23 December, 2006

Throwing Rocks at Boys, and Pushing Girls through Windows

Posted in Abyss2hope, Alas a Blog, Antifeminist and MRA Issues, Crossposts, Feminist Issues, Marcella Chester at 7:15 am by Daran

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.

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15 Comments »

  1. Daran said,

    The following was intended originally to be part of the post, but I took it out because I felt it was a major digression which weakened the overall structure:

    Then Marcella initiates a rather surprising twist:

    That leaves the question of how we would illustrate a third box in this same style if the back of the T-shirt continued this story.

    If the boy stick figure ended up in the hangman’s noose with the caption Justice (printed hangman style), would those who find the original version funny still be laughing or calling this T-shirt cute?

    Would they think the revised T-shirt would be an appropriate Christmas present?

    That’s a good question which I can’t answer, because I don’t find the original funny or cute. Also interesting is what many of the commenter make of this, starting with A. J. Luxton:

    I don’t think it would be as snappy. But, now, if you captioned the second of the original two frames PROBLEM and your third frame SOLVED — that’s a punch line, and I think I’d buy it if I had the cash!

    Although it’s early days and there haven’t been many comments to the thread, it’s still striking that nobody has picked up on the fact that A. J. Luxton’s “solution” completely ignores the victim. Perhaps “what happens to her isn’t relevant to [Luxton’s] problem and… solution”.

    Elsewhere Auguste creates Marcella’s third panel:

    I’m against the death penalty, but then again, the makers of the t-shirt claim to be against domestic violence, too.

    Because the best way to respond to objectionable behaviour is to emulate it.

    Meanwhile back at Pandagon, Alon Levy thinks that the wrong person is doing the hanging:

    The justice picture looks like a guy hanging another guy. It doesn’t look like the girl’s getting her revenge.

    Kactus:

    August should have made one with the woman shooting the motherfucker. That would be short, sweet, and quite satisfying.

    Because there is nothing quite so satisfying as killing a man quickly.

    Ms Kate, who thinks the “throwing rocks” one is “dumb” (is that better or worse than “not cute”?) is a little more proportionate, given that the hypothesis is that the girl has survived:

    How about a third panel where the woman sics her rottie on the bastard’s leg?

  2. Tom Nolan said,

    Both sides on this debate seem to have forgotten the purpose of t-shirt messages.

    The idea is not to reflect or to promote a particular social analysis (“women are a pain, do away with them”, “boys are stupid, throw rocks at them”) but to allow expression to our otherwise silent anomie. Hence messages declaring that the wearer is “a drunk, not an alcoholic – alcoholics to go to meetings” or asking “do I look like a people person?” etc. It’s just defiance without conviction. One gets the impression that the people who wear these t-shirts generally do so only when they can put something else on top. When they make the purchase , they no doubt tell themselves that they are going to proclaim their egotistical resentments and prejudices to the world; but they generally think better of it. They don’t, after all, *really* want others to consider them as drunks or misanthropes.

  3. NYMOM said,

    “Hence messages declaring that the wearer is “a drunk, not an alcoholic – alcoholics to go to meetings” or asking “do I look like a people person?” etc. It’s just defiance without conviction.”

    This is a good point.

    Many people who wish specified t-shirts with a message are just being defiant…they are the equivalent of James Dean’s rebel w/o a cause…hopefully I’m not dating myself with that reference…

    Thus, nothing they say can be taken too seriously.

  4. Tom Nolan said,

    Hey, NYMOM, we agree about something.

    Give me a hug.

  5. NYMOM said,

    Group hug going out…

  6. Daran said,

    The idea is not to reflect or to promote a particular social analysis (”women are a pain, do away with them”, “boys are stupid, throw rocks at them”) but to allow expression to our otherwise silent anomie. Hence messages declaring that the wearer is “a drunk, not an alcoholic – alcoholics to go to meetings” or asking “do I look like a people person?” etc. It’s just defiance without conviction.

    These are not objectionable messages in the way that the instant T-shirts are. The fact that they are not intended to promote a social analysis should not render them immune from being analysed.

    One gets the impression that the people who wear these t-shirts generally do so only when they can put something else on top…

    That’s an interesting conjecture. I don’t see any way of proving it, short of conducting a survey (which I can’t imaging anyone would get the funding for).

    When they make the purchase , they no doubt tell themselves that they are going to proclaim their egotistical resentments and prejudices to the world; but they generally think better of it. They don’t, after all, *really* want others to consider them as drunks or misanthropes.

    Again, I don’t know whether these shirts are bought by the person they’re for, or as gift items, but if people “don’t … want others to consider them… misanthropes”, then that implies that they recognise that other people take these messages seriously.

  7. Tom Nolan said,

    Daran:These are not objectionable messages in the way that the instant T-shirts are.

    Proclaiming oneself to be an unregenerate drunk or a proud misanthrope is not in principle objectionable? Come on.

    That’s an interesting conjecture. I don’t see any way of proving it, short of conducting a survey (which I can’t imaging anyone would get the funding for).

    Yes, you’re of course right to point out that it’s only conjecture on my part. But I have had the experience myself of buying “gesture” clothing and then finding myself without the courage to wear it. I also notice that though a lot of these t-shirts get sold (there seems to be at least one shop specializing in their production in every town) I don’t, even in summer, see many people wearing them, whereas the usual varieties of t-shirt abound. But I think you may well be right to emphasize the “gift” element in all this, which I hadn’t considered.

    but if people “don’t … want others to consider them… misanthropes”, then that implies that they recognise that other people take these messages seriously.

    I think that the t-shirts are felt to lose a lot of their immunity from criticism the moment someone puts them – which is why, in point of fact, people seem to be reluctant to do so.

  8. NYMOM said,

    “I also notice that though a lot of these t-shirts get sold (there seems to be at least one shop specializing in their production in every town) I don’t, even in summer, see many people wearing them, whereas the usual varieties of t-shirt abound.”

    Yes many people buy them and then decide not to wear them except around the house.

    I actually had occasion this summer to call my daughter up very annoyed when she sent my 10 year old granddaughter over to my house wearing a t-shirt that said: “I Do Naughty Things.”

    She thought it was very funny until after she received my phone call.

    Then I never saw the shirt again.

    Another mother I know let her son buy a shirt at a flea market that said “Smartass White Boy”…then he got in trouble with his father when he got home.

    Frequently these are impulse purchases…that common sense will stop the buyer from wearing…hopefully.

  9. Katie said,

    I have always found the misandrist “throw rocks at them” t-shirt disgusting. Violence should ONLY be used against people who are trying to infringe upon your peaceful attempts to live your life in the world. All people, male or female, should not use violence to infringe upon other people’s peaceful attempts to live their lives in the world.

    It didn’t occur to me to try to take any form of citizen action over that misandrist rock-to-a-boy t-shirt I hated, much like it didn’t occur to me to try to take any form of citizen action over the misogynist girl-out-the-window t-shirt until someone else had the idea.

    Anyway, thanks for reminding me about that other t-shirt I’d hated. If I do end up taking any citizen action, I’ll be sure to write my letter trying to get them both discontinued.

  10. Katie said,

    Kactus:

    August should have made one with the woman shooting the motherfucker. That would be short, sweet, and quite satisfying.

    Fascinating…this is SO close to condoning the only kind of violence I find appropriate–violence that can prevent you from further harm when you’ve survived an initial attack.

    I can even forgive the use of the word “satisfying.” That word has a range of uses, and sometimes people do feel a strange sense of satisfaction at having done something while under the adrenaline rush of fear for themselves (or anger at having been violated/attacked) that if they’d just been calmly describing it they would have merely called “necessary.”

    So I could imagine that if Kactus had actually been in a scuffle to save herself, she might forevermore use the word “satisfying” where most people would imagine that they’d only end up saying, “Whew! That was close. That was necessary.”

    but…

    DaRainMan:

    Because there is nothing quite so satisfying as killing a man quickly.

    I also think you’re onto something in implying that she wasn’t at all condoning what I’m talking about. (And I think you are condemning this different attitude of hers that I’m picking up, too, rather than condemning what I support. If you were condemning feeling “satisfaction” after doing something that feels like self defense, you would have sarcastically said instead, “Because there is nothing quite so satisfying as killing a person [quickly?].”) I too got the impression that there was something a little…irrational…and…oh, I don’t know…over-the-top about her choice of “satisfying” and other words. I think it was putting it with “short & sweet.” If it’s just about self-protection, it shouldn’t matter to your level of satisfaction how “short & sweet” it is. Short fights always get you out of danger faster and give you less to fear during the fight, but in my experience from IMPACT, it’s just the final “I won! I’m safe!” that provides any feelings that some might experience as “satisfaction.”

    Anyway, this dialogue is a shame, because I fear for the credibility of women who do use words like “satisfying” when they end up talking about something that reminds them of a situation they’ve been in. I fear that people who simply have 1) a defensive attitude of violence + 2) a certain one among many natural human emotional reactions to the situation will be dismissed as misandrist. And that’s sad, because I feel like it will keep lots of women from learning how to use violence to protect themselves from further blows, feeling after seeing lots of social scorn that it’s not “normal” or “appropriate” for them to do so. 😦

    (This is something that lots of women have to have coached out of them in IMPACT. Yes, of course there’s a lot of coaching to make sure that no one takes it too far (that coaching is where I got my attitude about when violence is okay from!)…but still…it’s amazing how many more women than men in self-defense classes have to be coached to feel that it’s okay to hit and to feel a range of emotions after hitting works. I wish I could put my finger on what it is that they see & hear that makes them feel this way. But, I think I put my finger on one here, and though you were right & appropriate, I have a hunch, in perceiving this instance as inappropriate love, rather than acceptance, of violence (for any human!), I do hope that I’ve said something that will help us both make sure that any time we call someone out on such comments, we’re calling them out appropriately rather than inappropriately.)

  11. Daran said,

    I’m not condemning self-defence, but the seeming relish with which violence against men is greeted by some of the commenters.

  12. NYMOM said,

    “I’m not condemning self-defence, but the seeming relish with which violence against men is greeted by some of the commenters.”

    I think this Katie has a point however.

    Is it relish just because she’s shot a man or because she shot an attacker????

    I mean I’ve felt the same way watching an animal attack an ASPCA worker and even though I love animals I ‘relished’ it when the animal was shot finally…

    AND additionally she’s correct about the self defense classes…actually most self-defense classes for women that I’ve been to tell you not to pull any weapon on an attacker since most women won’t use it, so they wind up having it taken away and used on them…

    Most of the strategies involve a quick strike, like with mace if you have it or a key in their eyes or something and then escape while screaming to alert someone else as to what’s going on…

    I think you see relish where others might see justified satisfaction that a dangerous attacker was subdued…

  13. Katie said,

    I’m not condemning self-defence, but the seeming relish with which violence against men is greeted by some of the commenters.

    Oh, I know! But I was trying to let you know, having been exposed lately to the many ways people talk and feel after self-defense (especially immediately after it), that it’s definitely important to consider that there are many reasons that someone might seem to be “relishing” violence against bad people (which “motherfuckers” does tend to imply a little more than it implies “men,” but I’m still with you that even if she didn’t mean “men,” she might have been gleeful about violence against “people she doesn’t approve of” rather than “people who seem like they will hurt her”) and that if you don’t at least give the possibility that there are so many reasons–some of them overall constructive–that someone might seem to “relish” violence, you might cut down a person who had a fair reason for talking the way she did and scare off more people from ever putting themselves in a situation where they might “accidentally” feel/talk that way (and being scared of doing that is a dangerous thing to be–it can keep you from learning things that keep you safe and alive).

  14. Katie said,

    I think you see relish where others might see justified satisfaction that a dangerous attacker was subdued…

    Ah, there we go. Yeah. I think you were fine to comment as you did this time, but just be careful about always seeing relish in Person A’s comments, because Person B might have correctly seen justified satisfaction but might be convinced by your comment (if it’s clever enough) that it was “relish” (that is, something inappropriate), and that’s just one more straw on the camel’s back that can lead to an unhealthy attitude about going out on a limb to protect oneself. (The rest of the straws are out in the world on TV, in person between lovers, etc. Nothing you can do about those online!)

  15. Anonymous said,

    I see the “throw rocks” t-shirt as something condoning violence against men for the simple fact that the attacker thinks men in general are stupid. The “push girl out window” shirt, to me, says, “when women get all bitchy and annoying, they should be made to ‘gtfo’, so to speak”. I think that the latter shirt, though still unacceptably misogynistic, has a little more justification than the former, if only because, though the solution portrayed is exaggerated, the problem is definitely more real and aggravating than the percieved stupidity of males.


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