Thursday, October 19, 2006


“Appalled.” “Outraged.” “Depressed.” “Demoralized.” I can’t even begin to think of all the words I need to describe how I felt when I read Bob Herbert’s op-ed piece in Monday’s New York Times. Bob Herbert annoys me. I almost always agree with him philosophically, but he’s one of those writers I attribute with having ruined solid, tell-it-like-it-is journalism. I want my novels to give me stories that take me to different worlds, beautifully painting pictures and setting scenes for me. I want my newspapers to tell me what’s going on in this world, and I want their opinion pieces to tell me how the writer feels about it. Therefore, if my favorite restaurant is closing, I want an article that begins, “After nearly fifty years in business, Emily’s favorite restaurant is closing.” An op-ed piece might add what a shame it is that these businesses that have been around so long can no longer afford the exorbitant rents the landlords are extracting from their tenants. I absolutely don’t want an article that begins, “The signature pink and green doors, bearing marks of nearly fifty years of swinging open and closed, had not yet been unlocked for what would be a memorable and poignant night for the hordes of people lined up in front of them, ready to savor Chef Don’s offerings one last time.”

However, Mr. Herbert’s article in Monday’s paper about our culture’s misogyny was enough to make me want to call him up and apologize for all my previous dismissive attitudes. I was reminded how we’re so quick to point fingers at other cultures, other countries, without taking note of what’s happening in our own backyards. He so eloquently also reminded me of all the reasons I can’t stand to hear women say, “I believe in equal rights and all, but I’m not a feminist.” I always want to respond with, “You can’t possibly believe in equal rights and not be a feminist.” I mean, what do these women believe in then? Oh, just that women should be paid what men are, but that shouldn’t be an issue, since women should be at home, not taking jobs away from men? Or maybe it’s that, sure, women should hold positions at institutes of higher learning, but not in the tough fields of science and math, since their brains obviously weren’t made to understand such complicated matters? Perhaps these “non-feminists” mean women should have an equal say in who gets elected, so they definitely should have the vote, but they definitely shouldn’t be the ones holding office.

What truly, truly infuriated me the most, though, was the quote that opened the piece. Not that I ever shop there, but I’m going to tell everyone I know to boycott Abercrombie and Fitch (and any company associated with them). Did you know they’re selling t-shirts for young women that say, “Who needs a brain when you have these?”

So, here we are, sitting atop our stars and stripes, all high and mighty as we pontificate on the horrors of life for all these women living in misogynistic countries around the world (not that I am in anyway insinuating that those women’s lives aren’t horrific, too). Meanwhile, we’ve got people making big bucks by convincing young women in our own country that to degrade themselves in this manner is somehow “cool.” My first instinct was to disparage anyone who would buy such a shirt, but then that’s what we always do, right? Blame the woman who wears the shirt, who resorts to selling her body to support herself, who won’t leave the man who beats her silly…Why blame the ones who’ve been made to feel so worthless they actually believe wearing such a t-shirt is the way to find value?

So, I’m placing the blame on the idiots who designed those shirts. I’m taking my money to places that support women; to places that encourage teenaged girls, when they need it most, to value their intellectual abilities; to places where I might find a t-shirt that says something like this instead, “Eyes focused here? Then what’s up there wants nothing to do with you.”


Anonymous said...

What she said!

I don't like A&F one bit. There's one close to where I work and whenever I go by the windows, huge windows, full of enormous photographs of sexualized teenagers, I feel so angry my stomach hurts.

We don't -- and won't -- be spending our money there.

Rebecca H. said...

Whew, that T-shirt is awful. How depressing. I've heard a lot of female students say "I'm not a feminist, but ... " and it drives me crazy.

Anonymous said...

Like Doroth, I've heard NUMEROUS girls say "I'm not a feminist, but.." and it makes my blood curdle. It's a kind of thinking I can hardly wrap my brain around.

This is an excellent, firey post. I completely agree with you. I am the choir to which you preach. And I have never spent one dollar at A and F, and now I'll find out their parent company and refuse to shop at those stores as well. But I do want the T-shirt you made up.

I wish we could find a way to unite and give feminism a new face. I think about it all the time, but never come up with any coherent ideas.

Again, great post.

Emily Barton said...

Hmmm...maybe we should all buy pink t-shirts, take them to one of those "make your own" places, and have them put this on them to wear next year on this "wear pink day." Too bad the rest of the world doesn't all think the way we do, but you-all always give me hope.

Anonymous said...

Your post has been making me think a lot about what's happened to feminism -- you're so smart and eloquent on this subject. And I'd wear ANY pink or otherwise t-shirt you design. If sisterhood means you all will be at the march, I would very much like to join. xo, BL

Emily Barton said...

All right. Here's an idea, since I don't think I'm anywhere near being the smartest and most eloquent on the subject. Maybe we could all join together and create a "21st-Century Feminism" blog, to which we would all contribute?

litlove said...

I'm certainly up for that blog. You should read the Tom Wolfe novel, I am Charlotte Simmons, Emily, although it may make your blood pressure rise. It is all about young women throwing away brains in favour of their sexuality. On another note, I remember a radio news item about a company manufacturing 'pump-up' bikini tops. The journalist had offered them to women on the street for comment, and one woman had succinctly replied 'Made by a man with a pump-up brain, no doubt.'

Anonymous said...

What a fine idea (and I'm sticking with the eloquent and smart, Ms. Barton). Reflections on 21st century feminism. I'd be happy to set up a wordpress blog that allows multiple users access, so people could post when they're inclined.
Do you remember how Ms. Magazine used to post images of ridiculously sexist things? That might be fun. And books we're reading. I'd hate to think it would turn out to be a ton of work for anyone; maybe if we set our sights on something like a commonplace book, or notebook, a place to put thoughts on this subject, it would be interesting and enlightening for all of us.

Say the word (you can just email me if you want) and I'll get the blog going.

Anonymous said...

oh, oh, oh, I would LOVE to help out w ith this blog in ANY WAY POSSIBLE. Consider be absolutely on board, ready and willing to do whatever I can. This is a wonderful idea!

Anonymous said...

I think the "I'm not a feminist, but..." way of thinking comes from the unfortunate fact that many young women are not educated on what the term "feminist" means. To them (and to many) it signifies misandrous, strident, abrasive and unreasonably demanding women. And who wants to be one of those? Education, or re-education, is the answer. How to go about that...good question.

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