TO A TEE: a Rant

TeeIt's a cute shirt. Fits just right with short capped sleeves and the pink is perfect -- not too red, not too pastel. It's rhinestone-encrusted logo curves across her chest like a nametag. Porn Star it says.

We've all seen them. Accented with bright colors and 80's studs, they boast from girl's bosoms with pride. Hip little tees with hip little logos like "Sex Kitten," "Princess," or "Ghetto Fabulous." They replace the swooshes of corporate logos with self-proclaiming slogans: "Sexy," "Hot," "Cutie Pie." They display adjectives as if they were a sandwich board of today's specials.

Self-confidence, female-sexuality, personal pride, I'm all for it. We should all be so assured to wear a "Goddess" shirt and believe it. And yet, there is something about these shirts that I dislike so intensely I find myself fantasizing of night raids on stores like Wet Seal and Brass Plum. It's not the bravado. It's not the conceit. It's that their slogans rely on two frustratingly tired stereotypes.

"Fight Girl Poisoning" - by NWFC

The mistress or the housewife, the Princess or the prostitute, society has always had a hard time portraying woman as more complex than a two-dimensional extreme. Whether it be in books, movies, or fairytales, we are typecast as one or the other: A sex object with her only power coming from between her legs or a doll incapable of taking care of herself.

What's worse, we eagerly play along with divide. Walk around a school campus on Halloween, and you'll see most girls relish the day to dress excessively sexy or obscenely infantile. I remember my friends and I rotated years, one year as a pacified baby, the next as Madonna. Or we'd straddle both stereotypes by being bunnies perfect for preschools and Hefner mansions alike. Today, it seems every other trick-or-treater is Britney Spears. She plays virgin and vamp, giving mixed messages that only reinforce our polar images of femininity.

"It's not the bravado. It's not the conceit. It's that their slogans rely on two frustratingly tired stereotypes."
These shirts do the same thing. The self-pimping "Sex Star" or "Porn Goddess" takes an exaggerated pride in pelvic thrusts while "Princess" brags haughty fragility. Either a child's incompetence or a woman's degradation, these shirts reduce women to no more than a skirt. Sure, one could say that the sexual shirts are an exaggeration -- that they should be read in jest -- but they still insinuate where your value lies. Or you could say "Princess" is empowering, insisting you be treated like one, but a princess is a position of privilege, not power. It is not a thing we should want to be.

Then there are the "Ghetto Fabulous" shirts. A place where Jews were rounded up for concentration camps, a place where America's neglected are segregated: Ghettos are not Fabulous. I understand that the word has adapted its meaning, that spoken from the right person, "Ghetto Fabulous" inverts this meaning by claiming pride in the ghettos. That makes sense to me. But when I saw a young white woman step out of a BMW wearing her "Ghetto" shirt in a neighborhood that was anything but, it was not okay. She could not pull it off, and should not have had it on.

"The great thing about any non-corporate shirt is that it promotes a self-naming style. I'm not fond of endorsing suspect companies and would much rather wear a logo of my own design than Gap or Tommy."
Lest you think I take every slogan so seriously, there are some shirts of this ilk that do not offend me. I've seen tees with phrases like "Rock Star" that did not inspire midnight mall invasions. "Goddess," "Perfect 10": They may be a bit cocky, but at least they don't read like a call girl's personal ad. I, myself, have a red polyester 70's shirt that reads "Terrific." I think it's spiffy and find it is a great conversation starter. What's more, those conversations are not founded on the premise of my sexuality or my pettability. They aren't based on my fitting any pre-set mold.

And isn't that the point? The great thing about any non-corporate shirt is that it promotes a self-naming style. I'm not fond of endorsing suspect companies and would much rather wear a logo of my own design than Gap or Tommy. But "Princess" and "Porn Star" don't eliminate labels; they merely replace them with new ones.

How nice it would be if we made the same demands of these logos that we made of the shirts themselves. Most of us would never purchase a top whose cut was unflattering or whose color did not compliment our own. We should set the same standards for the slogans on them; insisting they fit us just as well.

Do you have an opinion to share about these t-shirts? Write a counter-response to Alicia's rant and send it to

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.