In Defense of JCPenney: Too Pretty to Do Homework

Too Pretty to Do Homework Shirt from JCPenney

I know I am supposed to be outraged with JCPenney for “The Shirt” which they pulled from their online store yesterday. I have two little girls. I see the kind of stuff that their friends wear and often shake my head and wonder what their moms were thinking when they agreed to let their daughters dress like dime-a-dance girls. I understand the frustration at seeing girls pushed down a stereotypical path from the time they wear that first pink onesie. I get it, really I do, but I also don’t think a tee shirt with a funny saying is going to send my girls on a downward spiral ending with them dropping out of school in favor of beauty queen dreams.

This shirt is targeted squarely at my daughters’ age group. I am the mom who might be faced with buying this shirt. Since my kids don’t have brothers they probably wouldn’t ask for it, but if they did have a brother, and they wanted this shirt, and it was within my carefully honed back-to-school budget, then I would let them take it home.

Am I insane? Am I a horrible mother? Am I caving to the media and corporate evil-doers bent on turning my child into a vapid airhead who cares more about lipstick than grades? I’m sure some people will say yes, but I know myself and I know my girls and nothing could be further from the truth.

I spend a lot of time talking with my kids, really talking, and encouraging them to make positive choices and smart decisions. I teach them to do the right thing, to stand up for themselves and their friends, and to be confident and proud.  I am, after all, a geek raising two little geek girls.  I have faced no small amount of attitude from people who think I’m odd and surely at some point they will, too. I want them to be certain enough of themselves that what a person (or shirt) says doesn’t define their self-worth.

And although I let them make their own decisions as much as possible, I am the Mom so I do steer them when they’re headed in the wrong direction. Me. The Mom. Not JCPenney.  I have enough confidence in my kids to know that they won’t be swayed by silly sayings on a tee shirt. It might make them laugh, but it won’t mark their moral decline.

I don’t think anybody, including the folks at JCPenney, believes that girls are too pretty to do their own homework or that they should force their brothers into servitude.  I doubt there are any kids that think so, either.  I would bet though, that there are more than a few girls that hate homework, argue with their brothers, and would like nothing more than to sit and relax while those brothers did their homework. Too pretty? Of course it’s ridiculous.  The whole premise is ridiculous which is what makes the shirt funny, not the harbinger of doom for little girls everywhere.


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35 thoughts on “In Defense of JCPenney: Too Pretty to Do Homework

  1. If I understand you correctly, you’re saying it’s OK for your kids to wear shirts with sexist messages as long as they do so ironically.

    So you’d be OK with them wearing a shirt that read “Women don’t need watches — there’s a clock on the stove!” or “Don’t be sexist — bitches hate that!” or that, across the chest, says “As seen in your dreams,” or that simply reads “SLUT?” Those are all real shirts I’ve seen online.

    Wearing a saying on a shirt does, on some level, mean you’re labeling yourself with its message. Sexist messages — even ones meant to be ironic — are still sexist, and make the wearer look like an idiot or a jerk, or both. There’s nothing that would make me allow my daughter to wear such a shirt, ever.

    1. I have to agree with Matt. Plus, while you may find it ironic and funny, the people looking at your child in the shirt may think they believe it and treat them accordingly. Personally, I’m very glad they pulled the shirt. We don’t need to continue to spread that kind of message among little girls.

      1. Sherry,
        I responded to you in a roundabout way in my response to Matt. Still, I wouldn’t make a judgement based on a slogan. It’s kind of like that kid in high school wearing the “Don’t do drugs!” shirt who sells the stuff. Look at the shirt, make the judgement, you’re completely off base. It’s the same with this shirt. You don’t know the girl or her parents. You might be completely off base. I don’t want my kids judging people on that basis.
        Thanks for your comment!

    2. Hi Matt,
      I don’t think this shirt is sexist. It’s completely a matter of opinion. Your perception and mine are not the same, but neither is right or wrong, because they are opinions. I don’t see this shirt as sexist but you take offense so your kids wouldn’t wear it and that’s your call as a parent.

      I’m not surprised at the other shirts as I’ve seen some just like them on people and in stores. I wouldn’t let my kids wear them because I don’t let them use language like bitch or slut so I wouldn’t let them wear a shirt with those words, either, regardless of the rest of the message. BUT, that’s my feeling, and if someone (probably a bit older than my elementary age kids, but you never know) wants to buy that for their kids, and the kids get the humor, then I’m okay with that, too. I may not agree with them, but that’s their call.

      If other kids wear a shirt like that it’s not going to suddenly change my kids’ attitudes for the rest of their lives. That’s done by what the people they respect, their parents, other adults, teachers, actually do in their every day life not by a slogan on a shirt. I want my kids to see humor as just that, be able to look at it, make their own judgement, and move along, not be horrifiied at every joke that may not fall in line with their beliefs.

      I don’t think a shirt like this “makes” kids a certain type of kid and I don’t think they or their parents are idiots or jerks. I don’t make snap judgements like that based on a piece of clothing. If I don’t know you, I don’t have any idea your mindset and it’d be pretty unreasonable to label you anything until I do.

      1. I agree it’s every parent’s call, but that doesn’t make it a good idea for such a shirt to be sold by a major retailer. If the message were racist or anti-Semitic or such, I’m sure you wouldn’t think it was OK for JCPenney to be selling the shirt, even though there are (sadly) plenty of parents who would let their kids wear them.

        And while I think you honestly believe you don’t make snap judgments, I’m pretty sure you’re wrong, because *everybody* makes snap judgments. It’s unavoidable. If you see someone you don’t know, you will make assumptions about that person based on what they look like, until you have more information. It’s hardwired into our brains.

        Wearing a shirt like this *does* convey a message that, to anyone who doesn’t know the person wearing it, is not likely to seem ironic. Not only wouldn’t I let my daughter wear the shirt, but if she expressed a desire to own it I would seriously wonder where my wife and I had gone wrong as parents.

        1. If I thought it was racial or anti-Semetic, no, I wouldn’t buy it, but it keeps coming down to this….what you think fits those definitions, I may not, or vice versa. We clearly have different definitions of sexist, so who knows how we’d fall on other hot button issues? JCPenney made a call, most disagree, so they took action. They did what was best for their business and that’s what I would expect.

          I should have said I TRY not to make snap judgements, especially just on clothes. I am human, but I try very hard to check myself. THAT is what I want my kids to do. You see something and if you make a snap judgement, is it right to do that and is it warranted? More often than not, no, especially if it’s just a shirt with a slogan.

          Like you said, you make assumptions… until you have more information. If you don’t have that additional info, then any assumptions you’ve made are based on the weakest of information. They may be right. They may be wrong. But they certainly aren’t founded on substance.

          Although the shirt does convey a message, I can’t agree that it’s not ironic to anyone that doesn’t know the wearer. I would not judge them as being sexist or having sexist parents. You would. That right there shows that this IS open for interpretation in more than one direction.

          For every person that sees it like you, there’s one that sees it like me, and one that sees it in a way that neither one of us has thought of yet!

      2. I tell you what I wish. I wish there was more of an uproar about the sexed-up, tight-fitting clothing put out for this age group by all the major retailers. I’m so used to sizing up clothes that should fit properly without making my daughter look older and sexier than she should be that my first reaction to this shirt was “long sleeves, no cleavage, so there’s that.”

        For a while, I resorted to buy boy’s jeans for my girl because those clothes weren’t so tight-fitting like all the sculpted girls jeans.

        1. Ugh, I so hear you on this one, Corrina! The first bathing suit my 7 year old picked up this season had a padded bra and I made her put it right back on the rack. I’m trying not to feel like an old fuddy duddy, but the sexy little girls clothes really bother me. When I have to buy them shirts that are for kids a good 3-4 years older, just so they don’t have a sexy, snug fit, you know something is very wrong.

  2. I don’t think it’s JC Penney’s fault — though the internet storm has made it their problem. The thing is a society that pushes women to be pretty at the expense of smart. I wouldn’t tell my children no, I like allowing them to be who they want to be, but I don’t know how well I could hide the disappointment I’d feel from a choice like that.

    I know I wouldn’t be able to hide the pity I’d feel for any girl wearing one of those.

  3. –And no, the shirt doesn’t make the kids anything. But what they choose to advertise about themselves (in print on their chests) does say something about who they think they are.

    1. Hello Clothdragon,
      I really think JCPenney was completely blind-sided. There’s a lot of clothing that buyers see, whole huge collections, and I’m sure that when they approved this one nobody thought it would cause such offense. They are a family-friendly store and the fact that they took it down so quickly shows how much they value the opionions of their customer base.

      And I wouldn’t pity a girl in this shirt because I don’t know that girl or how she sees herself. I agree it advertises something, but that something is exactly what’s up for debate. Is it…

      I’m pretty, I can’t be smart.
      I’m pretty and I’m so smart I conned my brother into doing my homework.
      I hate homework, I wish being pretty got me out of homework.
      or even
      This shirt’s slogan is silly, I’m just wearing it for fun

      Who knows?

  4. I know I’m always quick to the torches and pitchforks with these things, and I’m glad to see posts like yours to make me take a step back and wonder if I’m overreacting.

    In the long run though, all these little things add up. If this were an isolated thing it wouldn’t be a big deal, but if the messaging to our kids is persistent and pervasive, it’s a problem.

    The last time I saw Internet outrage about this was when Katy Perry made a scantily clad visit to Sesame Street. Again, it may have been an internet overreaction. 8:30 am is a little early for corset-wearing, though, and a poor choice from the costume department in a sketch about dressing up. The same week as the Katy Perry thing, I saw an interview with Geena Davis and the research she’s been doing with her Institute on Gender in Media. The research result: these messages add up when looked at on a broad scale.

    Bravo to girls smart enough to wear this ironically, but the shirt makes me exasperated in a world where we have beautiful but willfully ignorant people as presidential hopefuls.

    1. Amy, thanks for your response! You put very well what I’m trying to get people to do…to really think about if a shirt is enough to warrant such outrage, and is it really all that bad? It’s all in how you look at it, and no two people see things like this in exactly the same light.

      I remember the Katy Perry “scandal” and yeah, a corset may have been a bit much for Sesame Street. I’d love to see what Lady GaGa would wear!

  5. I understand what everyone is saying in that it’s a sexist message but, really, is it that horrible? We have men wearing Female Body Inspector t-shirts (and much worse) that objectify women all the time. It’s how the parents treat it. Now, if the parents actually expect the brother to do the homework, there’s a real problem because it’s no longer cute/funny/ironic/(insert adjective here).

    I have worked very hard to teach my 7yr old daughter that she can be pretty and smart. She stands out in a crowd because of her very light (almost white at the end of summer) blonde hair and blue eyes so she needs to understand that her looks may get her the initial attention but, if she can’t back it up with smarts, they’re only going to get her so far. Some of my friends and family have actually allowed her to misbehave because she’s so cute. I, on the other hand, am much more strict with her because I don’t want her to fall into the stereotype of the dumb blonde who can get away with anything.

    JCP pulling the shirt may have been the right thing to do in many people’s eyes but I see it as censorship in its most basic form. Just because you don’t like something does not give you the right to decide for me. It’s a t-shirt for crying out loud. At least they’re not dressed like a hooker. When is someone going to get upset about 7yr olds having to dress like 14yr olds because the sizes run from 0-6yr, 7-14yrs, and 15+ and there’s nothing age appropriate for them anymore??

    1. The outfits that make first grade girls look like college co-eds on spring break, yeah, those bug me a lot more than this kind of thing. Funny you mention boys clothes, because I talked with my girls this morning, and they brought up a shirt a first grader wore last year. It said “Girls love me!”. I asked how the kids reacted, and she said they laughed and goofed off about it because they understood it was just silly. I wonder if it had been a girl and it said “Boys love me!” would the internet have blown a fuse?

  6. What a great perspective Nicole!

    I had commented in our discussions earlier this week about how I see similarly stereotypical shirts at Kohl’s and Target suggesting my sons don’t need to go to school because it interferes with their video game time. There’s a popular shirt from “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” (which my son has on his pajamas), saying “Indoor Person”

    Like the girl-not-doing-homework shirt, it’s ironic. My son will not be this way (although he might want to be) because as a parent I feel he needs exercise and healthier foods.

    I feel that if someone doesn’t like what he sees, he has the choice to not buy the product…or not patronize the business selling the product. I feel that way about McDonald’s: don’t ban Happy Meal toys, just let the parents make the informed choice whether to let their kids eat there.

    1. Yup, that’s the same kind of thing. Someone could see that as saying boys are just lazy and dumb and want to play games all day because it’s all they’re good at, but it’s really just poking fun.

      You wouldn’t let your son just sit at home like a slug and chow down on fries, and a shirt isn’t going to convince him or anyone reading it that it’s a statement on who he is. I’d guess that he likes video games, and has a sense of humor.

      I agree that parents make the best decisions for their kids because they know their kids best. We can and should decide what they can handle.

  7. OK here is my problem with this shirt: It was aimed at 7-14 year olds. 7 year olds! I have very savvy, geeky and quick witted kids but my 9year old still has problems picking up on when something is a joke and when it is serious. because she is 9. Developmentally kids do not generally have the ability to identify subtle differences in language. at 7 until about 10 this is an emerging skill.
    The argument here is to lighten up, its a joke and we as adults think it is funny but who is to say that my kid will know it is really a joke? What about the other girl who reads it and in her mind says “gosh nobody ever said I was pretty and pretty gets you special attention!”
    I know that is an outside example but lets get real….our girls are being especially inundated with negative messages about their appearances and we do not need one more.
    I wasn’t going to boycott JCPenny on whole for this shirt but I did spread the word to tell my friends “this is just another bad message.”

    1. Yes, girls this age are still forming their views of themselves and what it means to be a girl and someday a woman. My kids, for the record, are 7 and 9 and they laughed when I showed them the shirt. Youngest said, right away, that it was silly because everyone has to do homework!

      I am sure some kids could read it and take it seriously, but I think that getting that idea in your head is one thing, but acting on it is something else.

      At this age, especially at the younger end, parents are very much a part of influencing what their kids think. If a girl read this and took it to heart, the first time she said she wasn’t doing her homework because she was too pretty I’m betting most parents would sit down and straighten her right out.

      In the end, it’s what parents teach a girl about a shirt or any controversial or possibly misconstrued image that matters more than the thing itself.

  8. Let me start out by saying that I’m pretty touchy about feminist/gender issues and I’ll usually get very worked up because the world we live in is still struggling to get over it’s male biases. On seeing this shirt I just thought it was silly. My initial interpretation was that the girl wearing it would be proclaiming that they are wily. I certainly didn’t see it as overtly sexist. Having read comments to the contrary I can see how it could read that way however. I think what is really important is letting children develop their sense of self and parents not getting in the way of that unless they are veering into dangerous territory. So to a certain degree letting them make the choice is important. If you have a girl who has a good sense of humor and finds it funny, why not let them wear it? It seems relatively harmless compared with some items of clothing I’ve seen young girls wearing…

    1. Very well put, Julia. There truly are far worse things they could be wearing, some of which I’m sure I will have to deal with when my kids reach the dreaded teen years.

  9. Nicole,
    Without taking either side in the Great Debate, maybe it’s just my odd sense of humour, but I think this shirt would actually be a lot more ironic on your girls, since as you’ve said, they have no brother.
    It would be like a kid with no pets telling the teacher, “my dog ate my homework.”

  10. IMO, whether JCP should carry the shirt and whether parents should buy it are two separate issues. I do think the internet hatestorm was overkill, and it seems sort of absurd that the shirt was pulled. On the other hand, if my niece wanted this shirt, I don’t know if I could bring myself to buy it for her. The fact is, there *are* plenty of girls who believe they can get away with anything because they’re cute, and half the time guys are all too happy to reinforce their belief.

    1. Yes, there are sadly girls (and women) that get away with things because of their looks. I’d argue though that the problem there wasn’t a shirt or any other media, but the fact that boys (and men) let them get away with that behavior. And to take it even further back, somewhere along the way their parents did not make it clear how unacceptable that using their looks like that is just not what they should be doing to make their way through the world.

  11. Like others have said, I think there is a big difference between “should JC Penny make the shirt” and “should parents let their kids wear it?” Each parent makes decisions with their kids about what attire is appropriate and not. To me, that’s not the issue. Of course parents can have their kids wear or not wear something, just like they can ban violent video games in the house or junk food.

    As to whether JC Penny should make the shirt, I’m in the “no” camp. I’m sure JC Penny was blindsided, but that’s not the point. Companies should be on the lookout for products that convey a bad message. I think this shirt fell on the wrong side of the “girls will like it and it’s not overtly offensive” line. There’s a difference, although one of degree, between a shirt with a sparkly “hottie” or similar written on it and one that directly links 1. being a girl and 2. being pretty with 3. not doing my homework and 4. getting a male to do it instead.

    I agree with Amy Kraft that all of these messages add up. Ideally, we would live in a society where no one would ever think to make such a shirt or wear it. And it’s our right as consumers to tell companies when we think they have crossed a line. That’s exactly what people did in this case. It’s true that one shirt is not going to make any child one way or another, but sexism is still deeply and perniciously embedded in our culture, and shirts like this demonstrate that, and certainly don’t help change it.

    I wouldn’t say that I’m made at JC Penny, they’re just trying to make a buck. But I am proud of all the people who stood up and said “hey, we don’t like what this stands for and we want you to get rid of it.” It’s only when people do that that things change.

  12. I think in deciding if a child should wear it, or if JCPenney should carry it, that it all comes back to the same thing. What is sexist? I don’t think this shirt falls into that category and at least a few buyers at JCPenney agreed otherwise they wouldn’t have put this shirt on store shelves. Now, very many people disagreed and they took the shirt down. It was an appropriate response to their customer base. I still don’t think they are wrong for selling it in the first place.

    Sexism is not something with a black and white definition. What one perceives as sexist, another perceives as harmelss humor. Neither is right, they’re just opinion and you can’t regulate or predict opinion. If JCPenney, or any store removed everything that could be remotely perceived as offensive for any reason, then we’d be left with a bunch of khaki pants and white tees. And probably still debating if the shirts fit too tight and were sexist.

    1. Is the question whether the shirt’s message is technically sexist, or whether it’s problematic? What if it said, “I’m too pretty to do homework, so my nerdy sister has to do it for me”? That wouldn’t be sexist, but it would still be reinforcing the message that, when you’re attractive, you can charm your way through life, and if you’re getting by on hard work, it must be because your lack of looks and charisma make brains your only option.

      To be fair, society gives this message to both girls and guys. Whether or not it’s sexist, it is problematic. Sure, one silly slogan on one kids’ sweatshirt isn’t going to make or break the issue. But it is a valid issue, and it’s little things like this that contribute to it, especially in the minds of impressionable tweens.

      1. I think most are saying it’s problematic because it’s sexist, but either way, the same problem arises in defining if it’s sexist or problematic. It’s a matter of opinion. I agree, there are shirts with controversial messages for boys, girls, men and women. It’s a fine line. However, I walk firmly on the side of being able to see humor in it without taking offense or worrying it will harm my kids (or adults) emotionally.

  13. I made this point in my blog responding to this whole thing: it’s a mother’s job to instill morals and values, not JC Penny. Social media is a mob that is more concerned with feeling like it’s a part of something righteous than actually having a discussion. Thank you for being the ONLY person to go against the grain on this one.

    1. Spoon, thank you so much! I was truly very nervous putting up this post. I know it’s not PC and it’s not on the bandwagon. Actually, it’s on a tiny little cart moving in the opposite direction, but it’s what I genuinely believe, and I thought it was important for people to step back and realy look at the issue.

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