02:14 PM CST on Thursday, January 29, 2004
NEW YORK - The T-shirts and pajamas are meant to be funny, with cartoon captions like "Boys Are Stupid -- Throw Rocks At Them." But some protesters, encouraged by a fathers-rights talk show host, are unamused and have pressured three retail chains into dropping the merchandise.
The products in question -- an array of girls' clothes and accessories -- are manufactured or licensed by David & Goliath, a T-shirt company based in Clearwater, Fla.
Its chief designer, Todd Goldman, has created a series of cartoonish graphics used on the merchandise with what he intended to be humorously anti-boy themes. "Boys Are Smelly -- Throw Garbage Cans At Them," says one. "The Stupid Factory -- Where Boys Are Made," says another.
"I have a very quirky, sarcastic sense of humor," Goldman said in a telephone interview. "Most people just love the cartoons. If a few people don't like them, they don't have to buy them."
The graphics have been in use more than two years, but only recently came to the attention of Glenn Sacks, a commentator who hosts "His Side," a weekly radio show aired in Los Angeles and Seattle that is sympathetic to the fathers' rights movement and often at odds with feminists.
At Sacks' urging, listeners and supporters have contacted targeted retailers by e-mail and other means, urging them to stop selling the David & Goliath products. At least three retail chains, Seattle-based Bon-Macy's, California-based Tilly's, and Claire's Stores, Inc., an international chain, say they will no longer carry the contested items.
Bon-Macy's spokeswoman Kimberly Reason said about a dozen products ranging from boxer shorts to baseball caps were pulled from the chain's stores in five Western states because they displayed one of three captions: "Boys Are Stupid," "Boys Are Smelly," and "Boys Have Cooties."
Tilly's, which operates 32 stores in Southern California, responded immediately to the complaints by withdrawing all "Boys Are Stupid" items and canceling pending orders, senior vice president Sam Mendelsohn said.
"I agree with what the people said," Mendelsohn said. "It was a problem and we were not aware of it."
Claire's Stores, which operates more than 2,800 stores in North America, Europe and Japan, determined after an internal review that its branches were carrying only a few items -- including cosmetic bags and lip balm -- with the "Boys Are Stupid" graphics.
"We've canceled all pending orders that bear any of the slogans that people found offensive," company spokeswoman Marisa Jacobs said.
Sacks, in a telephone interview, said reaction to the protest campaign had been largely positive, although some people have suggested he was overreacting.
"I'm sorry if I sound like a humorless zealot, but I just don't see the humor in it," Sacks said. "My 11-year-old son, whatever the joke is, he just doesn't understand it, either."
He contended that many marketers, while wary of offending women and minorities, "have developed a moral blind spot toward disparaging males."
Sacks argues that the "Boys Are Stupid" products promote anti-male violence; some of his supporters have challenged groups that combat domestic violence against women to endorse their campaign.
His complaints make sense to Joe Kelly, president of a Duluth, Minn.-based organization called Dads and Daughters that often opposes marketing pitches it views as detrimental to girls.
"There's a stupid notion that being pro-girl is being anti-boy -- it just isn't so," Kelly said. "I can see where parents and kids of both genders would be offended."
Goldman thinks the idea that he's promoting violence is ridiculous. "If you look at the violence in rap songs, in video games -- that's what they should be concentrating on, not a cartoon T-shirt," he said.
Like many targets of consumer protests, Goldman said the controversy about his products has boosted sales, especially over the Internet.