As a parent and a business owner, I believe that when my name, whether it be my family name or my business name, is attached to something that is found offensive it is my responsibility to do two things: try to correct or amend the offense, and issue a sincere apology. It is simply the right thing to do.
I’m not sure why consumers give large businesses a free pass on that, but we seem to, time after time. I’m told they are just trying to make money. I’m told I don’t have to buy it. “Free speech” and “open market” are things I hear quite a bit, but I have yet to accept that. Specifically when these instances of “free speech” are actually instances of objectifying females or outright misogyny.
As Ryan S. said on our facebook page, “Free speech ends when it promotes violence against others. That’s where the line is drawn.”
Take, for instance, Sears (also owns Lands’ End) – our 126 year old American cornerstone, selling child-sized t-shirts on their online marketplace that read:
“Nice Girls Don’t Use Pepper Spray”
“Don’t Make Me Kick You In The Fallopian Tubes”
“Don’t Make Me Kick You in the Birth Canal”
I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in, because the condoning of rape culture and misogynistic violence against women and girls directed at their genitals sounds like we’re describing a third world country. We are, in fact, talking about Sears and their third party vendor, 99 VOLTS. These shirts have since been pulled from Sears’ online marketplace. They are still for sale at 99 VOLTS. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.
These shirts are offensive in adult sizes, but in children’s sizes it is outright appalling. Nice girls, bad girls, any girls have the right to protect their bodies from rape. Men and boys do not have the privilege to rape, specifically by shaming a girl into “taking it” at the risk of losing her patronizing “nice girl” status. The “Don’t Make Me Kick You” shirts, with the act of aggression specifically aimed at the female reproductive parts is hateful to the point of being misogynistic. We have a lot of that going around these days, but to have it offered in a Youth Small is just too much. What does it say about our society when we openly teach our children to hate, for the bargain price of $15.99?
When this story broke, it somehow flew under my radar. Then I started getting emails from parents asking if I’d heard that Sears was selling a baby t-shirt that read “Hung Like Daddy”. This shirt that sexualizes little boys has also been pulled by Sears, but if you search “Hung Like Daddy” on sears.com you will find a cache of tongue-in-cheek horse cock Halloween costumes. You know, because Sears is all sorts of classy.
From the Zimbio post linked above, it is reported: “A Sears spokesperson responded to an AdAge query about these offensive T-Shirts with the following: Thank you for bringing this to our attention. While products like this may appear on Sears.com marketplace through a third party seller, Sears does not sell them. We are removing these products from the site.”
Well now hold on a minute, Sears. You are, in fact, the seller. The items were not carried in your store, but I see the Sears logo at the top of the web page, and the BBC accreditation with your contact info at the bottom. I can even earn “Shop Your Way Points” from your store when I shop your woman-hating way.You process my payment. Your third party vendor holds the inventory and does the order fulfillment, but you are indeed the seller. See, just like this, when I go to sears.com to buy the “JC Penney Banned T-Shirt I’m Too Pretty To Do Homework So My Brother Does it For Me”, it looks just like this….
I’m not sure if you got the memo, but that didn’t go well for JC Penney. And when JC Penney got busted for it on their online marketplace, they issued a rather acceptable apology. They didn’t pass the buck.
Your Public Relations department wasn’t polite enough to return my phone messages, despite the recording I heard from a woman who sounded like Phyllis Diller telling me you’d return my call within the hour. I sent two emails to the person your fully-automated Public Relations line told me to, but those went unanswered. For posterity’s sake I just sent off a third email, here’s what I asked:
I received a reply email from the Division VP of Public Relations this morning. Why am I left feeling like I am the one who has to police Sears’ website for them, and they’ll only stop selling garbage if they get caught. And why does it feel like I have to apologize when I’m offended? “Sorry you were offended” isn’t the same thing as saying “We deeply apologize our website was offensive to you, violence against women is offensive to us as a brand and as individuals.”
Sears has asked their third party vendor to remove the shirts, and I have confirmed this with that vendor. But this vendor DID NOT lose their approval to sell. When you pile up all of the items mentioned in the post, seems like Sears is doing a pretty crappy job of “policing their marketplace”. What I’d like to hear from Sears, much like we did from Amazon after they finally got the apology correct for selling a how-to-groom-and-rape guide for pedophiles, and much like we did from JC Penney after T-shirt Gate 2011, is a sincere apology. (Hint: Don’t take notes from Chap Stick) Something about Sears respects all of it’s customers, does not condone violence against women and children, and that they are reviewing the vetting process for their third party vendors because maintaining a family brand is important to the people who work for our all-American staple, Sears. They feel very badly this shirts caused distress to their customers and the general public, and moving forward will take appropriate steps to ensure a safe and responsible shopping experience.
Because, call me crazy, I think it would rather be a smart investment on the part of Sears, if they are going to go the third party route, to pay some out-of-work college kids living at home with their parents $9/hour to go through their massive online marketplace to make sure their brand isn’t tied to sexualizing, pedophilic, racist garbage like this:
Not to mention, that image looks like something from an Eastern European human traffiking website. Really, Sears? And contrary to Tom’s message, I can earn “Shop Your Way Points” on this and the Homework tee. I won’t be shopping Sears way anytime soon. Or, ever.
If you’d like to contact Sears about any of this troubling information, you can call the Sears National Customer Service Line at 1-800-549-4505to file a complaint. When I did, the woman I spoke with was completely aghast and thanked me for calling in. So be polite to whomever to speak with, because they are people too, and let them know why you want Sears to take some corporate responsibility over it’s marketplace. You could also take a crack at emailing Tom Aiello, asking for an apology that leans a tish more towards accepting some responsibility for the Marketplace they have created, with the Sears name at the top and bottom of every page. Tom’s email address is in the message above.
I might also encourage you to contact the small businesses in your area, or favorite online business, like Pigtail Pals, who operate with integrity and offer respectable apparel for your family. Tell the folks who are doing it right why you appreciate them. We work really hard at what we do, we don’t sell out to make a quick buck, and we put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into building our brands.
You might ask why I’m not doing a change.org petition. Because what happens is that generates a TON of media buzz for the ill-behaved retailer when news channels cherry pick the story off of my blog, and the story becomes an “Oh how could they!?” morning bit with a psychologist inserted for credibility, instead of a story on the company that is doing it right. I’m just tired of it all. Focus on who’s got it right, and parents would know there are much better, more responsible small businesses out there working really hard to bring great products to their families. When people know better, they can do better.
So…..who ARE these third party vendors? Most of them are small businesses, just like Pigtail Pals. The company selling the pepper spray and birth canal tees is 99 VOLTS, located in Florida. I had a long conversation with their manager on Tuesday. It was interesting, to say the least. He did confirm for me that Sears emailed him and instructed him to remove the offensive tees described above, which he did. We then had a very interesting conversation.
**I’m going to apologize ahead of time for the language about to follow, but I think it is really important that you understand where this is all coming from.**
My phone call yesterday with 99 VOLTS manager Emery was, ahem, colorful. He was very polite and took about 30 minutes to answer every single one of my questions. I really appreciated that.
I begin the convo by saying I want to talk to the guy responsible for the “Don’t Make Me Kick You In The Birth Canal” tee. I hear a chuckle on the other end of the phone. I say rather directly the reason for my call is that I don’t find the violence against women’s genitalia to be funny. Funny Haha or funny ironic. The guy clears his throat and asks how he can help me.
Emery, the manager at 99 VOLTS, confirms for me they are a third party vendor on the Sears marketplace and upload items in bulk. I ask of there are Terms and Conditions or a Code of Conduct for such an agreement, and he says they are. I question if those tees fall within those stipulations, he says he guesses not because Sears emailed him to remove those items. I ask why they were produced in children’s sizes to begin with, and I get an answer about last time Emery checked, kids cannot buy online unless they are 18 years old, so if a parent buys one of those tees for a kid, they must think it is okay. I then delicately remind Emery that a lot of people who probably shouldn’t procreate, and that what role does 99 VOLTS play in supplying those families with misogynistic and potentially dangerous and desensitizing apparel. Emery says it is a free market, and they appeal to all different kinds of people. Indeed. By the by, 99 VOLTS also sells high brow tees like “Got Farts” and “Jesus is Coming….Hide the Sex Toys”.
So I tell Emery that I understand they have a niche, which seems to be the bar/beach/biker/rock band/frat boy niche. I tell him that I get they want to be edgy and sarcastic and irreverent. I’m fine with all of that. But I ask if violence against women and rape is funny to him. Because it isn’t funny to me, and to most of society. Emery says that 99 VOLTS prides themselves on being sassy. He says someone at 99 VOLTS came up with the t-shirt slogans, they thought it was funny and would sell so they turned it into a t-shirt. I ask Emery how many women are on his design team. He says it is just him and another guy, so zero. I should have asked Emery if he’d ever been raped, and if he giggled his way through it since it is so freaking hysterical to him. I didn’t do that, I played nice.
Next I ask Emery if they have plans for a “Don’t Make Me Kick You In the Dick” tee. No he says, that would be offensive. I ask why, and he says they can’t use vulgar words like dick, cock, or pussy. He says they could say anatomical words like penis or testes, but Sears would consider “dick” to be profane. Gasp! I ask him isn’t that just playing semantics, he doesn’t really answer that one. So I ask him if they are developing a “Don’t Make Me Kick You In the Testes” tee….and wouldn’t you know it, they are. He explains they couldn’t sell a shirt that says “Eat Shit”, but they apparently thought they could get away with the one about pepper spray that normalizes rape. I think we need to scrub up on our morals, 99 VOLTS.
Emery then tells me the “Don’t Make Me Kick You In the Birth Canal” and “Don’t Make Me Kick You In the Fallopian Tubes” is really a spin off the idea that when guys are whiny and annoying they get called pussies. So the tee is supposed to be like a warning telling guys to not act effeminate or they’ll get kicked in the pussies they don’t have. But they can’t put the word pussy on a shirt and sell it at Sears, so they went with birth canal. Clever. I tell Emery that all of that back story is kind of lost when you see the tee on it’s own, and maybe they should rethink the phrase. He then tells me that the most popular tee style they sell that in is baby doll tee. Know what that means? WOMEN are buying it. Good. God.
So we chat a little more about violence against women. This conversation is fascinating to me because for three years I’ve railed against crap sold to kids, but never had the chance to talk to the person who developed it. They have all hidden, and I gotta say, I respect that 99 VOLTS stayed on the phone with me and talked. And even though Emery was certainly smart enough to get that I strongly disagreed with him, we had a really nice conversation. He seemed really open to talking about this. He tells me Sears didn’t have a problem or boot the shirts until people complained. He says Amazon doesn’t have a problem selling it. I remind him Amazon defended the selling of a book written for pedophiles on how to rape children, and maybe Amazon shouldn’t be our gold standard of online commerce.
Then he said some things that makes it so clear to me why stuff like this exists on the market — because people who think it up want to make money, and they don’t really care if they devalue females in order to do it, because they don’t even see it as devaluing females. They don’t seem to see any wrong in what they are doing. Emery said to me, “I do see your point about violence against women, but that is all kind of a gray area.” I tell him I’m going to need to him expand on that. He says that all through human history, it was acceptable to beat your woman or even kill her if she gets out of line. We (99 VOLTS) do not condone violence against women, or against anyone, but it wasn’t until recently with the feminist movement that it became unacceptable to beat a woman.
Through gritted teeth I tell Emery it has always been wrong to beat or kill a woman, feminists just made sure it was also illegal. He then tells me they offer some nice choices for the ladies, like “Well behaved women rarely make history”. Meh.
But here’s the thing – I ask Emery if he and the other development guy would be willing to have a couple more conversations with me about what they are creating. He says sure. He gives me the number for Chuck, the guy who owns the joint and tells me to call him on Monday. I’m going to do that.
Here’s what I’d like you to do — write to 99 VOLT and ask them to stop making these misogynistic and hateful tees. Emery is one half of the development team, and he seemed open to reason. He’s actually a pretty clever guy and cracked me up a couple of times on the phone. I have an inkling that if 99 VOLTS were enlightened to do better, they just might.
Or not. And then we can use that idea tossed out on the facebook page and see if they’ll make the “Misogynists are Assholes” tee.99 VOLTS PO BOX 272 Oneco FL 34264