In this age of instant communication, outrage spreads quickly, and change happens fast. So it was yesterday with the department store JCPenney and a T-shirt it was selling online for girls aged 7 to 16. In girly lettering, the shirt declared, “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me.’’ Fury spread through Twitter and the blogosphere all morning. And within hours, to its credit, JCPenney had removed the shirt from its website and apologized to customers.
Then, almost as swiftly, came the backlash: people who argued that a shirt is just a shirt, and that this one was intended to be tongue-in-cheek. But while irony plays well in the adult clothing market, girls in elementary school are more likely to get the message than the subtext. And girls still get plenty of messages, from society and culture, that they need to look pretty - and that they aren’t as smart as boys. Studies have shown that girls are underconfident in school, and that teachers and parents sometimes unwittingly play into gender stereotypes when it comes to math and science. Now, fortunately, many parents are sensitive to messages that undermine their daughters. Retailers would be wise to stock their shelves accordingly.