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Hi, I wanted to share my thoughts about a recent controversy involving Amazon, a T-shirt company in Australia, and selling shirts with rape slogans. Miracle Mile Girls is a series that follows a group of girls pursuing their dreams. We want to do what we can to inspire and empower real women. With that in mind, women’s issues are very important to us, so you can bet your grandma’s sweet tea that we have an opinion or two on this! We are girls and we are in the business of making miracles happen, after all! 😉
The T-shirt company (which I will not refer to by name nor link to the site, as I do not want to help promote it; however you can visit this article at Huffington Post for the full details), was selling T-shirts with parodies of the popular British slogan “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
However, some of their T-shirts featured slogans such as “Keep Calm and Rape Me,” “Keep Calm and Rape Her,” Keep Calm and Grope On,” Keep Calm and Hit Her,” “Keep Calm and Knife Her,” etc.
Quite startling, no?
These shirts were also being sold through internet super retailer Amazon.com, where consumers first saw them and started sending in complaints. Twitter has been all a-buzz with complaints, and the controversy made headlines in international media outlets. Even Cosmopolitan did a story! Amazon.com has since pulled the offensive shirts, and the CEO of said T-shirt company has issued an apology on the company website, blaming the issue on a “computer glitch” and saying that the shirts were on the server for over a year without them knowing. As a father, husband, brother, and son, the CEO said he was very sorry.
Now, that is a pretty lame excuse. He doesn’t have people to approve the designs? They don’t have people shipping out said designs? And what about Amazon? Amazon does not look to see what the heck it is that they’re selling on their website? It’s just the T-shirt company CEO and a computer, we’re to believe; and the computer takes payment, talks to customers, ships products to customers and retailers, etc? Really? You expect us to believe this?
BUT, let’s humor the man. Let’s accept his explanation that it was all the computer’s fault. The trouble is, even with accepting his explanation that it was a computer glitch, one is still left wondering how exactly the word “rape” found its way into the computer’s database and onto the shirts.
The CEO said that a computer sifted through hundreds of thousands of words in online dictionaries and educational resources to compile words that customers could then combine to create their own parody of the popular slogan.
He explains that some combinations of words are more offensive than others, and that the computer created these varied combinations. That’s the computer glitch. The computer has X amount of words in column 1 and Y amount of words in column 2, and it creates all possible combinations using these words. So the word “hit” could be combined to form both innocuous and offensive slogans, such as “Keep Calm and Hit the Ball” and “Keep Calm and Hit Her” Both slogans would simply be the result of a computer computing all possible combinations of words. Okay, fair enough.
The CEO then goes on to say that when their computers were sifting through words, they initially had accumulated 202,000 words. From that, they narrowed it down to 1100, and from that down to just over 700.
Here is an excerpt from the official apology:
“As the volume of combinations of words/slogans/styles/colours/sizes are well into the millions, a volume of computers were used to do this entirely in a cloud type environment. The ultimate filelist generated created the base data and the core of the problem was certainly the fact that certain words both individually and in combination were or became offensive. This was culled from 202k words to around 1100 and ultimately slightly more than 700 were used due to character length and the fact that I wanted to closely reflect the appearance of the original slogan graphically.”
This is where the apology starts shooting itself in the foot.
Why was the word “rape” included in the 700 words in the first place?? THAT is what is most unsettling about all of this. A computer glitch? Fine. It’s stupid, unprofessional, and inexcusable for a so-called professional business. But, hey, although the road to hell is often paved with good intentions, at least the intentions are good. But including the word “rape” in your word bank does NOT indicate good intentions. Choosing to keep “rape” out of 202,000 words is not a mistake. In what POSSIBLE context would the word “rape” NOT be offensive??
As stated before, I can understand words like “hit” and “knife.” A shirt with the phrase “Keep Calm and Hit it out of the Park” is perfectly fine, even downright tooth-achingly sweet. A shirt with “Keep Calm and Mack the Knife” is a clever throw-back to Bertolt Brecht’s and Kurt Weil’s iconic song (Ute Lemper‘s rendition is one of my favorites). Even “grope” could potentially lend itself to an endearing and self-effacing slogan, such as “Keep Calm and Grope around in the Dark” (although even that could have a sexual meaning).
But rape? What possible slogan could not be offensive with that? “Keep Calm and Don’t Get Raped”? “Keep Calm and Rape Less”? “Keep Calm and Blow That Rape Whistle!”?
As a woman, this is a sore topic for me. I am sick of overt and covert violence and sexual violence against women. I am tired of women being treated like sexual objects. I am tired of women having less rights to and less say about their bodies and their sexuality than other people and society. How many times is a woman called a prude or a bitch because she refuses some guy’s advances? I can only speak for myself, but in my experience, that number is far higher than I care to mention. It’s not flattering to be sexually harassed. Don’t tell me to “appreciate the compliment” or “enjoy it” while I can because soon I’ll be old and unattractive and then no one will want to look at me. Complimenting me on my appearance is one thing; unwanted lewd jokes, sexual comments, unwelcome touching, etc. are another. For the record, I am not one of those women who gets offended if a man tells her she looks nice or is pretty. If the complement is not accompanied by creepiness, I smile and thank the kind man. However, there is a huge difference between being told you look nice and getting raped.
These shirts aren’t funny because they send out a very subtle but powerful social message. This message is: “Ha ha, let’s have sex with women against their will, ha ha…funny. Too bad if they don’t like it!”
If you’ve ever been the victim of sexual harassment or assault, not to mention (God forbid!) rape, these shirts are a slap in the face. They make you feel even more like a victim. They become personal. A shirt with a slogan like that becomes a ghost of your aggressor – coming back to rub it in your face that you were raped and there is nothing you can about it, no one to go to, no one to defend you or stand behind you. It’s a threat to the victims: Keep quiet, because no one will take you seriously anyway.
I would think any normal, decent human being would be horrified by this. But, unfortunately, I know some people aren’t. Some people treat their victims (male or female) as animals, objects to disband their anger, frustrations, and hatred upon. In a sick way, it’s cathartic experience for these people.
Taking things like abuse, violence, sexual violence, and sexual harassment as a joke perpetuates the cathartic value these crimes have for their perpetrators. It makes it less taboo. It is offering these sick people a viable method to release their frustration. If not by the actual act itself, then by the fantasy, the joke, the shirt.
It takes time to change social attitudes. Laws won’t change social attitudes. Statutes won’t change social attitudes. What changes social attitudes is language and the media. Wearing a shirt that says “Keep Calm and Rape Her” is a prime example of language and media, especially in the internet and social networking age.
We say what we think, and we do what we say, and what we do becomes a habit. This, in turn influences other people and what THEY think, and what they say, and what they do, and what habits they form. Therefore, we must be very careful of what we say and put out into the public arena.
If we want the world to change, we must begin by changing beliefs.
Also, yes, men get raped as well, which only supports my point even further. Why promote sexual violence against anyone, at all?
What do y’all think? How much of an impact do you think language and/or media have on social values and norms? What is the best way to change social attitudes?