My sister and I created a t-shirt with the message: “It’s the white men, stupid.” It is, of course, a play on the famous saying from Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid.” We debuted and sold this all-cotton comfy product at the March for Our Lives in New York City, as we figured it was time to not only participate in the resistance, but to profit from it.
The reaction was overwhelming. Granted, March for Our Lives provided an ideal audience for such a message. I am certain a good percentage of those activists already own at least one Nasty Woman shirt. But even on the subway ride up, two young women said to me, “I love your shirt” and one insisted on snapping a photo.
At the march itself, there were countless cackles as soon as people read the words. It was popular with white women, women of color, black men, and even several straight white men who got it. Many photographed it and quite a few bought it while exclaiming, “This is my new favorite shirt.”
However, I must admit: A few were insulted. And when I posted the shirt on Facebook, people either really loved it or really hated it. You may be able to guess the demographic of the haters: yes, white men.
I tried to explain to these guys that it is not personal; it is a systematic issue. The message refers to the white male culture and political attitudes that have dominated our lives. There was no need to take it so personally. Would I be insulted if someone said whites have oppressed African-Americans? Would I say, “What? How can you say that about me?” No. I would understand that it’s a truth about our society.
I spent much time online arguing with the haters, most of whom are on the political left. I tried to make them see that white men are the major force behind rightwing power. They were the chief force behind Trump’s victory. They are primarily the ones who are holding back progress we care about, such as gun reform. And they are the ones who skate free after making mistakes, while African-American men are made to rot in prison.
The Facebook arguments continued. One gentleman yelled, “Why are you alienating me? I’m an ally. I am for women’s rights. I voted for Hillary.” This was disturbing because if one silly t-shirt makes you waver in your commitment to women’s rights, maybe you are not such an ally. And why would he vote for Hillary for me? If he is a left-leaner, shouldn’t he have voted for her for himself? For many of the causes he cares about? For the vulnerable people who would be made more vulnerable under Trump?
Other online rants against me: “This does not help move us forward,” and “It is sexist and racist.” Listen, I am just identifying the problem. And I have tried to communicate with many men in order to change their political minds. But they don’t listen to me. Why is it on me to move everyone forward anyhow? Maybe these white men who are so angered by the shirt should be the ones to reach out to other white men. They are more likely to be listened to than I am.
Another guy scolded me to stop lumping people together: “Treat people as individuals.” Well, t-shirts don’t work on an individual level. What kind of business would that be? There would be no economies of scale if you had to print individualized shirts that read, “It’s white men like you, Ryan.”
What I mostly thought about these angry guys: They are so humorless. Suddenly, the shoe was on the other foot. Men have always proclaimed that women who are offended by their sexist remarks are humorless. And here, they were the ones screaming, while all I could think was, “Dudes, lighten up. Geez, these men are uptight”.
Now that I have posted the shirt and its message here, feel free to let your reactions fly. Laugh. Cry. Ream me out. Let the anger rip. And if I do not respond, it is because I am fulfilling a boat load of t-shirt orders.