In case you haven’t seen the story, or the offending designs, you can do so here. Yeah, basically, it’s a t-shirt that compares a girlfriend to an animal, as well as a t-shirt that lists what most people would consider unacceptable excuses to do something that seems to be implied as being violent or unreasonable, quite possibly towards a woman.
After an outcry that spread around Twitter more quickly and more surprisingly than the #replacebandnameswithpancakes hashtag, Topman issued a hasty statement confirming they would be withdrawing the offending items from sale, but re-iterating they were only meant to be comical.
My issue is: if they’re joke t-shirts (admittedly horrendous ones), why should they have withdrawn the t-shirts from sale? I thought freedom of speech was fully operational in the UK: if Nazi-bumming twatheads like the BNP can do a Party Political Broadcast on the BBC in the run-up to the elections, then I’m pretty sure Topman can sell t-shirts designed to be worn predominantly by idiots.
“But they’re vile and unfunny!” Yeah, I know. I don’t like them either. I think if you wore either of them, you’d look a bit of a massive tit. But I also think the same thing about wet-look leggings, flat caps and crocks. Just because it’s what I reckon, it doesn’t mean they should be banned. That’s not how stuff works.
There’s a lot of things I find vile and unfunny – Jim Davidson, my ex-boyfriend and everything that’s ever appeared on Jackass, to name just a few – but I choose to eradicate them from my own life, rather than insisting they’re no longer in everybody else’s too.
Yes, the second t-shirt lists reasons most commonly given by rapists and wife-beaters to justify their actions. It doesn’t actually approve these reasons, nor does it even allude to what the t-shirt is trying to justify. To be fair, they could be apologising for eating all your biscuits or pissing in your wardrobe, for all we know. But even if they were alluding to something more serious, if it’s a joke then what’s the harm? No one wearing it would seriously be thinking “RIGHT, I’ve got the t-shirt on, now all I need is the rohypnol.”
Plenty of comics are renowned for joking about far worse things. “If you can’t beat ’em… what’s the point of having kids?” says Lee Mack. In the ‘worst person to be married to‘ category on Mock The Week, Frankie Boyle said: “When I said I was a positive person… I meant HIV!” And Louis CK talks at length about how he prefers being white: “Seriously if you’re not white, you’re missing out. This shit is thoroughly good.”
I happen to find all of the above funny, and yet somehow I don’t endorse child cruelty or racism, nor do I wish to belittle people with HIV. On the other hand, I don’t laugh at jokes about Michael Jackson being a paedophile, and I also hate Al Murray’s “all women are secretaries” thing. They’re not my kind of humour. But they’re jokes – albeit jokes about serious topics – and they’re entirely subjective, and if we start censoring them then we have a serious problem. I just choose not to listen to them, and not to laugh.
Besides, it’s not like these are the only t-shirts to make jokes about violence to the opposite sex. Jesus, if you think Topman are bad then David and Goliath must be shitting themselves: they built their name around the “Boys are Stupid, Throw Rocks at Them” slogan, and more recently have been stocking a t-shirt akin to the ‘What Breed Is She?’ Topman monstrosity, one with the slogan “Dogs Make Better Boyfriends“. Sexism works both ways, and although this is equally demeaning to men as the Topman ones are to women, we’re somehow less outraged.
Or how about this one from popular t-shirt site Zazzle? This isn’t about violence, it seems to be about murder; and good grief, at least the Topman one apologises. And yet somehow Zazzle, as well as David & Goliath, remain a lynch-mob free zone.
Of course they do. They’re jokes. Jokes on t-shirts. Some you’ll find funny, some you won’t. Buy the ones you do, if you like. Don’t buy the ones you don’t. Because if we are to justify getting rid of the Topman t-shirts, we need to get rid of any other t-shirt someone finds tasteless or offensive, otherwise Topman becomes some ridiculous scapegoat.
And just to clarify: I’m a feminist. I always have been. And this post isn’t decrying some nonexistent Hysterical Women Brigade as being wrong for being anti-domestic violence, or anti-sexism. The thing with subjectivity is we’re all entitled to be offended by these t-shirts. We’re entitled to think those that wear them look like massive tits. But I strongly defend those people’s right to be able to look like massive tits, whether we like it or not.