Warning: Many readers will find the content disturbing.
This column was published in the London Free Press on Saturday 10 December 2016.
The past few months have been a whirlwind in the U.S. with the presidential campaign and the election of Donald Trump. But let’s not pat ourselves too firmly on the back.
Many of us in Canada watched Trump vs. Clinton with horror and dismay as scandals broke on both sides. But even as memories of the infamous “locker-room talk” video — perhaps the single most disturbing revelation of that political brawl — fade, instead of a sanctimonious holier-than-thou attitude, I think we need to take a hard look at how we view acceptable male attitudes towards women.
I live in an affluent part of London. The closest shopping centre is apparently one of the most profitable in the province. Recently, I needed to bring my laptop in for repairs and I was early so I took a walk around the mall. At the end of one corridor, there is a store that sells T-shirts and hats and possibly other things.
It has an edgy look to it and, unsurprisingly, I had never been in. So, I decided to be adventurous (yes, that was sarcasm).
I was greeted by a pleasant young woman who started a brief conversation: “Have you been here before?” “No, I haven’t.” “‘Looking for anything in particular?” “No, not really, just killing some time.” And so she left me to browse.
The first row of T-shirts was the usual fare — quirky superheroes, some with a Canadian twist, for example, a maple leaf superimposed on the Superman S. The next set of T-shirts was something else altogether.
It’s not particularly easy to shock me, but I was shocked. Appalled, actually. One after the other, there was a series of T-shirts with misogynistic, demeaning, crude statements. I am not entirely sure who the target market is, or what social context would be an appropriate setting to wear one.
Wait, let me rephrase that: I am entirely sure that there is no social context in which it would be appropriate to wear one of these. No self-respecting man (I assume the target market is men) would wear one. But the fact that someone thinks that those captions would make good T-shirts to make a buck on — indeed, that the store is in the business of selling them — can only mean that someone out there disagrees with me and does so with his or her wallet.
You’re probably wondering how bad those T-shirts could have been. I’m not sure I can tell you. In fact, I’m almost certain the editors wouldn’t print — in the newspaper or online — many of the words screened onto the T-shirts that, for the right price, anyone who wants to can wear while walking down a street near you.
I don’t blame the editors, I wouldn’t want my children to pick up the newspaper or click on a website and read them, either.
(Editor’s Note: Correct, the T-shirt slogans are not printable in a newspaper or on a newspaper’s website. Here are two of the most tame, with BEEPs where necessary: “I have the BEEP, so I make the rules”; “This is Bill. Bill likes to drink and BEEP BEEP. Bill is a badass. Be like Bill.”)
Some of you will want to make arguments about freedom of speech, of course, and I want to emphasize this column is not being written to start a boycott of any stores or tell any store owners what they can or cannot sell.
Instead, it’s a simple observation that if the attitudes toward women that Donald Trump had on display in that video with then-TV host Billy Bush can be printed on a T-shirt to wear here in London, then we, collectively, have somehow decided those attitudes are OK.
And that should give us pause.
Wael Haddara is a London physician and educator.