What’s In A Shirt?

It took me a little while to figure out my own particular problem with what has become known as the #shirtstorm. Oh, believe me, I was and am on the side of those who saw the now-infamous shirt as problematic. And I am on the side of those who currently are insulted by it.

But… see, I used to run a daycare. I see things, as often as not, through the eyes of those who have not yet learned to be as cynical as I am.

It is all too easy to claim “free speech” from the point of view of a comfortable, privileged majority. To say “I have every right to wear this shirt”… which, while showing off an edgy sense of fashion, also happens to show off a message which will tell the next generation who is in charge and who begs for scraps. Anyway…

Twinkle, twinkle, little shirt
How I wonder how you hurt
Who is watching? Who is there?
Who expects that you might care?
Twinkle, twinkle, little shirt,
How I wonder whom you hurt.

Twinkle, twinkle, what you did,
How you change tomorrow’s kid
When she asks what can be done,
Glad you had your day of fun
Twinkle, twinkle, what you did,
How you’ve hurt tomorrow’s kid.

Twinkle, twinkle, no surprise,
Outer space was meant for guys
If she asks if she can play
Yes she can!… some other day…
Twinkle, twinkle, no surprise,
Outer space is filled with guys…


  1. Jeff Engel says

    Thanks. This does put a handy finger on one issue dealing with privilege: privilege means that you can do harm while being innocently clueless about it. We can end up with non-constructive bickering when the clueless, innocent social rogue wrecking ball and his sympathizers get their hair up feeling unjustly accused of stuff they had no idea would be a problem – just because that privileged status means they’ve been spared the knowledge of that sort of potential harm. Letting them – us, often enough – off the hook isn’t acceptable – harm just goes on and no one learns a thing that way – but coming at it with the same sort of attitude you’d take with a child who doesn’t know any better may do better than one that acts as if they’re a fully informed adult who knows what they are doing and can be held accountable that way.

    Granted, it’s almost certain to come off as patronizing, but, well, they’ve got that coming, that kind of thing is too familiar in the OTHER direction already, and maybe there’s something to do to tweak the message from there. And there’s still space to adjust the response appropriately to people who _can’t_ be so insulated by privilege as to legitimately think they’re not crossing a line, and those who just keep not getting it.

  2. Ed says

    Even beyond the specific social and political problems raised by that particular shirt, there’s also the issue of the incredible rudeness of wearing any shirt that could reasonably be seen as vulgar or offensive when conducting official duties in public. Or in a work setting at all.

    I’m pretty tolerant of what images and slogans people wear off duty, walking in the park, shopping, going to a bar, etc. If the content shows that they aren’t my kind of person, I can avoid them. If their shirt displays the poster of an extreme horror film or endorsement of a controversial music group, I might think it’s cool.

    But not when addressing the public as part of one’s job. Even if he’d worn a shirt expressing my exact feelings about the irrationality of theism or conservative politics, I’d have felt bad for theists or conservatives who were simply trying to watch an important moment in space exploration.

    Basic courtesy and sense of appropriateness are virtues, and the let it all hang out regardless of time or place attitude is over rated.

  3. says

    There’s always Mr Hood:

    With fingers weary and worn,
    With eyelids heavy and red,
    A woman sat, in unwomanly rags,
    Plying her needle and thread —
    Stitch! stitch! stitch!
    In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
    And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
    She sang the “Song of the Shirt.”

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