The mean T-shirt: From the Stupid Factory
Todd Goldman says his popular boy-bashing T-shirts are simply
So why are retailers having second thoughts?
The National Post, Georgie Binks, Saturday Post, May 29, 2004
Three teenaged girls, ponytails swinging, riffle through the T-shirts at a Bluenotes clothing store in Toronto's Yorkdale Shopping Centre. They giggle when they spy a T-shirt with the words, "Boys Are Stupid, Throw Rocks at Them" emblazoned on the front. Lisa Sanzo, 16, shakes her head, "They're pretty stupid, kind of childish. I would never buy one."
But when they spot one with "Stupid Factory, Where Boys are Made," they love it. Lindsay Di Verano says, "These comments are cute," and Vanesa Rauti, 16, says, "They're not sexist."
Bluenotes assistant manager at Yorkdale, Hilary Kippenhuck, smiles, "The kids love them and we've sold quite a few. A lot of kids come in and are excited about them -- they've seen them on the Web site."
The Web site is www.davidandgoliathtees.com, and David and Goliath is the company in Clearwater, Florida, that makes them. Todd Goldman, 35, the laid-back single entrepreneur who owns and operates the business says, "I started doing some funny sayings a couple of years ago, like 'Fourth graders say boys have cooties,' 'Boys are smelly,' 'Boys are stupid' and I added a twist, 'Throw rocks at them' and people seemed to like it. It makes them laugh."
It also makes them spend money. Goldman boasts $30-million a year in T-shirt sales, which range from his "Boys are Stupid" T-shirt to the more conventional "Chicks Rule," as well as a licensing program of purses, sandals and watches, with cutesy (and not so cutesy) sayings that he hopes will hit $100-million this year.
While the tees have been a hit with teenage girls, they have caused an uproar in the United States, where they've been called sexist and disturbing by a number of organizations. While the most common tee displayed on Canadian shelves is the one saying, "Boys are Stupid, Throw Rocks at Them," a visit to the Web site, where shirts can be purchased online, shows T-shirts with messages far more violent. "Boys Lie, Poke Em in the Eye," "If Boys Are So Tough, Why Are They So Afraid of Knives?" (accompanied by a picture of a small boy running from knives whizzing through the air). Another has a picture of a boy with his mouth taped up and a slogan reading, "Tape Can Be Fun."
Priyanka Khimasia, a 17-year-old Toronto student, winces, "It makes me feel sick. It's very violent and I think some boys would also find them hurtful. If there were T-shirts like this about women, people would be outraged."
In the United States, Glenn Sacks, a fathers'-rights activist and talk-show host, is trying to get the shirts removed from retailers' shelves. "Every Sunday night I declare a target, and put on my show's Web site the e-mail addresses and fax numbers of the different CEOs [of the retail stores that carry the tees]. My listeners bombard them with mail. Pretty much every time, the next morning we have a letter apologizing for the shirts and saying that they will remove them. We have knocked them out of 3,500 stores."
Why does he feel so strongly? "Boys have fallen way behind in school and are struggling. For an 11-year-old boy to go to school and to see shirts all over that say, 'Boys are Stupid,' it really rubs salt in the wounds."
In Canada, a number of retailers are selling them. Mrs. Tiggywinkles, a toy store in Ottawa, has pulled them because of complaints, as has Le Panier in the Montreal area.
Bluenotes sells them Canada-wide. Rachel Noonan, the company's brand manager, says she thinks they're cute but knows they're controversial. "We need to take responsibility because kids are very impressionable and this is where it starts. When you condition them to have expectations, it creates who they are. These are tongue-in-cheek, a little lighthearted, but some cross the boundary."
Canadian distributor Mark Whyte, head of Whyte Agencies, says in Toronto the tees are available at Over the Rainbow and Sporting Life. In Montreal, they're at Simons, Jack and Jill and Neon. And in Vancouver they're at Off the Wall. Says Whyte: "In Ottawa and Montreal, their consumer tends to be younger and they didn't want the hassle." So they pulled the offending T-shirts, but they continued to buy the cute ones like "It's All About Me" and "Dramaqueen," also made by David and Goliath.
Goldman, who calls himself the "guru of stupid" doesn't see what the big deal is about. "I'm not trying to promote violence. I don't expect people to take it literally. If so, I would sell rocks with the T-shirt. Most people laugh when they see it. They don't think, 'That's degrading to boys or that's violent.'
"There's way worse out there -- rap music, violence on TV and movies," Goldman says, adding that his T-shirts have nothing to do with the girl-power movement. "I'm a guy. I couldn't give a rat's ass about girl empowerment. Our market is teenage girls. I know what sells."
The "Boys Are Stupid" mantra is spreading to other media, courtesy of Goldman. The David and Goliath Web site has a game inviting players to "Throw Rocks At Boys," but instead of evoking screams of glee from young players, it is more likely to make them wince when the rocks hit a little boy and he gets a black eye.
There's a Boys are Stupid Journal (Andrews McMeel Publishing) available at Indigo stores in Canada, but a company spokesperson said no one was available to speak about it. And Goldman has another book set for a fall release, Boys are Stupid -- Throw Rocks At Them.
The Canadian Children's Rights Council filed a hate-crime complaint with the Toronto Police in March against the Toronto Star, the clothing distributor and retailers that sell the T-shirts after the Star ran a feature titled "Feminist Fashionistas," which showed the T-shirts. Council president Grant Wilson says his organization was told hatred against children was not an offence under the Criminal Code.
The T-shirts, unlike boys, may have been made in the Stupid Factory, but Goldman wasn't. All of the publicity is making him a lot of money. "Just because a few department stores that are PC pulled them, it's stronger than ever."
And Goldman has no plans to change his T-shirts. Indeed, he's planning more: "We have new boy-bashing shirts coming out," he promises.
National Post 2004