Selling T-shirt Feminism: Whose F-Bomb Is It, Anyway?

I’ve written before about “Fempowerment,” the current advertising and marketing trend filled with you-go-girl messages about breaking down barriers and building confidence and power. Aimed at teens and tween girls, the form has been used to deconstruct the standard, dated euphemisms of traditional ladylike ads -- for example, that having your period makes you want to dance around in white pants, or ride a Palomino on the beach. The goal is to not dance around anything, but to be direct and strong, and offer encouragement that for girls and women, the future is unlimited.

And I think I can safely say that with “Potty-Mouthed Princesses Drop F-Bombs for Feminism” by, which has been buzzed about in social media for the last week, the trend has reached bottom.  That would be dead bottom, south of Honey Boo Boo.

“What’s more offensive?” a young actress in a pink princess costume asks in this  video.  “A little girl saying f*ck -- or the sexist way society treats girls and women?



To me, it’s really hard to capture what’s most offensive about this video, because it’s one of the most misguided, muddleheaded, exploitative and manipulative pieces of work I’ve ever seen. Though it uses the F-word (feminism) in its title, it seems to have no understanding of what that means for human beings. Maybe that’s because it comes from a company that uses slogans about the latest gender controversies to sell T-shirts.

It starts out OK, showing an array of girls, aged 6-13, dressed in pink and purple spangley princess garb, who use the word “fuck”  a lot to put down the idea of damsels in distress. The shock value pays off, maybe in a laugh or two, in the first 10 seconds. But as the video progresses, it shows the girls using the exact same exaggerated emoting and attitude -- the obnoxious and off-putting sarcasm of the F-bombing, neck-rolling,and hip-tilting -- to cover problems like pay inequality and rape.

The thinking behind this video is convoluted, conflating and reducing substantive problems to a muddle of tiaras and F- bombs.

I feel sorry for the poor girl who has to say, (or, more like it, yell)  “Stop telling girls how to dress and start telling boys not to fucking rape.” What? Making those two issues have any moral equivalence is idiotic.

Part of the problem, I think, is the attempt to hijack the Sarah Silverman approach to ensure that the video goes viral.  What the creators don’t understand is that the genius of Sarah Silverman is that part when she’s making fun of herself, when she practices “meta-bigotry” and turns herself into the idiot, setting off politically incorrect word bombs.

She explained in her book “The Bedwetter” that when she was three, her father taught her to say "bitchbastarddamnshit."

"He thought it was hilarious," she writes. “He and the rest of the adults would go crazy laughing. And they were laughing at pure shock value -- a tiny child saying filthy words. It became very addictive for me. I chased that excellent feeling, even from that age."

Silverman actually parodies the ways that we -- bigots and self-styled liberal non-bigots alike -- discuss taboo topics, or avoid discussing them, or tie ourselves in logical knots in order to hold what we think are correct opinions.

Alas, this video is a mess, with none of that subtlety. The idea that all good liberal feminists drop the “f” bomb liberally is just a fallacy, equating rudeness with progressivism. Just because you’re not tickled to see little girls in princess costumes overemoting and saying the word “fuck” doesn’t mean that you’re a pearl-clutching Church Lady.

For me, at least, the video succeeds in turning that other F-word -- feminism -- into something radioactive and open for attack. And that plays directly into the hands of conservatives who think “radical feminists” are complaining, entitled princesses. 

What’s more, whose feminism is this, anyway?

So some little girls love pink and sparkles. So sue ‘em. They’ll still grow up to pursue whatever they want to do. It doesn’t mean that they can’t become coders, bakers or baseball players and join in any reindeer games. Let them be who they are, without prejudice.

Another thing. Hasn’t Disney, the worst offender of telling the traditional damsel-in-distress/princess type stories, attempted to undo that curse with movies like “Frozen”?

This claim that $10 of the T-shirt purchase will go to “kick-ass organizations that help women and children” -- how do we know this? I wasn’t able to find any information about where the money goes.

Also, given that it brings up the issue of wage equality, I’d love to know what the girls in the video were paid. Perhaps they were sold on the idea that it will make them famous. “Stop focusing on how I look,” is one of their lines, but I’m sure they all got a kick out of the wardrobe.

The truth is that this video co-opts the other F-word, “feminism,” by using the girls as props and corporate shills to sell T-shirts. That’s some seriously fucked-up shit.

29 comments about "Selling T-shirt Feminism: Whose F-Bomb Is It, Anyway?".
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  1. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, October 30, 2014 at 6:09 p.m.

    Good piece, Barbara, but we just can't have it both ways. Sex sells everything from cars to Fox Business News to Viagra (I just can't stand their current purring bimbo campaign), and tee shirts. As you illustrate, this branding campaign for feminism is cynical, superficial and self-defeating. Nothing will change.

  2. Edward Shain from EMS Associates, October 30, 2014 at 6:26 p.m.

    Yes. Just plain "yes."

    This is what we used to call "moosebreath," otherwise defined as what a 40 year-old copywriter thinks a 16 year-old wants to hear.

    Lord knows it may sell a few T-shirts, but all it really does is limn an old truth: bad processes create bad outcomes.

  3. Laura Ferry from Good Company, October 30, 2014 at 6:35 p.m.

    Could not agree more. It's hard to sit through the first few passes of the f bomb in this video without turning it off, and I'll bet I'm not alone. The authenticity of a message as important as this one has no business aiming for crass shock value. To take it here undermines the entire mission of empowering girls. It's just not funny. Not funny at all.

  4. Gerard Corbett from Redphlag LLC, October 30, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

    Well played Barbara. Let's hope this ends with your last word!

  5. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, October 30, 2014 at 8:30 p.m.

    Hi Barbara, I am in agreement with your thoughts and opinions. If the T-shirt company was really proud of this commercial, they should create a version of this in Islamic. I would take a bet that they would get over 1,000 death threats and maybe Obama would want to throw them in jail.

  6. david marks from self, October 30, 2014 at 9:58 p.m.

    I hear you, I do, but this might very well be much ado about just a little over-the-top fluff and verbiage. I’m a feminist, I try to be every day; for feminism to succeed in a world where right wing women denounce it like a plague, men have to get inside the gate and do it, too, and for me, hearing young girls use the f-word is just a sour taste atop an otherwise ever sweet cake.

  7. Ruth Thomas from Second helping, October 30, 2014 at 10:38 p.m.

    I think they wanted a viral video and did something to upset or shock a lot of people, wrapped it up with a supposed message...I don't believe they care about the message..but mission accomplished, everyone is talking about it...the real problem is not little girls saying "fuck". It is mothers of these girls, they are so needy of "self" they push their daughters to fulfill their lost dreams. Then cart them to all the talk shows, sitting next to them , on camera confess that they had been mollested. I hope the T-shirt sales has some $$ left for therapy.

  8. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, October 30, 2014 at 10:56 p.m.

    I never heard the term "moosebreath" before. But I certainly have seen and heard copy that is totally inauthentic. I can't define it, but I know it when I see it.

  9. Susan Klein from Oculus Marketing, October 30, 2014 at 11:13 p.m.

    So cogent and well-considered -- unlike the tone-deaf object of this critique.

  10. Nicole Crosby from Texas Fireframe Co., October 31, 2014 at 1:13 a.m.

    Very well said. I'd also like to point out the hypocrisy of this video pretending to advance feminism while in fact creating a permanent and rather significant PR obstacle for any of the young actresses who might someday aspire to run for public office. So much for empowerment.

  11. Dyann Espinosa from IntraStasis, October 31, 2014 at 3 a.m.

    Is there any way to track back the spot to its inception? It would be informative to find out just who came up with this brilliant concept and how it was moved through the agency and the client company. That could be more revealing than just us onlookers sitting around the dying campfire attempting to ferret out what the ashes are supposed to tell us.

  12. Jude Hammerle from The Next Level, October 31, 2014 at 7:09 a.m.

    Clear, insightful and calm--a useful example of leading by example. --Jude Hammerle

  13. Susan Patton from Susan Patton, October 31, 2014 at 7:54 a.m.

    Where are these little girls' parents? Cringe at the thought of them being Mama Rose on the sidelines shouting "Sing out, Baby June, sing out!" Appalling.

  14. Frank Danay from Frank Danay, October 31, 2014 at 8:48 a.m.

    One small note on the quotation “Stop telling girls how to dress and start telling boys not to fucking rape.": it isn't the video's creators who have found "moral equivalence" between those two. It's defense attorney's in rape trials who cross-examine the victim with questions such as, "How low was your blouse's neckline?" and "How short was your skirt?" Also, it's the judicial system that considers such questions admissible. The implication in this line of questioning is that the victim somehow brought it on herself by dressing provocatively. Regardless of what you think of the overall tenor of this video, its creators are right to call this 'logic' into question.

  15. Bert Smith from Smith, October 31, 2014 at 9:31 a.m.

    At True Blue Loans we have people borrowing money just to buy Tee Shirts. How mad is that? Paying interest on a loan for a Tee Shirt!

  16. Angie McKaig from St. Joseph Media, October 31, 2014 at 10:49 a.m.

    Thank you to Frank Danay. You said exactly what I was thinking.

    Also (re: Nicole's comment) - actresses having a hard time getting jobs as adult because they dropped the F-bomb acting in a viral video as a kid? Are you kidding me?? That was a joke comment, right? Because it couldn't possibly be a serious response.

  17. Tom Keane from USA Weekend, October 31, 2014 at 11:16 a.m.

    The parents of these kids ought to get a visit from Child Protective Services. If they spoke like that in school they'd get suspended and the parents would be called in for a chat. These creeps got paid.

  18. , October 31, 2014 at 12:57 p.m.

    So glad you wrote this. That video was a huge disappointment to me. Nothing about saying saying F*ck as a woman elevates us or the conversation about pay inequality. In fact, it lowers the bar. Cursing like sailors doesn't earn us more seats at the proverbial table. It's not empowering. And thinking that concept is creatively genius makes me think that we're just not as creative as we could be.

  19. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, October 31, 2014 at 4:05 p.m.

    Does government (civil service) practice "pay equality?" I ask the question because I don't know.

  20. Nicole Crosby from Texas Fireframe Co., November 1, 2014 at 9:31 p.m.

    @ Angie, You've misquoted me. I wrote that the video is "a permanent and rather significant PR obstacle for any of the young actresses who might someday aspire to run for public office." I did not say it would interfere with them "getting jobs." There's a difference. Try running for president with that video in your past.

  21. Stone Zuber from ASU, November 2, 2014 at 6:02 p.m.

    When I initially watched this video I was taken by the shock of these young girls yelling the word fuck and ranting about current issues. While first watching it, I thought it was somewhat interesting how they approached these issues however after doing some further research I thought otherwise. How do we know where the money donations are going? And whoever wrote these little girls script didn’t do a very professional job. Many of the issues brought up in the same sentence don’t have any relation at all. Pay inequality is a huge problem (especially if you’re a woman) and it does need to be addressed, but not by these young girls screaming fu*k.
    As I watch this video a couple more times, I see more and more things that stand out to me. While whoever wrote the script for these girls may have had good intentions, they need to get their facts straight so their message comes across properly. And again, I don’t think paying these young girls to curse in front of the camera in princess dresses is the way either. It’s shocking that these girls’ parents let them film this video. Did they know how many times their children would be screaming the F-word and yelling about rape?
    It’s evident that they wanted to get a large reaction from the public, and they did a pretty good job at that. Its controversial and over the top. In my opinion, these girls need to get their mouths washed out with soap and maybe their parent’s too.

  22. Jayne De Sesa from Freelance, November 3, 2014 at 1:21 p.m.

    I can't believe that this video is even real it's so bad!

  23. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, November 3, 2014 at 4:24 p.m.

    I asked an advertising teacher at a college about her students reactions to the spots. This is what she said: "My students are in love with the “potty-mouthed princesses.” They really believe these spots are social marketing instead of what they really are, which is just selling t-shirts. They applauded after I showed the video in class—and that drives me nuts. I guess that’s what it takes to reach the millennials. " I asked her to have her students check out this site and put some comments in the stream.

  24. Barbara Lippert from, November 3, 2014 at 6:57 p.m.

    Thanks, Tom. Aside from the college kids who love it, the amazing thing about this video is that it rather uniquely able to make people both on the extreme right and the extreme left equally apoplectic!

  25. A Pnny from ActionThink, November 3, 2014 at 8:01 p.m.

    must have been created by men

  26. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, November 3, 2014 at 8:20 p.m.

    As bad as this video was, there was a contest we run for a well known rap publisher. The publisher had been running very clean advertising on their site and when I was approach to run a contest that the prize was the contestant's lyrics would be part of the actual song. I didn't foresee any problems with this contest. I was wrong. There were people (over 18 in age) writing lyrics about female anal rape, violence against women and so on. I took down the contest. However the publisher continued the contest even after I told them to read the entries. I guess it didn't bother them. The point with both of these ads is that there are consequences when a ad isn't well thought out.

  27. Jim English from The Met Museum, November 3, 2014 at 9:16 p.m.

    Thanks Barbara. Call me a prude, but I hate the F word. Tom Keane (above) has it right, send Child Protective Services to these girls' parents.

  28. Krista Niess from MKT, November 3, 2014 at 11:28 p.m.

    This is a very interesting article; I think that this is a very extreme way to make a point about feminism. I think people will do anything to make a viral video and for something to go viral on the internet it needs to make an impact on society in some kind of manner, but te question remains when is a viral video going to far? I think that this video is going to far, they have young girls saying things that no one should be saying no matter what age you might be. This also makes me wonder why the parents of these children gave permission for their child to be involved with this movement for feminism. I believe in equal rights for women and think that there are still many issues that women need to overcome like equal pay, my questions to remains though, is this video helping of making it worse? This is a shocking video and doesn’t help make a stand and give young girls and women a bad name when you are hearing such horrible things.

  29. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 28, 2014 at 8:58 p.m.

    These "people" prostituted themselves, the girls and the parents are no better for profit. It doesn't take intelligence to use any curse word and inflict the pain of rape into it. The young girls have no idea what either a fuck is or rape and now they have to live with it. It is a disgrace on the part of the people involved and anyone who thinks this is funny. Will anyone who is in a hiring position to never hire the ones responsible because there is no responsibility here ? The odds of one of the girls being raped in their lives sadly runs very high. Who will be responsible ? Who will be responsible when anti-social media produces horrible consequences ?

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