The XX Factor

Lesbian Mommy T-shirts Do Not an Activist Make

Behold, Marc Jacobs’ latest foray into T-shirt activism . As reported in New York magazine, Jacobs has two new politically themed tees for sale, both bearing the statement: “I pay my taxes. I want my RIGHTS!” That’s all that appears on one shirt, that and a dinky little American flag. The other shirt is where he’s really going for provocateur status, featuring a drawing of what we are supposed to assume is a lesbian couple with a toddler we are supposed to assume is theirs. Jacobs’ gay moms are clearly over the butch/femme dichotomy-the woman with the uber-short haircut and shoulder tattoo is wearing a dress and showing cleavage. Her partner wears a strapless dress and a ponytail. Their pose is relaxed-one has her arm around the other, who keeps a protective hand on the toddler. It’s the iconography of the holy family , and the American nuclear family , just without the XY phenotype.

Since its priced at $24, pretty cheap for Jacobs, this shirt might well fly off the shelves and extend to everyone who sees it the message that gay families deserve equal treatment under the law. “Give the attractive, not-too-butch, affectionate-but-not-rubbing-it-in-your-face, tax-paying mommy lesbians their RIGHTS!” And that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

What bothers me is that it’s the latest example of retailers using activism as a marketing ploy, sending the message that buying is an acceptable substitute for doing. Wearing a T-shirt with a political message is a pretty passive form of activism, and what action it involves has to do with consumption, what the wearer gets out of it-a new T-shirt, a piece of the Jacobs brand, and a basically unearned sense of political engagement. I wonder how many people who bought Jacobs’$2 2008 Hillary and Obama T-shirts didn’t actually vote in the election.

What do other Double X ers think?