The XX Factor

Nike’s New T-Shirt Is Classic Feminist Humor

Is this shirt sexist or just funny?

Courtesy Nike. 

Sadly, there are many in the media constantly on the lookout for any scrap of evidence whatsoever to shore up roughly every negative stereotype about women ever concocted. This means, of course, that they’re eager to pounce on any story about women and especially feminists displaying an utter lack of humor. Sure, it’s a little like finding the golden ticket in your candy bar, but such is the nature of these things that such a rare item gets trotted out as if it’s a meaningful stand-in for the whole. Such is the case with this article about the supposed outrage over Nike’s shirt commemorating the achievements of female athletes in the Olympics. According to the Daily Mail, feminists are up in arms over this new T-shirt, made for women, that has the words “Gold Digging” emblazoned on it with the Nike symbol.

Clearly, we’re meant to understand that silly feminists are too stupid or eagerly offended to realize that this shirt is an ironic joke that turns an ugly stereotype on its head by using the phrase to mark women who work hard and achieve their dreams on their own. The implication the Daily Mail (and sadly, other sources running with the story) makes is preposterous to anyone who actually knows feminism; the shirt traffics in the same kind of ironic humor that feminists tend to excel at, with everything from Slut Walk to the mud-flap girl throwing the finger that dons Feministing. Feminists invented invoking misogynist stereotypes and rewriting them through humor to say positive, affirming things about women. Nike’s just appropriating our jam, yo. Though they’re doing it pretty well; if I were training for an athletic competition, I’d be inclined to buy this shirt.

Which isn’t to say that some feminists aren’t being bullheaded about this, of course. Styleite picked up the story, accusing Nike of pulling a “stunt” and claiming that because there are no men’s sizes, that somehow proves this is sexist. (Though why a man would wear an ironic T-shirt that subverts stereotypes about women is beyond me, and should any man want to do so, I imagine his point would be better made wearing a woman’s shirt.) Styleite claims the woman-only thing is due to agreement with the stereotype: “Because gold digging is just for ladies, of course!” Well, really the closer interpretation is, “Because only women are slurred with the term ‘gold digging,’ and so of course it’s women who want to subvert that stereotype by drawing attention to their athletic achievements through the use of humor”.

The fact of the matter is that if you get any group of people together, some of them will have been at the end of the line when they were handing out senses of humor. That’s true of dog catchers, ballet dancers, and in-laws; some of them just don’t get humor. That’s also true of feminists; as with every other group, the overly earnest, like humidity, will always be around to make things damp and unpleasant. Holding all of feminism accountable because a small minority of feminists can’t catch an obvious and frankly anti-sexist joke is simply unfair. Nike is an evil company in many ways, but as their recent “Voices” ad demonstrates, they have no intention of undermining the athletic ambitions of women.