JCPenney: A Little Credit, but a Lotta Outrage, Too

Today was one of those days when my inbox piled up with exactly one topic: the new shirt being sold at JCPenney.  Maybe you’ve seen it.  In case the image is too flowery for you to read the words, they are: “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me.”  The description alongside it reads: “Who has time for homework when there’s a new Justin Bieber album out? She’ll love this tee that’s just as cute and sassy as she is.”  All told, I’ve received no less than 4 text messages, 3 personal emails, and 2 phone calls.  They all asked the same question: Did you see this?

Hundreds, if not thousands of tweets were sent to JCPenney expressing outrage over the t-shirt, and by midday, over 1,600 people had signed a petition to have it removed from shelves.  To their credit, JCPenney was astonishingly fast about pulling the merchandise in response.  Their public statement declared:

“JCPenney is committed to being America’s destination for great style and great value for the whole family.  We agree that the “Too pretty” t-shirt does not deliver an appropriate message, and we have immediately discontinued its sale. Our merchandise is intended to appeal to a broad customer base, not to offend them. We would like to apologize to our customers and are taking action to ensure that we continue to uphold the integrity of our merchandise that they have come to expect.”

Now, I have to give them credit.  Other companies that have come under fire for promoting merchandise that  demeans young girls (Abercrombie & Fitch and American Apparel are two that easily come to mind) have been far more reluctant to respond to such requests.  But who knows, maybe social activism on Twitter wasn’t such a big thing quite yet.  Maybe selling this sweatshirt during back-to-school shopping time was just too targeted.  Maybe society is just reaching the tipping point of our tolerance for marketing and pop culture that objectifies and degrades women.  Or maybe JCPenney just realized a lot faster that it’d be in their best interest to listen to their customers.

I don’t know the answer.  And as much as I want to credit JCPenney for their quick response and believable apology, I also have to wonder, what idiots thought this would be acceptable?  I don’t work in the garment industry.  But when incidents like this come to my attention, I always think about the lack of female leaders in the business world.  Not to say there aren’t women who might have thought t-shirts like this were cute, but I do truly believe that a critical mass in any single meeting with decision-making capacity would have prevented it from getting to the next level.

Multiple people would have had to sign off on this as it made its way from design to production to marketing to sales (by the way, the name of the company that actually makes the shirt is called Self Esteem – oh the irony).  I wonder, how many women were a part of that chain of command?

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