Feminist activist Shelby Knox, whose efforts to get comprehensive sex education programs in Texas schools was the subject of the 2005 documentary The Education of Shelby Knox, has taken up a new cause. She has launched a Facebook group urging consumers to “girlcott” Urban Outfitters as long as the store continues to sell T-shirts with slogans that Knox considers anti-woman. Here’s her manifesto – or should I say manifesta?
Urban Outfitters has hit a new sexist low and it’s time for women (and our male and gender non-conforming allies) to hit them where it hurts – the cash register.
First there was the men’s t-shirt admonishing ‘rathers, it’s up to you to protect your daughter’s virginity!’ – – a creepy throwback to a time where men owned their female relatives and a woman’s entire worth was between her legs.
Now, there’s a women’s t-shirt promoting the virtue ‘Eat Less‘ – also known as anorexia and eating disorders.
Women and men deserve clothing that doesn’t degrade their humanity. We’re calling on Urban Outfitters to pull these items and issue a commitment to produce clothing that upholds the value of all people without regard to gender, race, or sexual orientation.
I spoke with Knox this morning and asked her why she’s singling out Urban Outfitters. After all, there’s no shortage of places that sell similar shirts. “Those T-shirts [the two linked above] came up on my radar in one week,” she says. “Also, Urban Outfitters is owned by Richard Haynes – he has ties to Rick Santorum and the Proposition 8 stuff. He hits on all cylinders for racism, sexism, and homophobia, and we need to wipe all those things out together.”
Now that Knox is encouraging consumers to vote with their wallets and their Facebook accounts, what does she hope will happen? “We would like a response from Urban, for them to pull the clothing and admit it’s sexist,” she says, adding that she would also like them to sell more positive products in the future. “I think a lot of people don’t see T-shirts and analyze what they say about men and women. I want to raise awareness that what you buy – and what you don’t buy – matters and can make social change.” However, she acknowledges that stores are not completely to blame. After all, stores wouldn’t continue to stock items if no one was buying them. “I am really encouraged that the purity [shirt] got marked down to $4.99,” said Knox. “College students and young people sometimes think we’re post-sexist or post-feminist, so it’s OK to make jokes. But we still make 77 cents on the dollar [to what men earn] and have 17 percent representation in Congress. Sexism is still valid, so if you wear it on a shirt you are still promoting it, and I want people to think about that.”
As for her own efforts, Knox has sent emails to the email address on Urban’s site and has called their customer service number, without much success. “I have yet to sniff out [Haynes'] personal contact information,” she says. Perhaps there will be power in numbers?
Will you join Knox’s Facebook group? Do you think the best way to be heard is to vote with your wallet? Let us know what you think in the comments.