Dec 212006

Many thanks to feminist activist Ben Atherton-Zemon for this excellent call to action regarding K-Mart’s sale of girls’ t-shirts that glorify violence against women as acceptable human behavior. Please feel free to pas this along. Let’s make sure K-mart hears us loud and clear on this one! Contact information is at the end of the article.

K-Mart Misses Opportunity to Stand Against Violence
By Ben Atherton-Zeman, December 20, 2006

“Problem Solved,� reads the T-shirt. The cartoon above features stick figure drawings of a male and a female. In the first frame, the female is talking excitedly to the male – in the second, he has pushed her through the wall of the frame. She is falling to her doom – he is smiling. “Problem solved.�

Worse yet, the T-shirt is a children’s shirt. According to the Kennebec Journal, shopper Kristin Aiello told the Augusta, Maine K-Mart store manager that the message on the shirt was offensive ( – the article has a photo of the shirt). The manager promptly removed the T-shirts last Tuesday.

Surely, this should have ended the matter. Every twelve seconds in the United States, a man abuses the woman he has promised to love. Every two minutes, a man rapes a woman – usually a woman he knows. Men’s violence against women is supported by societal attitudes that reduce women’s voices to objects of irritation. Silencing women is very much a part of committing violence against them. Violence against women is not funny – least of all to those millions of women who experience it.

In an abrupt reversal, however, K-Mart’s corporate offices changed the store manager’s decision. The Journal article quotes Kimberly Freely, manager of corporate relations for Sears Holdings Corporation. Freely said the Augusta K-mart was putting the shirts back on the shelves – Sears Holdings Corporation believes “these attitude Ts are meant to be light-hearted in nature.â€?

Light-hearted? No matter what the intent of the shirt, the effect is to minimize and condone men’s violence. K-Mart’s reversal of the store manager’s decision deliberately undermines their history of philanthropy and commitment to agencies dedicated to preventing violence against women. Their decision undermines all who work to stop such violence.

Many men (myself included) find it difficult to seriously listen to women. We tend to become defensive. After all, we are socialized to be the “top dog,� the one in charge of the relationship. If we listen to women, our authority might be undermined, whether in our personal relationship or in the world. If we listen to women, we might have to acknowledge the sexism and violence that women suffer – that our gender perpetrates. If we listen to women, we may have to be accountable for our own actions, for our own sexism, for our own privilege – for our own violence.

It’s so much easier to just make women the butt of the joke.

I use humor to educate about violence against women. Humor can be used to reduce an audience’s defensiveness when it comes to learning and accepting difficult material.

Humor can also be used as a club. It can be used to avoid responsibility – “Can’t you take a joke?� Humor can be used to silence targets of oppression: women, people of color, Jews, GLBTQ folks, etc. And it can allow men, whites, Gentiles, heterosexuals and others to continue to ignore our privilege, and ignore the violence that our group perpetrates.

The “problem� in this T-shirt is defined as the woman speaking – the “solution� is to commit violence against her until she “shuts up.�

What about the real problems of violence? Of sexism? Of woman-hating? Of homophobia and racism? If only a simple, tasteless joke would cause these real problems to “just shut up.�

I have one idea towards “solving�: vote with our holiday spending dollars. Don’t shop at K-Mart these last few days of the holiday shopping season.

Instead, support businesses that work to end men’s violence against women. Buy their products, whether it be New Moon Publishing, Donnelly/Colt or the Syracuse Cultural Workers There are many progressive companies that support these issues.

My calls to Sears Holdings Company have gone unreturned. My call to my local K-Mart was much more illuminating – they had previously stocked the offensive T-shirt, but were not doing so at present. I asked if this was because the shirt was so offensive – “Oh, God, no!� the worker replied. “We just ran out. We’ll be getting more.�

I’m not spending a penny at any K-Mart or any Sears until they remove their shirts and apologize for their mistake.

Problem solved.

Ben Atherton-Zeman performs a one-man play, “Voices of Men,� which uses humor to educate about men’s violence against women. He can be reached at, or

If you’d like to reach K-Mart, go to their website and fill out their Customer Comment form. Aylwin Lewis, CEO and President of Sears Holdings, is also “interested in
hearing from you,”

 December 21, 2006  Posted by on December 21, 2006

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