Freshman Girls: Get ’em while they’re skinny.

This was originally posted to the blog that I had while I was a student at University of Michigan, on October 21, 1999. This article expresses a fairly run-of-the-mill “free speech absolutist” perspective that I was embracing when I was in my 20’s: the idea that the best and most productive way to respond to offensive speech is always to simply produce speech that is counter to it, and rely on the “marketplace of ideas” to bring people to the best understanding of the world.

What do I think of this article now? It’s shameful, and I would never write this article today. The fact that I even said “I think it’s funny” makes me embarrassed. I was dismissive of the fact that the t-shirts in question were demeaning, proving that I not only was insensitive but also that I was ignorant of the way that constant demeaning messaging shapes the way gender is perceived and functions to work as a structure of oppression against women.

Moreover, my superficial “free speech” argument missed the very obvious rebuttal: when people get outraged at offensive t-shirts, that outrage is also free speech. If someone demands an apology, that is also free speech. And if the college reprimands the stupid students who made the shirts, that is a form of speech and expression as well. I wish I could go back to 26-year-old me and mansplain to him that public shaming of stupid behavior is just as much a form of free expression as the stupid behavior is.

I am leaving my original words below, however, unedited. They are a reminder to myself of where I have come from intellectually and how I’ve grown, as well as a reminder to others that people change and mature over time, and that any life (your own or anyone else’s) should be judged by its trajectory and not by a snapshot.

There has been a big hubbub on campus because a small group of students have decided to make and sell t-shirts, mainly at football games, with the slogan, “Freshman Girls: Get ’em while they’re skinny!”

I think it’s kind of funny, in a rude kind of way, but as I’m sure you might imagine there are some groups on campus who are outraged and offended. All kinds of complaints and protests have arisen.

This isn’t funny! It objectifies women! It is demeaning! It causes self-esteem problems!

It’s a bit ridiculous, in my opinion, because if you are taking a t-shirt sold at a football game that seriously, then chances are you had self-esteem problems to begin with.

But more importantly, all of this whining and moaning is counter-productive if your goal is to actually change freshman men’s attitudes about women. All it is doing is perpetuating stereotypes of feminists as hyper-sensitive scowling whiny chicks with an axe to grind and no sense of humor.

There isn’t a single person out there who will look at the protests and anger caused by these shirts and say: “Wow, you know what? I never realized it before, but I guess women really are oppressed by society!” Nobody’s mind will be changed. People who are already feminists will agree with themselves, and everyone else will see it as irrefutable evidence that there is no reason to listen to feminists: “they are just oversensitive and humorless to boot!”

I propose a better way to approach this, something that I believe will actually help the feminist agenda.

Women on our campus should create a shirt that disses freshman guys. They should wear them around campus, and to football games. I mean, it wouldn’t be that difficult: there are so many ways you can make fun of freshman guys.

Make a t-shirt about them being bad in bed. Make a t-shirt about their bad personal hygiene. Make a t-shirt about the fact that they are insecure about literally everything.

Making a t-shirt mocking freshman boys would show strength, and would also show some spirit and humor. And if it made freshman boys feel a little bad, then hey: at least that would even up the score.

If both teams played the game, maybe we’d even end up in a world where people didn’t get offended by every tiny little thing… and that would be better for everyone.