There are a lot of bad isms in the world.
We’re witnessing a long overdue, global discussion on race, fueled by Black Lives Matter, and a blossoming awareness of injustice.
More people are recognizing and reacting to symbols of racism; the Confederate battle flag, the Swastika, mockery of things sacred to Indigenous people.
Mind boggling, then, that similar representations hurtful to women persist unchallenged, seemingly forever a part of our landscape, like rocks and clouds.
I know, I know. It’s not a contest. But surely a person of sensibilities is allowed to protest two things at the same time.
Overheard in the newsroom…
Accusation: “DeMeer, you can make anything about gender.”
Response: “Thank you, sir.”
Consider how an increasing number of people respond emotionally to the Southern Stars and Bars, an image many associate with white supremacy, and slavery.
Contrast that ‘kicked in the gut feeling’ with how images promoting rape culture, and the dehumanizing of women, are received.
A billboard on the highway of a partially clad, large-busted woman bending over a table to serve draft, an ad to promote a pub, possibly provokes a smile. Magazine covers, the ones prominently displayed in your local convenience store, frequently sexualize women and girls, or link sex and violence.
If you can bear it, take a look at the content of popular video games.
And then there are the things men wear.
Freedom of expression, to say nothing of fashion, is a cornerstone of what we hold dear. However, when the message on a T-shirt is so blatantly anti-women it approaches hate speech, at the very least, it is time for a quiet word with the offender.
Perhaps that person just needs to be educated.
Several years ago I took action against a collection of T-shirts, employing drastic measures. (Disclaimer: I am not condoning breaking the law. Do not try this at home.)
It was a few days before Christmas, and I was dragging myself through a Brantford, Ontario shopping mall, when I passed a T-shirt kiosk. You know the ones, little pop up booths in the centre of a concourse, displaying dozens of novelty shirts too racy for Walmart.
Many of the shirts on display were devoted to jokes about beer, farts and the Toronto Maple Leafs. (The latter understandable, surely.)
But at least half-a-dozen blatantly promoted hatred and violence against women. One had a picture of a target, and a request for people to shoot an ex-wife. Another featured a joke about how to sexually assault a date.
I circled the kiosk, removing every offending T-shirt, in every size, and then approached the young man at the till. No doubt, his mouth watered at the thought of that many sales, and the resulting right-before-Christmas commission.
“You want all these?” he asked breathlessly.
I explained the shirts were offensive, possibly illegal, and they should be removed from the racks.
Had they been hidden in the back corner of some low-lit head shop, I would have let it go. But these shirts were there for everyone to see, each one like a poster, and hanging in full sight of Laura Secord, Northern Reflections, and Santa’s workshop.
He expressed bewilderment, refused to take down the shirts, and would not call the kiosk owner.
What else could I do, except pick up the merchandise – it weighed at least 15 pounds – and abscond.
My heels clicked rapidly on the ceramic tiles. The clerk, while he didn’t yell “stop thief,” followed, begging me to come back, telling people around him I didn’t pay.
I bee-lined to the mall administration office, kicked open the door, as my hands were full, and dumped the whole mess on the counter. Then, politely, I asked to speak with the manager. Symbols reflecting racial intolerance are fairly easy to identify.
There’s also a world of pain, among the rocks and clouds, and we need to stop accepting that as part of the landscape.
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