We're at an exciting time in history when women aren't allowing archaic gender stereotypes to penetrate their every move anymore. From blocking "beach body" articles to tearing down companies who objectify women, we're just not having it anymore. The same goes for any message that promotes the idea that a woman is only valued for her looks, and not her brain. That's exactly why parents have an issue with a Disney "Shoes Speak Louder Than Words" T-shirt, and the seemingly sexist message it sends to the young girls.
Before you roll your eyes and say it's just a shirt, understand that we absorb thousands of messages on a daily basis — and the majority of them are subliminal. If you're a young girl and all you see are messages that reinforce that your main value is the way you look and the clothes you wear, you are going to internalize that. And it just may affect how you see yourself later on in life. That's exactly why Emma Palmer, a London interior designer and mother to a 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, called out Disney directly on Facebook.
While shopping at the Disney Store in the Westfield London shopping center, Palmer was shocked to find the T-shirt with its outdated slogan. Taking a picture of it, she uploaded it to Facebook and wrote, "I saw this embarrassment of a T-shirt at the Disney store in Westfield yesterday, aimed at young girls.. This is just everything that is wrong with messaging to girls in a nutshell."
In case someone didn't understand what was wrong with the message, she continued to explain, "It's 2018 .. Surely it is widely recognised that the content of your mind and words you speak are WAAAAAY more important than your f*cking shoes!"
While many people agreed with her complaint, some didn't see the big deal. One person jokingly admitted that they loved shoes. Palmer agreed that she did too, "but they are not a substitute for a brain."
And that's the crux of the matter. The way the T-shirt is worded, it seems to be telling girls that their clothes (i.e. their appearance) will do all the talking for them.
After all, there's nothing wrong with loving to dress up or be pretty. It's just, historically, women have been bombarded with the idea that that's all they could be. When talking about her daughter, Palmer tells Bustle, "She loves make up and clothes and that is fine, but I want her to understand that she can still be pretty and anything else she wants to be."
Another person suggested it might have been a joke. But Palmer didn't believe Disney was creating layers with their messages and going for irony on children's tees.
Bustle has contacted Disney for comment.
Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Palmer said that calling out companies who make sexist merchandise is important, and you shouldn't just roll your eyes at the slogan and take it as a joke.
"The messages you give to a girl should be about what they're thinking, their intelligence, and what they have to say — not what they look like," she told the website.
And children are very susceptible to these messages. She told BuzzFeed News that recently her daughter told her that she couldn't be smart because she was a girl, and her son wanted to try ballet but couldn't because he was a boy. She says her children have these notions because they received those messages from gender stereotypes, like the one depicted on the Disney shirt.
"It is clear to me from her statement that somewhere she has this idea that smartness is a 'boy thing,'" Palmer tells Bustle. "I was gutted and was so confused. As I go out of my way to quash these things, I encourage her to enjoy all sorts of stuff."
Palmer also pointed out that Disney isn't a small mom-and-pop store that missed the mark with an outdated tee. It's one of the biggest voices and influencers for children. Therefore, she argues, holding them accountable is important. "If Disney takes this t-shirt off the shelves and really starts to reconsider the messages in all parts of its merchandising — and not only its big movies and PR campaigns — then I would consider that a genuine victory," she tells Bustle. "Having brands like this lead from the front and set the example is vital if other companies and clothing brands are to do the same."
Disney did see her complaint, and responded to Palmer by saying they are now looking into the matter. Whether the company pulls the tee or not is still to be decided.