Forever 21's 'Allergic to Algebra' Shirt Joins Pantheon Of Sexist Discount Clothing [Update]

There's a new sexist T-shirt for young girls in town, this one courtesy of fast-fashion mega-chain Forever 21. The store is offering a shirt that will accomplish two things: wear out within two weeks and also send a message to your daughter that because she's female, she's not very smart.


Unlike J.C. Penney's entry in this field, Forever 21's shirt is still for sale, though the website says it's out of stock.

That means either someone at Forever 21 corporate wised up to how much of a shitstorm this will be, or people are buying the thing like mad. We'd like to think it's the former, but suspect it might actually be the latter; if so, excuse us, we're moving to a mud hut in the middle of the rain forest with an undiscovered Brazilian tribe. We've put in a call to a Forever 21 rep and will update if we hear back.

It's not that it's terrible for the shirt to refer to algebra! Algebra is a fact of life for middle-schoolers and remedial high-schoolers all over the place, male and female. But, it's possible to include algebra in a slogan on a girls' shirt without being a terrible misogynist. Suggestions:

  • Addicted to Algebra
  • Annoyed by Algebra, But That's OK, Doing It Anyway
  • Improving at Algebra
  • Prefer Geometry to Algebra: Either Way, I Like Math
  • Doing My Algebra Homework For My Brother

Etc. Look, we're not marketing wizards, we're just trying to point out that there are ways that girls can be taught they're not inherently bad at academics. Crazy, but true!

Update 8:55 a.m. 9/13/2011: Forever 21 sent us the following statement:

"Our merchandise is intended to appeal to all audiences, not to offend them. We would like to apologize to our customers as our intent was not to discredit education, and we are taking the proper actions necessary."

Whether they're removing the shirt from stores wasn't clear.

[] [@_rosiegray]

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Seriously! I think the power of words is important, just as is the power of action. But back to the power of words. Making a phrase or an idea so casual that it can be worn like that works like this "read between the lines" type thing. It's passing off as a joke, but it's accepted into minds as not a threat (that's a strong word, but I can't think of a better one right now). I'm remembering being 15 and making the "for rent" site for my parents home and thinking about the power of words and what ideas I wanted to send out to lure people in. I remember thinking to only use affirming phrases, avoiding "no's". Marketing people know the power of words, their subtleties and the capabilities of subliminal messages... and it bothers me that this shirt is actually for sale. It's like when people write "FML". Really?


Of course what makes this campaign even more offensive is if the line carried the adage Hungry for Algebra for a guys line no one would be the wiser because once again it’s a boy’s role to be smart and the bread winner.

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