also from groups with broader agendas, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center. Many critics of the T-shirts pointed out that similar slogans directed against girls or ethnic groups would be widely regarded as unacceptable. The Canadian Children’s Rights Council has termed the slogan hate speech. The campaign has led to the removal of the shirts by several retailers, including Bon-Macy’s, and Claire’s. Campaign organizers claim that they have been removed from more than 3000 retail outlets.

Some, including the National Organization for Women, generally discount the issue as unimportant and depict Sacks as hypocritical, as they claim he publicizes anti-women views in his radio broadcast. Others, like San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jane Ganahl have ridiculed Sacks’ efforts, arguing that the T-shirts are perceived as harmless fun by children and that sexism against women is a far more widespread and substantial problem in U.S. society.

Glenn Sacks has responded that this criticism is dismissive of the feelings of boys, that the idea that boys should laugh at the joke at their expense creates a double bind for boys.

Citations omitted. Note that the claim that NOW “generally discounts the issue as unimportant and depict Sacks as hypocritical…” is unsourced in Wikipedia. Certainly the quote “No, I don’t think the shirts are cute… But I spend every day on life-and-death issues and don’t have time for T-shirt campaigns.” attributed to Helen Grieco, executive direct of NOW, California chapter appears to be dismissive, but it is not clear that her remarks within the full context of her interview would have sounded so dismissive, nor as Ampersand point out, is it clear that Grieco was speaking on behalf of NOW. Nevertheless, in the light of the “Problem Solved” controversy her “I … don’t have time for T-shirt campaigns” remark may prove to be a petard on which her critics will ensure she is well and truly hoist.

Problem Solved

Pandagon has a picture which Abyss2hope describes (Update: Alas is down at the moment, but Marcella’s updated post can be found here.) Italics are quoted from Kennebec Journal:

The T-shirt depicts two panels of stick figures, with a male figure pushing a female figure out of a box.

In the first frame the girl stick figure is jumping up in excitement while the boy stick figure appears to be frowning at her with his hands at his waist. Underneath that frame is the word Problem.

In the second frame the boy figure is smirking and has one arm fully extended toward where the girl was, but now there is now only empty space beside him. The far wall of the second frame has been shattered sending bits of the frame wall out. Two lines show the path of the girl’s descent and she is shown falling head first. Underneath the second frame is the word Solved.

Her crash landing is left to the imagination. Which makes sense since what happens to her isn’t relevant to this boy’s problem and his solution.

This attitude T-shirt is unintentionally educational.

In only 2 frames it captures the dynamics of a common and sometimes deadly form of interpersonal violence that happens in the real world. It perfectly illustrates the imbalance between the stimulus and the response. She annoys him and he shoves her through a wall. He’s left with a feeling of satisfied power and that’s all that matters.

To me it looks like the girl in the first frame is jumping up and down in anger, rather than exitement, and screaming at him. In the second, I see her pushed through a window, (though a wall is possible, this being cartoon land), from at least the 2nd (UK) or 3rd (US) floor of the building.

Marcella goes on to say:

…many people don’t understand why the dynamic captured in this T-shirt is offensive. They think nobody should make a fuss about this because it’s a cartoon. Those who do make a fuss must be missing a funny bone.

This isn’t satire or humor. It is reality in stick-figure form. And it makes some people smile or laugh.

That’s the real problem.

I agree with her entirely. The irony is that this is exactly what MRAs have been saying about the “Throw rocks at them” T-shirt.

Comparing the two

In the comments, curiousgyrl thinks it a joke to even suggest that they be considered together (Update: curiousgyrl disagrees with my interpretation of her comment.):

But Marcella! Why didnt you mentinon the t-shirts about throwing rocks at boys?

Just kidding.

Marcella Replies:

curiousgyrl, I’m glad you brought up that other T-shirt design. Here’s why I don’t have the same reaction to that T-shirt:

That message doesn’t elevate a current trend in criminal behavior into good clean fun. As far as I know there have been no recent cases of girls stoning boys to death. If that T-shirt had said: Homeless Men Are Stupid, Throw Rocks At Them, it would elevate a current trend in criminal behavior in the same troubling way as this Problem Solved T-shirt does.

Marcella is mistakenI do not agree with Marcella’s assessment. I’m not aware of any “trend”1 in boys pushing girls through walls or closed windows. Though I dare say it happens, I see very few windows or walls with girl-shaped holes in them, at least in my neighbourhood. Of course, Marcella is not suggesting this. Rather she construes the cartoon more broadly as endorsing, not just pushing girls through walls, but male on female domestic violence in general.

By contrast her construction of the “throw stones at them” cartoon is actually narrower than what the cartoon depicts. Marcella assumes that it is girls throwing the stones, but there is nothing in the cartoon to indicate this. Only the boy is identified by sex. We are told that they are stupid and that we should throw rocks at them. Giving the same broad interpretation to this cartoon as Marcella does to “Problem solved”, would mean viewing it as endorsing, not just throwing stones at boys, but violence against males in general. And there most certainly is a current “trend” in such violence, as a quick comparison of the figures for violent victimisation (including murder) of men and of women will show.

A further irony is that the revised version of the cartoon (Problem, Solved, Justice) also depicts a “trend”: the overwhelmingly one-sided application of the death penalty to men.

1 If by “trend” she means that domestic violence against women is increasing, then I would like to see her cite this. Certainly domestic murders of women have fallen dramatically over the past few decades. For the purpose of this post I have interpreted “trend” to refer to the continuing prevalence of the problem.

Crossposted between Creative Destruction and DaRain Man

Edited to strike unnecessarily sharp characterisation of Marcella’s opinion, and to clarify the footnote.

13 Comments »

  1. As noted at Pandagon recently the stats show that murder of intimate partners has gone down for both sexes in recent years in all likeliehood because of the services made available through VAWA but men are still more likely to kill female intimates than females are likely to kill male intimates. The decline overall is good news and should be celebrated as such.

    It is not a trend in the sense that it is growing more popular but I think that kind of “To the moon, Alice” sentiment should be unacceptable and should not be mainstreamed.

    Comment by ellenbrenna — December 23, 2006 @ 2:25 pm | Reply

  2. Marcella assumes that it is girls throwing the stones, but there is nothing in the cartoon to indicate this.

    Frankly, it never occurred to me until I read this post that the cartoon would be interpreted as anything but girls throwing rocks at boys – and not only have I experience a lot of anti-boy violence in my life, I’ve literally been chased by a gang of boys throwing rocks at me.

    I think the difference is that you’re just looking at what’s literally in the cartoon, while Marcella and I were responding to the style and context of the cartoon as well.

    The style of the drawing (deliberately crude cartoony), the anti-boy theme, and its method of presentation (on a t-shirt) links the cartoon to a whole series of t-shirt cartoons. In the US today, anti-boy t-shirts like this are pretty common (although they don’t usually depict violence). The common theme of all these shirts could be nutshelled as “sassy girls getting the better of stupid boys”; they virtually all depict girl aggression towards boys, not boy aggression towards boys.

    Comment by Ampersand — December 24, 2006 @ 4:39 am | Reply

  3. I dont think its a joke to even suggest they be considered together. come on. Thats not what i said at all. I said i agreed with A2H’s and Amps’ comparison.

    the joke I intended was more along the lines of “how long until the boy shirt is mentioned in the comments.”

    Comment by curiousgyrl — December 25, 2006 @ 11:04 am | Reply

  4. So has Glenn Sacks condemned the “problem solved” T-shirt yet? And has Greico commented on it?

    Comment by Dianne — December 26, 2006 @ 3:54 pm | Reply

  5. If Grieco says anything about it other than “I haven’t got time for T-shirt campaigns”, she’s gonna get crucified.

    As for Glenn Sacks, it’s a opportunity for him, if he recognises it.

    Comment by Daran — December 26, 2006 @ 6:03 pm | Reply

  6. I dont think its a joke to even suggest they be considered together. come on. Thats not what i said at all. I said i agreed with A2H’s and Amps’ comparison.

    Alas is down right now, so I can’t see what you wrote in response. A2H and Amp didn’t seem to agree with each other, though, so I can’t see how you could have agreed with them both.

    the joke I intended was more along the lines of “how long until the boy shirt is mentioned in the comments.”

    It sounded to me like you were being dismissive of concern about the boy shirt.

    I’ve updated the post to point to your comment.

    Comment by Daran — December 26, 2006 @ 9:24 pm | Reply

  7. Amp agreed with A2H’s original point as I understood it, then A2H jumped in with a different argument that Amp argued convincingly against.

    Really wasnt thinking as if the boy shirt was a joke, but laughing at the inevitable trajectory of the thread.

    Comment by curiousgyrl — December 27, 2006 @ 12:35 pm | Reply

  8. A2H jumped in with a different argument

    Yeah, I noticed that. Although I disagreed with it for reasons set forth above, I preferred her first argument to her second.

    I’d respond, but Alas has been down for several hours now.

    Comment by Daran — December 27, 2006 @ 1:21 pm | Reply

  9. Sometimes it seems like the errors wait until I’m on vacation and have virtually no internet access. Solving the problem took me about 15 minutes, but for me to become aware of the problem and then have sufficient internet access to solve it took days.

    Anyhow, “Alas” is back up now.

    Comment by Ampersand — December 28, 2006 @ 10:22 pm | Reply

  10. You could make me an admin over there. I never go anywhere.

    Plus, Ginmar would have a stroke.

    Comment by Robert — December 28, 2006 @ 10:29 pm | Reply

  11. [...] isolated incident. Also, this is a man who depends on his notoriety to drive sales. Remember the “Boys Are Stupid” shirt controversy? Same [...]

    Pingback by Stop! Thief! « Creative Destruction — April 12, 2007 @ 11:21 pm | Reply

  12. No .. you read that right. Yesterday Arielle Smith, 19, was facing second degree murder charges in New Orleans Louisiana for putting five month old Andre Jenkins into a tumble dryer because he would not stop crying. …
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    I read this Andre Jenkins’ story on my phone, sent out a couple of messages, then just sat there in shock for a couple of minutes. I’m printing out this story for my wife and daughter now….

    Comment by PuertoGalera — January 14, 2009 @ 8:59 am | Reply

  13. Although the “Boys are stupid” T-shirt generated controversy, the fact that feminists have been dismissing it as unimportant just underlines the whole problem with gender inequality. I may be wrong according to statistics, but–at least in my day-to-day life–there is far more sexism against males than against females–albeit never serious. It seems that some feminists are unintentionaly(?) campaigning for female superiority.

    Still, I suppose it’s just the overflow after equality was achieved; the men’s rights movement is starting to push the misandry back. I like to think of gender issues as a see-saw. Right now, it’s slightly to far to the women’s side but just begining to loose momentum before it swings back the other way.

    Comment by PigHouse — April 2, 2009 @ 11:36 am | Reply


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