Sears and Their Third Party Vendors Behaving Badly

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….

For reals, this is for sale at sears.com.

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

sales@99volts.com

Comments

  1. Every day I admire you more and more. I would have been hysterical (and not in a good way) if I had this conversation. Thank you for what you do!

  2. How about if 99 VOLTS starts getting sued because they are promoting rape etc? Think this is impossible? Consider this: Tobacco companies thought they were not liable for all of the health risks associated with cigarettes but look at all of the lawsuits being successfully filed now by people who became addicted to tobacco and eventually became very ill/died from cancer.
    I will cheer the downfall of companies who sell and promote such offensive messages. It is not funny or cute to promote such vile messages. Personally, I’d like to kick the balls of the person who created this product.

    • The problem is a tshirt can’t rape a person but cigarettes can cause cancer and and tobacco companies lied about knowing that making their culpability more obvious and apparent.
      I’m not defending the tshirt. I think it promotes a culture of rape, and I find the them infuriating. I’m just pointing out that it would be difficult to prove in court that the company or tshirt caused rape especially since we can barely convict the people who do the actual rape. I think we are stuck with the power of our voices and our wallets right now.

  3. Did you happen to ask if he knew where the “Well-behaved women” quote actually came from? Or mention that there are zillions of other places to buy a shirt that says that. That is to say, the only female-affirming shirt they have is a ripoff of someone else’s idea.

    **And since we are going “colorful” here, I wanted to mention that another of their pulled shirts was “I (heart) butt plugs”. Also in child sizes.**

    • We started to talk about that tee right as I had to get off of the phone to pick up Amelia from school.

      LOL – and I didn’t mention the butt plug shirt because now when people Google “butt plugs” my blog will come up!

    • I saw a bumper sticker with that quote recently.
      On a van belonging to “Dashingly Dainty–For the poshest on the playground.”

  4. “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.”

    There are so many men like this in this country. It’s why we have these t-shirts. It’s why VAWA might not get reauthorized. It’s why women are losing their rights. Misogyny is not ok for clothing manufacturers, for retail stores, for politicians–for ANYONE. It feels like a cancer right now, and it’s spreading like wildfire. Thanks for all of your hard work!!

    • Agree with you Lori…and it speaks to the need for a big picture POV to place public health over profit on ALL fronts…whether marketing/merchandising, or media messaging>> http://www.shapingyouth.org/?p=18139

      Melissa (and all of us crusading in these one by one slays of absurdity versus epic slaughter of the violent messaging (brutal adjectives intended) is starting to place me into a ‘charge for harm/whack ‘em in the pockets’ take down because clearly this is the language understood w/this element of ‘anything for a buck’ regardless of harm/damage. Grrrr….

  5. DONE Sears + 99 volts will be hearing from me. I shop at LL Bean online for my family…quality stuff..no sexist, racist, degrading crap to Wade through. :)

  6. By the way I love what you do and I love what you offer- *I WILL BUY FROM YOU*

  7. I would totally buy a “Misogynists are Assholes” shirt!!!

  8. Thanks for all the work you do for us as a society and for our children and future children. I’ll be e-mailing 99 Volts!

  9. When will vendors learn that they can’t get away with the ‘brush it under the rug’ tactic anymore. They need to take responsibility and do better by our kids.

  10. Thank you so much for doing what you do – working to make these people accountable for their actions. These shirts are absolutely appalling.

  11. I am a father of two young boys, and married to a wonderful woman who reads your blog all the time. Thus, every so often I see Facebook posts or comments from her about your blog. I’ll keep this short because I am many things but eloquent is not one of them. Mysoginy is never funny. Promoting, joking about, or being indifferent toward violence against women is never acceptable. I do not want my boys to grow up to think this is an acceptable way of thinking or acting. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I promise I will do my best to teach my boys the same things I believe. I know I’m not the only man who thinks this way, but I’m appalled that there aren’t more who are willing to speak out against this.

  12. Kudos to you for your patience and persistence!

  13. Great post. Especially in light of this story from the Toronto Star last week: http://bit.ly/wPClRC. I wonder where the men in this survey get the idea that a woman’s mode of dress puts her at risk of rape, or that it’s okay to hit a woman if she *makes* a man angry? One’s upbringing certainly has a lot to do with the latter, but a culture that finds VAW funny is aiding, abetting, and perpetuating these attitudes.

  14. Nicole Mandel says:

    Hi Pigtail Pals. Great idea on the tee-shirt. I just created exactly the shirt you recommended on CafePress (Misogynists are A——s.) If anyone should buy on I will donate ALL money to the womens shelter or education group of YOUR choice. Thanks for fighting the good fight! Best, mom of a little boy and 4month girl (in utero!) Nicole Mandel

  15. Wonky Factory says:

    If pepper spray is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

  16. In regard to your free speech comment…you are absolutely right: free speech has limitations which come in to play when it promotes or causes someone to do harm to others.

    Read about the “Harm Principle” and “Offense Priniciple” which basically state that one oversteps the boundaries of free speech when it promotes or causes harm to others…physically, emotionally, or socially.

    As a father of two little girls and a baby boy, I (and my wife) have my work cut out to ensure that my little ones have the proper filters to recognize the rampant hate disguised (and not so disguised) in its many, many, many forms today.

    (which I think is due, in no small part, to the digital age, but that’s another topic…)

    Keep up the good work, stay vigilant.

  17. “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.”
    Oh, well… In that case it’s totally okay.

  18. Its so sad that you people are worried about freaking t-shirts when our world is collapsing around us and doesn’t seem to care. I remember when I was in high school I heard kids say “Don’t make me kick you in the fallopian tubes”. Its from something I believe but I remember it became kind of a popular joke; the joke being that who would make such an obscure reference like fallopian tubes. Sounds like the main argument here is that “if you wear these shirts you are condoning violence to women blah blah” is a bunch of bs. Sounds like “modern humor” is something that just goes over all your heads. I do NOT agree with kid sizes in these shirts because I do agree with the one point you made about how some people should not be reproducing lol but I find nothing wrong with these shirts for adults. Honestly it sounds like your reaching here with some of this and can’t believe you wrote such a long article about NOTHING basically. You want to start pointing fingers? Point them at our beloved gray box that sits in our living room called the TV that has desensitized us all from day one. 99 Volts sounds like they are two guys trying to live and support themselves instead of trying to get people to kick each other in the genitals my lord!

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