J.C. Penney promotes sexist lowered expectations

One of the things that has made the Internet such a viable place for news junkies is the rate at which stories appear, are dissected and then passed on. It’s a world that in one way, allows us to have all the information we would want, but in the other way, encourages a knee-jerk reaction in the worst way possible.

For example, last week J.C. Penney placed a description for a brand new girls’ shirt on their website and, within hours, the product was taken down, pulled from storerooms and probably sold to the third world. How did this happen? Well, we have to look at the blogosphere, primarily The Village Voice, Gawker and Jezebel.

The item, a gray sweatshirt with the words “I’m too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me,” received an immediate and vicious backlash from feminist blogs, cultural commentators and alternative news sources.

Writers blamed the shirt for encouraging sexism, calling The Simpsons Malibu Stacy to mind, and giving girls the wrong idea about gender roles. J.C. Penney certainly didn’t discourage this view by writing, “Who has time for homework when there’s a new Justin Bieber album out? She’ll love this tee that’s as cute and sassy as she is,” in the product description.

I have to applaud bloggers who pressured J.C. Penney to remove the shirt from distribution, and I really have to applaud Jen Doll of The Village Voice for questioning J.C. Penney spokespeople as to who was responsible, what will happen and how the company views girls and their parents as consumers. The problem is, the question they’re asking and the problems they’re finding just aren’t the right ones.

We’re looking at the shirt, part of a line of also sort of dumb, “sassy” shirts for girls age seven to 16, as some sort of assault on feminism. Writers are viewing it as a personal attack on their long-held beliefs. Really, this is another in a long line of products that push the subtle sexism of lowered expectations.

This is projection by corporation at its finest. J.C. Penney propagated the myth that women can get further in their lives, their work and their existence by being pretty. It’d be like a woman our age buying a shirt saying, “Hire me for my breasts,” or “I’m a sex object that would be a great member of your corporation.” It’s ludicrous. This is without even looking into the creepy brother-working-for-you-because-of-your-good-looks subtext.

In a thoroughly modern world where women are becoming increasingly visible in positions of power and authority, is this the message that any corporation should be making a viable option for females, much less children? More importantly, is the new Justin Bieber album that important to fledgling psyches? Apparently we have a lot to worry about.