Dana Williams

Battle of the Sexes

Kyndra Connor is part of a growing group of teenage girls across the country sporting one of the hottest new fashion trends.

The trend isn't the belly-baring hipster jeans, dangly chandelier earrings or even the feathered handbags that are all the current rage.

rocksIt's a line of T-shirts and accessories bearing slogans like "Boys are stupid; throw rocks at them," and "The stupid factory -- where boys are made."

The "throw rocks at them" shirts show a stick figure image of a bewildered boy with rocks sailing toward his head.

Connor, a freshman at Western Wyoming Community College, says she and many of her friends have purchased the T-shirts and other merchandise designed and manufactured by Clearwater, Fla.-based clothing company, David and Goliath.

Other items in the David and Goliath clothing line include slogans such as "Boys are full of it; fling poop at them" and "Boys lie; poke 'em in the eye."

boysaresmelly"It's not meant to offend. It's meant to produce laughter; it's sarcastic. There's nothing serious about it," Connor said. "I think because when you're my age, dealing with boys in the worst way, having your heart broken every other week, saying all the time that boys suck and they're stupid, it's meant to be funny."

Not everyone is amused.

"These T-shirts have nothing to do with girl power," says Joe Kelly, president of Dads and Daughters in Duluth, Minn. "They are a cynical manipulation of faux 'girl power' designed primarily to generate corporate profit, the consequences be damned."

Demeaning Double Standard

Nicole Jarrett, a 23-year-old legal assistant in Decatur, Ga., said she was shocked when she discovered the clothing line on the shelves and catalog pages of Delia's, a clothing retailer geared to teen girls and young women.

"I remember being outraged the moment I saw them," said Jarrett, who has written a letter to Delia's corporate office to request the company pull the merchandise from its shelves.

"If this was on a guy's shirt, and the slogan was reversed, people would be all over it on the basis that it was demeaning and promoted violence against women," said Jarrett. "So why should it be tolerated when it promotes the same thing against men?"

That's a question many others are asking, too.

Glenn Sacks, a nationally syndicated men's and father's rights talk show host and columnist is using his radio show to wage a campaign against companies who carry the "Boys are stupid" merchandise.

At least two West Coast retailers, including Dapy's, a Universal Studios-owned clothing store, have responded by pulling the shirts and accessories from their stores in recent weeks.

The David and Goliath company, however, says it has no plans to halt production of the anti-boy clothing or accessories, which include posters, mugs, night-lights, mouse pads and house slippers. The "Boys are stupid" line is in fact the company's biggest seller.

Acceptance of Inappropriate Behaviors

Steven Zucker, assistant professor and school psychology program coordinator at the University of Colorado, Denver, isn't surprised about the success of the boy-bashing merchandise among teenage girls.

"It sounds like some of the normal teasing that may go on between girls and boys at that age," said Zucker, who worked as a school counselor for 18 years. "I think it's the girls saying, 'Geez, I wish one of those good looking boys would ask me out, but that's not happening so let's throw rocks at them.'"

Teasing or not, Zucker says with the prevalence of bullying and violence in schools, the anti-boy message is one that seems "quite unnecessary."

"There are many concerns about the social health of schools," said Zucker. "This wouldn't be something that promotes an inclusive or welcoming feeling in any school or classroom."

Some say fads like the "Boys are stupid" T-shirts point to larger problems in society.

"I see these types of fads as representing the pervasiveness of mean-spirited and rude behaviors children are demonstrating toward each other and adults beginning at younger and younger ages," said Marilyn Quisenberry, a school psychologist at Lindero Canyon Middle School in Agoura Hills, Calif.

"There has also been a trend toward increasing permissive parenting in which children are allowed to do and wear what they please."

Quisenberry does not see the trend as a "feminist" plot against pre-teen boys or even as intolerance of boys. Instead, it points to a general acceptance in society of inappropriate behaviors, she said.

Vivian Garlick, a school counselor at Tierra Linda Middle School in San Carlos, Calif., says she has yet to see any of her students wearing the "Boys are stupid" shirts. Still she knows what she'll do if she does.

"I think I would stop the person wearing that and talk to her about it," Garlick said. "We have a very low tolerance philosophy when it comes to offensive clothing, and we probably would not allow a girl to wear that here."

Too High a Price

Heather Johnston Nicholson, research director for Girls Inc., an organization devoted to the empowerment of young girls, says the T-shirts actually trivialize the real concerns of girls.

"We say at Girls Inc. that all girls are strong, smart and bold. Unfortunately that's a presumption that some communities still don't have," Nicholson said. "There are too many girls who are still being told they need to look stupid or act stupid to attract boys."

Nicholson also said she is disturbed that so many seem to find humor in the anti-boy shirts.

"I think it's funny when people take the 'Hooters' shirts and turn them around in ways that bring attention to stereotypes that demean women," she said. "But name calling isn't funny or acceptable no matter what group it's targeted at. These shirts are simply substituting one power message for another."

Garlick said she thinks such anti-boy messages come at too high a price.

"There's nothing wrong with girl power, but it shouldn't be achieved at the cost of boys," she said. "We shouldn't be putting down boys to lift up girls."

Open Season on Farmworkers

Migrant farmworkers in the Southeast are exposed to the worst living and working conditions of any region in the nation.

These workers are frequently housed in uninhabitable shacks lacking basic plumbing systems and exposed daily to harmful pesticides in the fields. They also are cheated out of the money they earn and held as prisoners under unlawful peonage arrangements.

It's a system of abuses existing right under the nose of the government and the law, yet those in seats of power continue to look the other way, says Greg Schell, managing attorney for the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project in Florida.

Schell's organization works to assist Florida's 300,000 farmworkers through legal reform, advocacy and class action suits.

"Farmworkers today resemble those discriminated against during the era of the Civil Rights Movement. They are not represented under existing laws," said Schell, who has worked on the issue of farmworker justice for the last 24 years.

"It shouldn't be open season on these workers."

Open season, however, is exactly what it appears to be in many cases throughout the Southeast. The region is home to about two thirds of all peonage cases prosecuted.

Schell described cases where workers are smuggled into the country for an exorbitant fee. A crew boss who hires them for jobs in the fields often provides a ride to the job site, a place to sleep and even a supply of drugs or alcohol. The workers then find themselves laboring 60 to 100 hours a week to repay this "debt," never seeing most of the money they earn.

Many are threatened with violence or harm to themselves or their families if they attempt to leave before working off their debt. Those who would brave the violence often remain because they aren't paid enough of their earnings to afford to leave.

Though organizations like Schell's exist to help seek justice for victims of such abuses, the practice continues largely unabated because there is little legal recourse for illegal workers. In fact, 70 percent of farmworkers are undocumented. And even those who are documented or who are citizens often suffer injustices in silence because they fear deportation or retaliation.

It's a cycle fueled in part by existing federal regulations that fail to provide the same labor protections for farmworkers as for other types of laborers -- protections including overtime pay, workman's compensation, workplace insurance and even the right to have access to bathroom facilities on workplace grounds.

To Schell, the inconsistencies are outrageous.

"The guy at McDonald's who puts the lettuce and the tomato on the burger gets overtime pay. But the guy who works in the fields to harvest it doesn't," Schell said. "Why? I'm still waiting on that explanation."

Part of that explanation lies in who wields the power in the agriculture industry; the other part, in how farmers and farmworkers are perceived. Schell says farmers -- those who own the fields and groves on which migrant farmworkers labor -- have power and protections while farmworkers do not.

"The government is never going to take the side of the people who have no power against the side of people who have substantial power," said Schell. "The farmers know they can't be sued. There is no one out there to sue them."

In addition, Schell said the American farmer has always been viewed as virtuous, wholesome and decent. In contrast, he says migrant farmworkers often are viewed as "happy wanderers without the same needs, goals and objectives as everyone else."

Schell also sees the lack of knowledge among the general public as partly to blame for rampant farmworker abuses. Many, he says, question why they should be concerned.

"I've seen juries stick out their chests and nod their heads when someone makes a statement like, 'What are these people complaining for? Aren't they better off here than where they came from?'" Instead of questioning the system that allows farmworkers to be abused, Schell says many question why the workers come here to begin with if conditions here are so unjust. It's a simple answer, he says.

"Only 10 percent of the land in Mexico is arable. These people want to support their families and they come here out of desperation. They want the old adage: an honest day's pay for an honest day's work."

Educating the public about what goes on in the industry stands to play a huge role in changing the culture of farmworker abuse. "We have to get people to recognize that once these protections erode for one group of people, what's to stop it from happening to another group?" Schell said.

In some areas like California, where large numbers of Latinos are registered voters, increased public education has led to the passing of state laws against farmworker abuse. As the Latino voter base grows in other areas and as people learn more about these issues, Schell says more states will follow California's lead and start to pass their own laws. But he acknowledges passing state laws is only one part of the picture.

Schell says if organizations like his are to ever make a real dent in the abusive practices within the farmworker industry, they will have to go after those who are reaping the financial benefits. He used the orange juice industry as an example.

An orange juice company doesn't own its orange trees, Schell said. Instead, it buys its fruit from farmers and grove owners via contracts to ensure the fruit it needs gets picked. The farmer hires a crew boss to find and oversee workers. It sounds like a simple enough operation. But Schell says these companies take great pains to make sure the right oranges are picked at the right times on the right days and delivered to the right plants, placing their people all over the groves to make certain this takes place.

"It's like fine choreography," said Schell, suggesting these companies are intimately involved in the day-to-day operations on these groves. "At the end of the day, we want to hold [them] responsible when these workers who are picking and providing them with this fruit don't get paid what they should."

Going after those who are making the most money, Schell says, will speak loudest. "We've seen that if you depend on human kindness and decency to change this, you are not going to get very far. We want to make it as costly as possible to send a strong message." said Schell. "When you win, it's not about the money. It's about empowering the workers to take control of their lives."

One Color Contraceptive Does Not Fit All

It's small, thin and waterproof. And it's discreet -- unless you are a woman of color.

Ortho Evra, the newly approved contraceptive skin patch by Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, has been recognized by Time Magazine as one of the best inventions of 2002 and dubbed "the perfect birth control." But because its peachy-beige tint makes the new patch more noticeable on women of darker skin tones, it isn't perfect for everyone.

According to Donna Lamb, a journalist, speaker and anti-racism activist, the company's oversight can be summed up in two words: white privilege.

"White privilege sends a message. It says you don't fit, that you don't belong, that there is something wrong with you," said Lamb. "It represents the standard, the right and the good thing and tells you what you should conform to. It says, 'You are less than those who this was made for.'"

Lamb says white privilege is such a regular factor in day-to-day life that most people don't even realize it exists.

"It's hard to have people identify and care about something as long as it's happening to 'them,' as long as it's happening to 'those people.'"

But even people of color, Lamb says, are sometimes complicit in living with white privilege.

"If you've spent your whole life being treated as less than or as worthless, sometimes you may feel like you have to choose your battles. So, some people may not think the color of a patch is that important; they just learn to live with those kinds of things."

Judging from the lukewarm complaints about the limited color choice for the patch, "living with it" is exactly the route some have chosen.

"As I understand it, initial research for the patch did show that women wanted to be able to choose from different skin tones. But, they also thought it was such a novel concept that they were willing to use it anyway," said Vanessa Collins, director of medical affairs for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

"It would have been nice to have a variety of skin tones represented in the patches and for them to be more perfectly matched to skin tones of the women using them," Collins said.

What Is 'Standard'?

According to Linda Mayer, spokesperson for Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceuticals, the lack of variety in shades for the birth control patch had more to do with timing and science than anything else.

"The patch was approved about a year and a half ago, and because of the technology available to us in that time frame, we developed basically the standard patch color -- what you see on a Band-Aid," said Mayer.

For many years, Johnson & Johnson's Band Aid was available in only one shade -- similar to that of the Ortho Evra patch -- that generally blended to match the skin tones of white skin. After hearing calls to make Band-Aids more inclusive of varying skin tones, the company released its sheer Band-Aid, now a top seller in its extensive line of bandages.

Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceuticals is part of the Johnson & Johnson corporate conglomerate, but clearly it didn't learn from Band-Aid's example.

Mayer said the company has received a small number of complaints about the color of the patch, and is looking into the development of other colors in the product's next phase of development.

"We have done a lot of market research with this product on Caucasian women as well as women of color. The acceptance rate is high for both groups," said Mayer.

"But we are talking about testing other colors -- even something like a decorative sticker to place over the patch, making it more appealing to some groups of women."

Collins says companies like Ortho McNeil should form focus groups and listen carefully to their consumers.

The company, in fact, could ask its own models. The product's high-profile Web, print and television marketing campaign features several women of color in ads, with Ortho patches clearly not matched to their skin tones.

But Collins also said consumers should be willing to speak up, noting that the company needs to see a demand for variety before investing research and funds into developing other colors.

Speak to the Bottom Line

Like Ortho McNeil Pharmaceutical and Johnson & Johnson, other companies have dealt with the skin-tone dilemma.

Binney & Smith, Inc., manufacturers of Crayola crayons, released a line of "multicultural crayons" in the early 1990s after educator feedback about the lack of variety in "skin shade" colors.

"We started to hear from teachers that their kids weren't able to find enough colors to represent themselves when they went to color," said Susan Tucker, spokesperson for Crayola. "And so we developed the first box of eight multicultural, earth-toned crayons as a direct result of hearing that our consumers wanted that."

Tucker says the response to the new shades was so positive the company expanded the line to include even more multicultural products, including culturally inclusive paints, markers, colored pencils and clay.

While it isn't clear if the next phase of development for Ortho Evra will bring with it a new slate of colors, Collins says it's the consumers who really make the difference.

"If the company is to add more colors, the women who use the patch will have to let them know that's what they want."

Lamb agrees.

"There is no such thing as appealing to the conscience of a corporation," she said. "You have to talk the language they talk: the bottom line. When consumers speak up and companies fear looking bad or suffering financial repercussions, then they'll listen."

Dana Williams is a staff writer for Tolerance.org.

Unmasking Hate at Halloween

Some costume manufacturers have decided to forgo the typical fright, blood and gore this Halloween, choosing instead to market culturally insensitive and racially offensive masks as their new hot ticket items.

Take "Vato Loco," for example. Members of the Latino community are protesting the bandana clad, tattooed, brown-skinned caricature of a gang member.

Distributed by Massachusetts-based Fright Catalog, the "Vato Loco" mask�s tagline on the company�s Web site touts, "This scary stud can empty out a full house just by walking through the door."

But Latino activists say they don�t see the humor.

"This is an absolutely grotesque stereotype that represents some people�s images of Latinos," said Lisa Navarrete, spokesperson for the National Council of La Raza, a non-profit group established to reduce poverty and discrimination, and improve life opportunities for Hispanics.

"What�s most disturbing is that this caricature is mixed in with ghosts, ghouls and demons and is pitched as being among the most frightening of images -- it denigrates Latinos to being that frightening," said Navarrete.

While Tolerance.org�s calls to Fright Catalog went unreturned, the company�s owner, Mark Arvanigian, recently posted several messages in defense of "Vato Loco" on a message board at GrandeMesa.com, an online community for Latinos.

"I would like to apologize to anyone that feels the mask is racist," Arvanigian first posted. "Our company is not racist in any way and we do not condone any type of hateful actions� In fact, the item is manufactured in Mexico, by a labor force mostly made up of Latinos. They did not have a problem with it when it was manufactured."

Arvanigian stated his company had received only two e-mails from customers claiming to be offended. That, he said, "hardly represents the entire Latino community."

Arvanigian later threatened to put "Vato Loco" on next year�s cover of Fright Catalog, according to a news article published at GrandeMesa.com.

Brent Wilkes, national executive director of League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), said his organization plans to contact Fright Catalog and ask the company to stop carrying the offensive product.

Wilkes noted the term "Vato Loco" translates to "crazy, street tough guy."

"The idea of taking any race or ethnicity and making a costume out of it concerns me," said Wilkes. "But to combine or promote violence along with that ethnic stereotype is even more offensive."

Last year, a Wall Street Journal article titled "A Kinder, Gentler Halloween," named Fright Catalog "best overall" print publication featuring Halloween paraphernalia.

'Vato Loco' Has Company

Latinos aren�t the only ones outraged about offensive costumes this Halloween. Members of the Asian American community successfully pressured Disguise, one of the nation�s largest costume makers, to cease distribution of its "Kung Fool" costume last week.

The Japanese kimono ensemble -- complete with a buck-toothed, slant-eyed mask and a headband bearing the Chinese character for "loser" -- drew a flood of protests from Asian American organizations that called the item racist and said it perpetuated offensive stereotypes.

Groups including the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA), the National Asian American Student Conference, the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, and online portal Yellowworld.org waged a grassroots campaign calling for an immediate halt to the distribution and sale of the Kung Fool costume.

"Disguise apologizes to any group or individual who may be offended by this costume and mask," the company responded in a public statement. "No insult or offense was intended against any race, ethnicity or individual by the sale of this product."

A spokesperson for the company, headquartered in Poway, CA, said the mask was the result of a brainstorming process that included some Asian Americans and was intended to be a comedic parody of a Kung Fu karate character.

The Kung Fool costumes, which were shipped beginning in September to retail giants like Wal-Mart and Party City, aren�t the first blunder for Disguise. In 2001, the company came under fire for a "mental patient" costume that the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill called "demeaning, dehumanizing and humiliating."

Disguise has agreed to accept returns from stores carrying the Kung Fool costume until October 30, but spokesman Chris Wahl said the company cannot require retailers to actually do so. "Once they purchase the merchandise, it�s their merchandise," said Wahl.

Some Asian American groups, however, say the company is essentially "passing the buck" to stores and should take a more proactive stance in getting the merchandise back.

"We are not satisfied with this response and we want Disguise to accept full accountability," said Keith McAllister, spokesperson for the OCA. "The merchandise reinforces negative stereotypes about Chinese Americans, and they should be responsible for getting the merchandise back from retailers."

McAllister said OCA has also approached Wal-Mart and Party City about stepping up "quality control" to prevent store buyers from putting such merchandise on the shelves in the future.
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