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Sassy or Degrading?

Would you dress your baby daughter in a onesie that says “Pretty Like Mommy?”

Last week in Moms Talk, asked “What traditions do you and your family look forward to each year?” Here’s what the rest of the Moms Council had to say:

Maybe you could sit down with your husband and ask him what were the traditions that he remembers that meant the most to him and then pick the ones that meant the most to you and start from there. As your daughter grows up she can tell you, and she will, what she wants to do at Christmas time.

Some of my childhood family traditions were having a big party on Christmas Eve at which we were allowed to open one gift; and we kids opening our stockings on Christmas morning before Mom and Dad were up, then making breakfast for them. After breakfast the whole family opened gifts together. Now that we kids have kids of our own, we still enjoy these traditions. With my husband and our daughters, we've also created some new traditions, such as driving up into the mountains and cutting down a Christmas tree while everyone else is shopping on Black Friday. Another fun thing that has almost become a tradition for us is going to the beach on New Year's Day. I just realized that both of these activities are reflections of our home here in Los Gatos. How lucky we are to be so close to the mountains and the beach, and to be able to incorporate them into our traditions.

Looking back on my answer, I just realized I forgot to mention that cherished family tradition of dressing my children in sexist clothing! Lucky for me, I have lots of choices, as long as those darned women's libbers stay out of it!

But seriously, I am continually surprised that clothing retailers like Forever 21 and JCPenney put slogans like “Allergic to Algebra” and “I’m too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me” on girls’ T-shirts. What do they think we want our daughters to believe and embrace about themselves?

Even toddler-targeted Gymboree has recently committed a similar offense, offering onesies for baby boys that say “Smart Like Daddy;” while the corresponding girls’ onesie says “Pretty Like Mommy.”

Gymboree’s girly onesie actually provides some insight into their marketing strategy: of course they are really targeting us grown-up women, appealing to our own vanity. We grown women are the ones who are doing the buying, after all—hopefully our babies haven’t yet been issued credit cards. And adult women in our culture have been indoctrinated by the media to believe that “a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality.” (From the website for the 2011 Sundance documentary “Miss Representation.”)

In a letter to Gymboree, MomsRising.org, an advocacy group dedicated to family-friendly policies and equity for women, wrote: “Mainstream media bombards children and adults with overwhelming messages that women should be beautiful, while men should be smart and powerful. These messages limit children's ideas of what is possible in the world and can have damaging effects on their self-esteem, their choice of school courses (for example, advanced math and science), and their career possibilities.”

JCPenney’s online catalogue called the “too pretty to do homework” shirt “cute and sassy,” but quickly pulled the tee from its lineup and apologized after customers complained. Just a couple of weeks later, Forever 21 unveiled its math-bashing top and faced a similar fate. Then, in November, Gymboree followed suit.

Not everyone is up in arms about the girls’ tops. Some people think they’re kind of cute, while others basically think protestors need to get a life. On the other side, some people are so irritated that they swear they’ll never shop at these stores again. I’m somewhere in the middle. I won’t buy those shirts, and I will sign a letter suggesting the retailers make better decisions. However, I’ll still probably use my Gymbucks … but only if I find something cute and inoffensive, like plaid, or maybe owls.

What do you think? Is this stuff cute and sassy, or is it degrading and offensive?

Nikki Davidson December 08, 2011 at 05:39 AM
You are right on here Dyan! The marketing ploys that tap into women's vanity are really sad, if women are buying, and their clueless kids are wearing them. Being a teacher of 5th grade kids, I am constantly struck by the ridiculous t-shirts kids wear to school about they'd rather be at home playing video games than learning.....The constant barrage of egocentric and "dumb me down please" slogans are supposed to be funny.....but, unfortunately, miss the mark terribly in my opinion. Furthermore, to what expense are they subconsciously brainwashing our kids? You have to be so aware in a culture of mindlessness as a parent these days and talk to your kids about what these messages do to one's psyche over time (obviously in kid friendly terms).....Moreover, I feel that sexy has become a benign term for kids these days. I mean for creeps sake it's in every pop song imaginable.....How do we spin the conversations with our kids around these seemingly unavoidable and potentially damaging messages?
Dyan Chan December 08, 2011 at 05:56 AM
Thank you Kim, Sheila, Chigiy, Deep, Steve and Nikki for your comments! So many good points ... wow, a 17-year-old designing cancer-fighting techniques? Sheila, I don't have boys, and I'm probably too literal, but I would have been bugged about the sexual connotation of the t-shirt your hubby bought for your son. See, you thought about "stud" in an "awesome" sort of way, but I went in another direction ... Steve, you are so a 70s child -- did anyone say anything that wasn't about sex or drugs? Nikki, I agree we need to be more mindful about the messages we are sending our kids. We've all heard that if you tell a child he is mean, he will become mean ... And yes, "sexy" is so overused and inappropriate (don't get me started on pop music)--see my November Moms Talk about what we let our kids watch, read and listen to--I'm really irked when my six-year-old asks me to explain what "sexy" is!
Amie Sue December 08, 2011 at 04:42 PM
I think the t-shirt is funny. This is ALL much ado about nothing. If you don't like it, don't buy it. Geez. I love really stupid, sarcastic stuff though. "Smart Like Mommy" wouldn't be funny. I'll stick with "I'm With Stupid" with the arrow pointing left, and try to walk to the right of people who are wearing T-shirts whose statements I disagree with.
Dyan Chan December 08, 2011 at 06:50 PM
Hi Amie Sue, Thank you for the dissenting opinion! We do need to choose our battles. And I'll try to avoid walking on your left side.
Melissa Pugh December 09, 2011 at 05:33 AM
Dyan, you are funny and so RIGHT! There is something to be said about being politically correct and something to be said about being socially correct, or dare I say ignorant. Have to admit that there is a place for trashy people in this world. Look at Toddlers in Tiaras! I do believe that parents can do as they choose, but that doest mean I won't judge under my breath (quietly). Also, there is NO way I am going to buy a shirt for my sweet (and cool) niece that says "too pretty to do homework". SHE would be offended. Remember waaaay back when when we wore t-shirts with LOVE ironed-on the front? Bring back the iron-ons. Thanks for your article. A great read.

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