Thursday, November 03, 2011

I'm Too Pretty To Do Homework

More news of young girls and fashion ... This one falls more into the category of inane, unlike the situation involving The Learning Channel which was nothing short of reprehensible. JC Penney has been taken to task for marketing a t-shirt that reads, "I'm too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me."

To make matters worse, the description of the shirt on the JC Penney website reads, "Who has time for homework when there’s a new Justin Bieber album out? She’ll love this tee that’s just as cute and sassy as she is."

My daughter is cute and sassy. We're not going out of our way to encourage the sassy part. It's coming along quite nicely on its own, thank you very much.  And we don't plan to tell her she's too pretty for homework.

Years ago, Mattel found itself in hot water after introducing "Teen Talk Barbie" who, among other canned phrases, would pout, "Math is tough!" I don't know how long she lasted, but Mattel had the good sense to delete one of the 270 sentences Barbie would randomly mutter and to apologize for offending the masses. (To be clear, Mattel apologized; Barbie did not).

Marketing is a fascinating field. I have pondered what goes through the minds of creatives sitting around a conference table trying to dream up the next Ferbie or Tickle Me Elmo, the next Trivial Pursuit or Twister. A while back I penned a post delving into those great minds that produced fake vomit, fart whistles, and alien test tube slime (all of which at least two of my children would flat out l-o-v-e).

Fashion is a world unto itself and teen fashion, well, I won't even go there. I gave up clothes shopping for nieces when they turned around nine and suddenly showed an aversion to Peter Pan collars and pinafores. I'd buy them jewelry or a t-shirt. They would thank me politely and, oddly enough, I would never see the item again. Can you say Goodwill? Even their mother began to strike out.

"You're clothes are cute," I remember my sister telling my oldest niece.

"I don't want to be cute," came the plaintive response. "I want to be cool."

I don't really do cool, lacking, as I have shared before, some genetic marker deemed fashionable. I strive for neat, and some days I pull it off nicely. With this wordy disclaimer, I still don't get some of what department stores throw the way of little kids. I get that increasingly younger kids are drawn to phrases that range from funny to mouthy, from edgy to lewd. But who buys these things? Presumably adults.  Parents, no less!

I took a few education courses at a local university. I was surprised at the level of angst and resentment many women felt about the opportunities they were discouraged from pursuing as elementary and high school students. They absolutely picked up a line of thought that said "Women can't do math" and "Women can't do science."

This was not my experience. Every math and science class I took in high school was taught by a woman; most were taught by nuns. Sister Helen O'Connel, Sister Evangeline Nestor, Sister Agnes Joseph Sun -- these women were smart, exacting, and every bit as formidable as their names. I came away from high school thinking that my only limitations were my own drive and initiative. Nobody told me I couldn't do math or science.

T-shirts shouldn't send this message either. And when they do, parents --drum roll, please -- shouldn't buy them. If anyone can do math, it's the accounting departments of huge retailers.

Boys' fashions are not immune to the trend. This piece on back to school t-shirts caught my eye as well. The author shares:

"I’m So Bored” spelled out the words, carefully crafted to look like the periodic table, on my son’s new t-shirt he received for his birthday. As a former chemistry teacher, I hated it —- excuse me, but a class where you have permission to light things on fire is not boring! —- but, of course, my son loved it. He giggled, “Yeah, mom, I hate school!”

For the record, he does not hate school. His teachers do an excellent job of keeping things fun and educational, yet here he was, playing into every lame stereotype. As I discovered when I went to return the t-shirt (mom’s veto privilege!), this shirt was hardly the worst example of boys t-shirts printed with obnoxious sayings. While a lot of attention has been paid to the slut-ification of little girls’ clothing, not much has been said about the dumbing down of boys' apparel.

“My brain hurts” reads one t-shirt with a picture of Bart Simpson and a math book. “Looking for trouble? You found it!” declares a shirt from Target. “If homework is work, then when do I get paid?” quips a boys t-shirt from Kohls. There's the ever popular “My favorite subjects are lunch and recess” shirt, and my personal least favorite reads “Let’s just skip school so I can start my rockstar training.” Yes, these shirts are funny, but I hate the message that t-shirts like these send to boys. School isn’t always a-laugh-a-minute, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s important that kids learn life skills, like reading and math, but equally as important that they learn they can deal with being bored sometimes and that hard things are worth doing, even if they aren’t super fun.

I agree with the writer on all but one point -- the t-shirts aren't funny; they're moronic. "My brain hurts"? Falls flat with me, anyway.

Around here we use apparel to send messages, too - "My Dad Rocks", "Daddy's Little Princess", "Michigan Wolverines".

"I'm So Bored"?  Been there, heard that, don't need the t-shirt.


Anonymous said...

Hi Kelly - I haven't had any blogging time for a while so I'm catching up! I hope you're a little less stressed than you were last week. 25% less is a good thing to aim for (if on the high side in stressful times).

I couldn't agree more with what you've written about these inane messages our culture gives children. Is it the case that when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s the messages were mostly unspoken and unwritten, whereas now they are spelled out in large print? The thing I hate more than almost anything else is stationery and accessories with the Playboy bunny on it. Most kids nowadays have no idea what it signifies, or why it horrifies me.

Yesterday I was careening around Aberdeen in a taxi trying to fill a prescription for my daughter (which the taxi driver helped me to do) and he and I talked about how sad it is that young people so often have no aim in life other than to be famous, that there's no real pride in work nowadays. And yet now that the economy is in freefall, young people are finding out that they may not find work even if they have excelled at university. How do we go forwards from here?

Sorry to go on! All the best to you.

Kelly said...

Pride in work is important, even pride in simple work.

Lack of vision and hopelessness are tough obstacles to overcome. I grew up with the idea that hard work would usually lead to success. A friend of mine returned from a trip to a country with 40-60% unemployment. Hard to inspire the young (or the old) when the outlook is so bleak!

Were the Playboy images on items for young people? Ick!