Decency and T-Shirts
A week or so ago when my wife, Muri saw my post, Don’t Blame Barbie, pop up on her laptop screen, I heard her say, Buddy Reed, what are you posting today? Being Buddy Reed is not usually a good thing. That post featured and admittedly revealing photo of aSports Illustrated Swimsuit Model, which was the first thing Muri saw. She wasn’t offended as much as surprised … and wondering where I’d pushed my blogging envelope. This is a preemptive warning … this post features revealing graphics from a line of T-shirt sold by Pac-Sun clothing stores. So forewarned, let’s plunge onward.
If you’ve been following the news, you already know where I’m headed. This week, a mother, Judy Cox, in Orem, Utah was wandering through the mall with her 18 year old son, and came upon a display in a Pac-Sun store window of Visual by Van Styles T-shirts featuring graphics of scantily clad women like the ones on the right. Just in case you don’t know, Orem is a largely Mormon town 45 miles south of Salt Lake that bills itself as Family City USA and, as such, has a decency law prohibiting anyone from putting explicit sexual material on public display. When the Pac-Sun store management refused to remove the shirts without consulting the Corporation, Cox went to to the mall management. When the management said it would take about a week for the mall to rule on the display, she went back and bought the entire stock of the T-shirts at a cost of $567, saying, These shirts clearly cross a boundary that is continually being pushed on our children in images on the Internet, television and when our families shop in the mall. She later said she plans to return the shirts later under the store’s 60 day return policy. Pac-Sun issued a statement saying, PacSun is proud to be a retailer that supports a unique collective of brands, all of which deliver on the California lifestyle through their individual personalities. Our brands take inspiration from a variety of influences including music, art, fashion and action sports. The result is a creative and diverse expression both in product and marketing. While customer feedback is important to us, we remain committed to the selection of brands and apparel available in our stores. Corporate blah-blah-blah for we’re doing nothing. According to the Post-Standard of Syracuse, Cox has contacted two national organizations, Women for Decency and One Million Moms, for help in stopping the spread of indecent material.
It is just the sort of story media loves, pitting someone with standards that are old-fashioned by prevailing media standards against a purveyor of popular culture. Of course, having a protagonist be from a church controversial for its stand on gay marriage just makes the story meatier, so naturally, the story has gone national. A few news sources, like the Utah Daily Herald were supportive of Cox, saying, Cox’s willingness to speak out has brought extensive national attention to her plight, not only causing her story to be picked up by countless local news outlets, but also sending it to such national outlets as Newsday and the Today Show. But surprisingly most national news outlets were more neutral, simply reporting the facts of the story. Mommyish.com’s Eve Vawter said, I don’t think seeing store windows filled with images like these do anything for the self-confidence of young girls and teaching their potential suitors not to objectify them. She also offered my favorite comment on the shirts: We’ve had this discussion on Mommyish before about T-shirts that are sexist or offensive to women, and I think we all collectively decided that we like men buying these sorts of shirts because it serves as a walking billboard as to what men to stay far away from(emphasis mine). Even in the Deseret News, the Salt Lake news owned by the LDS Church, comments ran the gamut: One person can indeed make a difference for the good. Bravo Judy Cox for standing for the right …. Now that this story has gone national, I wonder how many people have visited the PacSun website or a local PacSun store to see what they missed and maybe get their hands on what Mrs. Cox has now turned into a hot item … Utah mom seems to be making a mountain out of a molehill … A noble act but a waste of time in the long run. You can’t hide the immoral world from your kids unless you raise them on the moon. The real key is to teach your kids values.
So, what does this old guy think? In my ripe old years, I am first and foremost a libertarian. I think that within certain societal bounds, an adult should be able to wear anything he or she wants. It is unlikely that men will stop looking at risque pictures of women, whether Ms. Vawter thinks they objectify women or not, but like her, I can’t imagine a father wanting his daughter to date a man wearing one of Pac Sun’s T-shirts … or for that matter, one with naked angel-devil mudflaps on his truck. Personally, I believe that the sexualization of children at younger and younger ages is not healthy for our society, but what’s hanging in the store windows can’t influence kids unless parents let them buy the goods. These days, parents not only have trouble saying no to styles, they seem to adopt them themselves. So I can’t help but respect Judy Cox for taking a stand, but I’m inclined to think that in the long run, she gave Pac-Sun’s racy T-shirts exactly the kind of publicity they want. It seems to me that using the shirts as a teachable moment with her son, then quietly pursuing legal action under Orem’s decency law might have been more effective.
What do you think?