Wear the Shirt!
I just saw Gloria Feldt’s “Wear the Shirt” contest, and I think that it’s an awesome idea. Message shirts, to me, are such an important part of the movement and of social justice work in general. I have a collection of Planned Parenthood shirts that I’ve gathered over my years of activism and volunteering with them. I think this is my favorite one:
If you can’t read it, the shirt says “Sex Ed: Protecting Our Future”. I wore this for an event the group I was leading held on my college campus about a year ago. We were asking students walking by one of the most trafficked buildings on campus to write down sex myths that they heard growing up or in school. Things like “You can’t get pregnant your first time” or “Two condoms are better than one”. We collected numerous myths about sex and safer sex as a means to show the enormity of our sex ed problem. The event ended up being extremely successful, and many people participated – some even learned that the things they believed about sex weren’t true! All in all, it was part of an effort to show how important it is to have comprehensive, fact-based sexual education in our schools. Sexual education is something I’m extremely passionate about. In middle and high school, I went through both abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education, and I can definitely tell you which one was based more on fact and which one deterred me from sexual activity more. Seeing warts on a penis definitely trumped watching a video that encouraged girls to “save their shoes” lest they be dirty and beaten up by the time they wanted to give them to their husband. I may have only been 13, but I knew that was just a ridiculous concept.
I’ve seen the effect that lack of sexual education can have. I’ve seen friends become infected with STIs, girls that just don’t have any sexual confidence just because they don’t know anything about their bodies or what gives them pleasure, and girls have told me stories about their past sexual experiences that clearly constitute sexual assault, and they clearly feel violated about it, but they don’t give it that name just because they’ve never been told that they have a right to be treated differently, or that what happened to them was not “sex”. It’s true when Planned Parenthood puts out the message that “Real Sex Ed Saves Lives”, so that’s why I’m so proud to wear the slogan of “Sex Ed: Protecting Our Future” (the cheesy thumbs up might give away my glee). It truly is a matter of protecting future generations.
As I’m sure you can also see, I make a point to add as many feminist message buttons as possible during events. I may or may not go a little bit overboard. But the fact of the matter is that when you’re engaging with people, they’re looking at you, and there’s a possibility that they’re going to read your shirt, or your button, etc. etc. If they can read your succinct, catchy message, it will probably stick with them, so you’re doing your job even more just by standing there.
I think feminist message shirts also show solidarity. The best example I can think of is when I went to Washington, DC with Planned Parenthood during the summer of 2009 to lobby for healthcare reform. Every participant wore a hot pink shirt that read “Planned Parenthood: Healthcare for every community”. A wave of pink descended upon Capitol Hill, and you could see the difference it made. As our group spoke to legislators, it was obvious that they had taken notice that there were so many people in pink shirts all here for the same reason. This is out group from Florida:
It shows unity. There’s also been many times when I’ve been at other events and people have come up to me and thanked me for being involved with Planned Parenthood.
Message shirts are extremely important (and fashionable!). So the next time you want to express a social or political ideology or idea, work that runway, and make fashion work for you! There ain’t nothing more in style than creating change!