Not-so-ironic tee shirts and other reminders that I live in a bubble

I took a little vacation from blogging this weekend in order to hit the beach and get the most out of my last summer weekend. I headed north to New Hampshire with a couple friends to the infamous Hampton Beach, now recognized as the “Jersey Shore” of New England. I had never been there before, and wasn’t really sure what to expect. I enjoyed the beach and the sun just fine, but the boardwalk was another story.

The boardwalk is lined with beach shops selling “funny” t-shirts. I was so upset by what I saw that I chose to leave instead of sticking around to take photos. I regret that I don’t have any photos of what I saw, but after doing some Google searching, I found some shirts very similar to the ones that got me so upset. (I still haven’t found the truly bad ones… and I’m talking about ones with images, like someone playing beer pong off a woman’s ass…) Anyway, these should give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

HAHAHAHAHHAHA aren’t those FUNNY???

It was another one of those moments when I realized that I have been living in a bubble. When I see graphic tees, I’m usually seeing indie shirts from Threadless.com or cute/clever shirts from Snorgtees.com or ironic tees from thrift shops or Urban Outfitters. I am not usually bombarded by misogynistic t-shirts with slogans like “No means yes” very often. But in certain communities, I’m sure these sorts of shirts are common. What is even more upsetting, though, is that what these shirts represent – blatant, unabashed, unapologetic misogyny  is common too. So common that it’s plastered over the walls at beach shops filled with children.

It’s one thing to work towards fighting sexism in our own communities and to change the behavior of people “like us.” But what on earth do you do to fight the kind of open misogyny in communities that are foreign to you?

The other day on the bus I overheard a guy talking on his cell phone to a woman, presumably his girlfriend or wife. He was loudly yelling at her, calling her a “slut” and a “lazy bitch” and all other sorts of disgusting, sexist insults. I turned around and gave him the stink eye but was too afraid to do anything more than that. The next morning a guy got on the bus and was holding up the line because he forgot his T pass. I didn’t catch the beginning of the exchange, but sure noticed when he started yelling at an older woman seated next to him. “Mind your business, woman! You’re a woman, act like a woman and mind your business!” The man was clearly unstable and I desperately wanted to stand up and shout at him. But I didn’t, and no one did, and he continued to berate the older woman for about 5 excruciating minutes.

I guess the reason I connect these two examples to the t-shirts is that, for me, they both represent situations that reminded me that I live in a sheltered bubble where people are mostly liberal, mostly feminist, and mostly affluent. In my community, sexism is sly or subtle because everyone knows it’s wrong. These incidents reminded me that there are other communities where this is not the case, where sexism is blatant and out there for everyone to see. Those are the communities where feminism needs to reach. But what can I do when I don’t even speak the same (cultural) language? Who wants to listen to an outsider? And on the flip side, how dare an outsider tell someone who lives in a different world how to behave?

These incidents have made me hyper-aware of my own limitations as a white, educated, liberal, female, Jewish, feminist. Where is my place in this fight?

3 thoughts on “Not-so-ironic tee shirts and other reminders that I live in a bubble

  1. I just needed to share a spam comment here because it’s too ironic to keep to myself:

    “Boner Billy” writes:

    Sure like what I see. Great ideas and out of the box thinking. T-shirts are like songs. Just when you think t-shirts have peaked a great crazy over the top, fun t-shirt comes out. Keep them coming and remember Tee shirt growers, when a link out sites we bring more buyers to our sites and shoot us up the search engine mountain!

    To see why this is doubly ironic – check out Boner Billy’s “The Home of the Chubby” World Famous Hot Dogs, that sells this shirt for men, and this shirt for the “lady’s” [sic].

  2. relativism and self-doubt in such situations are traps.

    some relativism is good but too much leads to condoning human sacrifice.
    I probably would just ignore the guy on the phone because I could see myself give in to anger and my white heteronormative male privilege far too easily if I had interrelationship type problems however men harassing and yelling repeatedly at a woman the way you describe would make me go heroic knight to save the day.

    and I’d probably use heavy profanity and obscenity in the process.

    additionally trying to change such behavior outside of your community is not necessarily imperialism or ethnocentrism either, it’s letting the other people know “you are all one community,” and that’s an idea many share

  3. Actually, it comes down to perspective.

    There are far worse examples of sexism in the world than a few misogynist tee-shirts, or a few misandrist tees for that matter. Especially since I’m sure many girls actually like those shirts.

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