A lot of people are putting a lot of time and money into trying to figure out why women run away from computer science. One of the results of that effort has been to realize that negative stereotypes about a girl’s ability to do math is one cause of girls at a young deciding that “I can’t do it” is the right answer instead of “I’m going to try to do it until I succeed.” Sure, parents and teachers also play a role and are a prime factor in whether or not a girl thinks she can do things like math.
Now, apparently we need to worry about retailers as well. Everyone at this point has heard about the JCPenney screw up related to a shirt that states “I’m too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me.” This isn’t even specific to math, but it does very succinctly state the idea that you are either pretty or smart, but not both. I wonder which one most girls are going to choose given that option?
But have you heard about Forever 21’s very similar screw up in the wake of JCPenney’s shirt? They decided that a shirt implying that the (female) wearer is “allergic to algebra” was OK. This pulls directly from that stereotype that girls can’t do math, and perpetuates it!
It’s sad to see that no one in these companies tried or succeeded in stopping these shirts from being made. Did no one think that it was inappropriate to encourage girls to be stupid? It worries me that the outcry didn’t happen until they hit shelves. But more importantly, who designs this type of shirt? What parent would buy such a shirt for their daughter? I perhaps worry more that the designer was so unaware as to design such a shirt.
If you are also outraged, or at least a bit annoyed, you should check out the Credo page about the shirts. They have an excellent summary, as well as a way for you to sign a pledge to be sent to the CEOs stating that they need to fix their system so this doesn’t happen again!
What do you think? Are these shirts an example of an underlying problem in our US society?