Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Bonus Post. Of pure rage.

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

OMG, OMG, as the young people say. And: WTF, WTF. Which does not stand for World Trepanning Federation, but What The Fuck?

I just took one small break in my working day, and discovered, not something marvellous about the human spirit, or inspiring about the capacity for endurance, but that a company called JC Penny has produced a t-shirt for girls which says, on the front, in swirling, cutesy letters: I’m Too Pretty to do Homework.

I did not believe this at first, so I actually went to the website and looked it up. It is here, if you want to see the flabbergasting proof.

Did the Pankursts march in vain?

Can we rise up in outrage?

One of the things I think, particularly at this time of year, when the exam results come out and the scramble for university goes on, is how incredibly lucky I was to go to Oxford. I know some people like to sneer a bit about it, and say it’s not really all that, but it was all that to me. I loved it, and it gave me a gift worth more than emeralds. Twenty-six years later, I still think with fondness and delight of my favourite tutor, Mr Stuart, who taught me the fascinations of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.

I got there not because I was particularly brilliant, but because I was a swot. I worked my arse off. And that was thanks to Miss Holder, who, when I was eight to twelve, drummed into me the importance of the work ethic, week after week. It was thanks to Mr Woodhouse, who, when I was fifteen and sixteen, taught me how to frame a historical argument, and made us all write endless timed essays in class, so that our brains were trained like greyhounds. I got there because I damn well did do my homework, and it was one of the best things I ever did.

So, JC Penny, I don’t really know who you are, and I am sure you are a perfectly respectable company, but TAKE THAT BACK.

And that is the end of my allotted amount of outrage for the day. There will be a proper blog later, when I have talked myself down off the ceiling.


  1. You have expressed this outrage far better than I would have been capable of doing. That slogan riles me too but I would have been at a loss to put it into words without reading this. Thank you!


  2. The worst part is the second half-- "... So my brother has to do it for me." I am fizzing with rage. Also, the description-- "Who has time for homework when there's a new Justin Bieber album out?" Additionally, the style does not indicate that it is for the older end of the "7-16" range, but for the younger end, which implies that a parent would be purchasing this for a child, which defies belief.

    I see this a lot around here, depressingly, but never to this degree. There's a lot of "Princess" and "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful" stuff picked out in rhinestones on little girls' shirts, and they grow up and, I guess, get the "Bitch Goddess" bumper-stickers. There's one on a car in my neighborhood that says, in effect, "I am a woman and therefore cannot help myself in the face of shoe-shopping," though it is punchier and has a graphic of a high heel.


  3. PS JC Penney is an enormous mid-to-low-end department store, if "I don't really know who you are" indicates unfamiliarity (if you were aware, please pardon the explanation!). Every mall in the United States, no matter how run-down or near death, has a JC Penneys. So roughly 50 percent, low-balling, of children doing back-to-school shopping will be exposed to this.

  4. Jess - so glad am not alone in fury.

    Ellie - fascinating, fascinating comment. Oh it all makes me so cross. So agree about the brother bit. Did not in fact know about JC Penny; it is not a part of American life that really enters British consciousness. I know about Walmart and Barney's, at either end of the scale, and that's about it. So thank you for the information. Of course though it does make the whole thing worse, because of the ubiquitousness.

  5. I have been brooding upon department stores for a little and am curious now about a host of things. Do they exist at all in the UK? Is the school cycle set up so that there is a massive rush of "back to school" shopping, as here? The late-August trip to the stores is a ubiquitous middle-class childhood memory here. Department stores in general are for the middle class-- Penney's, Macy's, Nordstrom if you're doing well. Used to be Sears if you're not-- now it's all Wal-Mart and Target. Barney's and Saks are right out-- I've never even seen one. Where does the British middle class go for its soul-crushing shopping experience? Sorry, this really has no place in the comments, but I am so curious!

  6. Ellie - no, I love this kind of thing in the comments. We have Marks and Spencer, affectionately known as Mark and Sparks, which is a national institution, solidly bourgeois, very good for knickers. Branches everywhere. Then, for posh department stores: Harvey Nichols and Harrods in London. Debenhams is another middle-class staple, in all big cities, quite good, but not loved as M&S is. Then there is the shining jewel, John Lewis, set up as a workers' partnership, so all the employees get a share of the profits. In all big cities and deeply loved by the British middle class. They are so nice, and you can get everything,from pillows to shoes, and one feels they are a force for good in a corporate world. I adore it; I get all my white goods there and often send off for little parcels of entirely frivolous items as a treat. The arrival of the man from John Lewis is a cause of rejoicing in this household. And yes, there is the rush for going back to school things in September, although perhaps not quite as manic as you describe.

    Hurrah for cultural exchange!

  7. Unspeakably awful. I've done a bit of research and it looks like the offending garment may now be unavailable despite the photo being up. It's caused a storm of protest in the US judging by the Google search response. The link below offers a petition to the Chairman of JC Penny's to remove it. I've signed it, but what he really needs is a kick up the arse :)

    You may need to copy and paste it.

  8. Deb - you are brilliant. What tremendous readers I do have. :)

  9. Similar to those god awful ones knocking around a few years for every wannabe WAG 'The future Mrs Beckham'...

  10. I read an article a couple of years ago about 8-14 year old mentality and their view of the world/school/music ... whatever. Most of the girls interviewed said they wanted to be a 'celebrity' when they grew up ... so maybe they can wear these c**p tee shirts.

  11. Rachel - NO!!! Did not know about that. My heart sinks.

    Return of the Native - Oh, oh, now my heart sinks even more. But let's hope they see the error of their ways and become neurobiologists instead.

  12. Well, LOL, never underestimate the power of outraged women. I just clicked on "here" and the product is gone from the JCP website. Bet we're not the only outraged ones.

    PS How out of touch can one store get? And how damaging, its ignorance.

  13. Yes, JC Penney is a kind of low end tacky department store but the t shirt thing doesnt really surprise me - its all part of the dumbing down, bloody Kardashian- Lindsay Lohan- Britney Spears thing that, incredibly, young girls appear to aspire to..... Where is Miss Jean Brodie when we really need her???!

    More to be pitied than scorned - never to know the joy of learning for learnings sake and the beauty of the written word....

    But Well Said by you - what is it about this blog that there is always such a fantastic response by your Dear Readers - you obviously touch a chord.....

  14. I just re read my comment and cant believe that I used the word "aspire" in connection with the Kardashians-Britney Spears - Lindsay Lohan car crash lifestyle - I may never be taken seriously again....!!! In mitigation, it WAS in the heat of the moment!!!

  15. Railbird - that is absolutely riveting. I choose to believe they sensed the power of the Dear Readers and retreated in terror. Ha.

    Anon - yes, yes, we must have Miss J Brodie, only without the love of Mussolini of course. Posture, girls, posture. Do so agree about the Dear Readers; I never saw such a high calibre. I choose to think it is because of the high class of the Pigeon, who must attract a most elegant audience through her sheer loveliness. (You can tell I've had quite a long day.)

  16. I clicked across to sign the petition and saw that it's been successful - the company have agreed to stop selling this.

    Still, you have to wonder how this ever got through marketing departments and focus groups - did NOBODY at JC Penney wonder whether this might not be such a positive message? surely they have marketing departments, corporate lawyers etc?

    Sharing a mutual exasperated with you all.

  17. One truly sad point: where are all these tee shirts going to end up? JC Penneys isn't going to shred them. In the USA the low end dept stores send "overstocks" to Goodwill, to be sold for charity. Unfortunately this means that these tee shirts will probably end up gracing the bodies of young girls who already have little in terms of positive role models in their lives.

  18. It's indefensible, of course, but I suspect that JC Penney reflect the culture and society in which they exist. They wouldn't even think of marketing anything so utterly tasteless and anti-intellectual if there wasn't a market among the brainless for such trivia.
    It made me furious to read this - furious on behalf of girls, but also boys and parents and teachers. Especially teachers, who have a tough enough job as it is.
    But, sadly, some parents regard their offspring as trophies to flaunt for their beauty and charm - forgetting that every child has beauty and charm.

  19. Actually I was really thinking along the lines of "My girrls are the creme de la creme...."

    Much as we may sneer at JC Penney
    (who appear eminently sneerable/despicable and totally agree with Dominic's comment - has he also seen Little Miss Sunshine??) I seem to remember that a British chain store a few years back were (unbelievably) selling thongs for the 8 year olds - and were also met with such a barrage of outrage and forced to withdraw the product.... Plus ca change...

    The Pigeon is a force of nature indeed - as is your writing....

  20. Have been boring my two girls silly about their inheritance of womanhood....the right to vote, their freedom as girls in the UK in 2011...and the importance of delighting in their ability to think and exercise that function. Anyway, it falls on deaf ears with a few smirks in my direction and, "can we talk about something interesting now!". My eldest daughter has just put a video on YouTube, a song she wrote about missing her dad who died suddenly in October last year. Have been mulling over whether to send the link to you. Just incase it helps here it is - Molly Green fly. Sometimes they astound me with their wisdom despite their disinterest in the suffragettes.

  21. VERY glad to see that they no longer sell the offending item. Completely agree about the university thing - I worked hard to get there, and I worked hard while I was there, and I was homesick and I cried, but I loved it, and I have never regretting going.

    I was in the museum of modern art in Glasgow yesterday, and they had an exhibition on women's suffrage with the title 'Peace at last!' taken from an early 20thc postcard, which featured a cartoon of a shrewish looking woman with her tongue nailed to a kitchen table.

    It was a very thought-provoking exhibition. I -shamefully- don't know very much about the suffragettes and suffragists, beyond the basics, but now I am going to read up. (Not that my reading list isn't long enough anyway, but I am always happy to discover new books to read!)

  22. Rosie - yes, yes, what about those marketing people and the meetings?

    Vivian - such a good point.

    Dominic - so agree about the teachers.

    Anon - how kind you are. And creme de la creme is brilliant.

    Rachel - oh, how incredibly generous you are to share that link. Am going to look at it the moment I finish this. It's too poor a phrase, but I am so sorry for you and your girls' loss. Bloody, bloody marvellous that after all that you can still tell them all about the women's vote. Hurrah for you all.

    Rebecca - sounds fascinating. But do so know about the long reading lists. The Cat and Mouse Act was the thing that always shocked me most when I was young. I think it might have been the one single thing that made me start describing myself as a feminist.

  23. i was never fortunate enough to attend university (a laughable idea for our class) but as a child in a tough inner city school i well remember our headmaster talking to our class every week and telling us that to gain knowledge and pleasure - no matter what we did in life - just to read, read, read anything we could get our hands on.... I still believe that that is one of, if not THE best, pieces of advice I have ever received and 40 years later I still think of him with such gratitude and respect - books have been such a harbour - and I feel pity for anyone who doesnt feel that....

  24. I was thinking about the ridiculousness of this again last night (it must've got under my skin) and it brought back to me a comment made frequently to me at University. I was studying joint honours English Literature with Women's Studies and when people heard about the Women's Studies would often say to me: "But you're too pretty to be a feminist?"


  25. I join you in rage, and also in delight that is has been taken down. What an offensive tee-shirt!

    Also, loved you comment above about John Lewis. I *love* John Lewis. It it were a man, rather than a company, I would marry it. Happy sigh.


  26. Tania - great post and wonderful thread. Your readers are gems. Proud to say I'm from NZ - the first country in the world to give women the vote; privileged to have attended university and worked my ass off for two post graduate degrees; and honoured to have two very clever young daughters, who still think doing homework daily with me is cool.

  27. You managed to express your anger in a controlled way, me, I would still be ranting and raving now............I WORRY about stuff like this, it ACTUALLY keeps me awake at night, I HATE all of this image crap, and you covered the points of suffragettes so well, they must be turning their graves to see their brave efforts downgraded in an attempt to soothe our feverish consumer image by crap marketing companies.

  28. Anon - I LOVE that headmaster. And he was so right. Someone should put Read Read Read on a t-shirt.

    Rachel - oh, yes, as if to be a feminist you must have a beard and wear baggy dungarees and hate all men because they don't find you attractive. This is when I start shouting about intellectual idleness. And things being so REDUCTIVE. Sorry.

    Claire - If you do marry John Lewis, may I come to the wedding?

    Michelle - love the picture of you and your girls doing homework. (Whilst gazing at picture of Pigeon on the fridge?)

    Karen - love that I sound controlled; felt very ranty. But we must rant, because of the madness.

    Brilliant, brilliant comments. What wonderful readers you all are. Haven't had such a response to a post for months.

  29. All I could do on first reading your post was splutter wildly. So glad to see they have had grace enough to remove the ghastly garment from sale. Couldn't agree more about teachers - Mrs Mowatt really was Jean Brodie without the love of Mussolini, I think of her to this day, and hope she wouldn't be too disappointed that I've forgotten almost all the Latin, but can still recite great chunks of the translations of our set books.

  30. By the time I saw a photo of this T-shirt (my 25-year-old niece-in-law had snapped & posted it with an equally outraged comment), it had, supposedly, been removed from the shelves og J C Penneys. (I agree it will probably end up dumped in local thrift stores or overseas in some "developing" country just as so many American rejects before it!)
    And I can't help but think Penneys could never pay as much for all the publicity this has created. As negative as it is (to me and we here), since they didn't KILL or seriously physically injure anyone (melamine in Chinese toothpaste? Tampering with Tylenol?), this is a sort of reverse advertising coup.
    Sorry. I'm in a way too conspiratorial state of mind this morning!
    In the meantime I can happily report that my daughter, whose shoe obsession could give Imelda Marcos a run for her ill-gotten gains, said niece-in-law (two years from getting her doctorate already in psychology/ sociology, thesis: the images of women in video games) and most of the young women I know, ALL think stuff like this is total "shit" and are quite verbal about it.
    It gives me hope.

  31. I'm glad you voiced this opinion!

    I gave you one of my Goddess Awards for such a well written piece. Come by anytime to collect it if you like.

  32. I couldn't believe it either when I heard about it! I do think they have since removed the shirt from their website.

  33. I followed you JCP link and saw this:

    "We are sorry, but this product is not available at this time."

    Maybe they read your blog?

  34. p.s. I've got two tweenage daughters. Would love for them to "get" the concept of your book. I haven't read it yet but plan to. Want to see if this book would appeal to them. I read Susan Brownmiller's Femininity in my 20's - great book - but my girls wouldn't like it, too grown up.

  35. A company called pigtails put out a t-shirt to counter the JCP T-shirt and it says "Pretty has nothing to do with it". It is a clothing line that is "redefining girly". Their website is I am raising three daughters. :) I thank you (all) for your outrage.


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