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Julia Morgan School students tell Forever 21 and JC Penney: We’re not buying it

T-shirts drawn by Julia Morgan School For Girls Class of 2012

Dear Mills Community,

In the past few weeks, there has been a lot of controversy over two shirts made by Forever 21 and by JC Penney. Forever 21’s shirt read “Allergic to Algebra” and the JC Penney shirt read “I’m too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me.”

Both items were marketed to girls, and when the shirts were publicized online; both companies were harshly criticized for their sexist stereotyping. The shirts have been taken off the market, but their messages and the companies’ responsibility remained.

While thousands of adults reacted to the shirts, finally causing Forever 21 and JC Penney to issue official apologies, little had been published about what girls actually thought of the controversy.

So, together, the 51 students in the eighth grade Class of 2012 of Julia Morgan School for Girls wrote the following letter.

This message is not for Forever 21 and JC Penney only. This is a message to all clothing companies marketing to young women today. It is also a message to all the young women who will buy, or choose not to buy, from these companies.

Jess Dang,
Eighth grade English teacher

Dear clothing companies and clothing consumers,

As girls get older, there is a lot of pressure to be pretty instead of good at school, and oftentimes girls who are good at school are stereotyped as “not cool” or “nerds.” As the young people towards whom these products are aimed, we want you to know what we think.

We believe that girls are capable of demonstrating stellar academic ability, and girls are being discouraged from school work because these messages tell them they need to be pretty instead of smart. The shirts, “Allergic to Algebra” and “I’m too pretty to do my homework” send a message that girls can’t be pretty and smart at the same time.

As consumers, we can choose to buy products that support women’s rights and challenge stereotypes. We acknowledge that the companies took down the shirts; however, there are still shirts on the market that promote similar stereotypes.

When we buy products, we should think about how our choices might appear to those around us: younger siblings, peers, and teachers, for example.  Both companies and consumers are responsible for continuing negative messages about girls, but we can join together to fight stereotypes – in style.

The Class of 2012 at Julia Morgan School for Girls

Shirts like the ones made by Forever 21 and JC Penney carry a number of messages about girls. Here is a list compiled by 2012 the Julia Morgan School for Girls:

  • Girls care more about appearance than education
  • Girls can’t do algebra (beyond just not liking it)
  • If you’re pretty, then you don’t have to do homework or what everyone else does
  • Girls spend too much time pampering themselves so they don’t have time for school
  • Boys are better at doing homework/academics than girls, so they have to do girls’ homework for them
  • Being pretty is for girls, school is for boys
  • Smart girls or girls who do their homework can’t be pretty
  • Physical appearance and school are negatively related – a girl can’t care about both