Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sexism and racism on political t-shirts

In a previous post, I pointed to a particularly disgusting anti-Palin ad which has appeared on several "progressive" blogs.

A regular reader pointed out some nasty racist slogans - you can see them here at Think Progress. And you'll also find out that the Internet vendor who was selling them has removed them. I'm not excusing them at all, they're vile. They should be taken down through social and commercial pressure. But I have a feeling they're not all that pervasive.

There is an Obama racism museum online with ten examples of racist material and include all the material in the original comment, but interestingly the most violent, vile and offensive item (in my view) is also misogynistic and was created by someone who claimed to be an Obama supporter.

It's my hypothesis that racism is largely deemed unacceptable in "polite society", but sexism is frequently overlooked or tacitly encouraged. So, I thought I'd undertake a little empirical research. I decided to look at the pervasiveness of sexism and racism on one of the more popular customized t-shirt sites - CafePress. This site relies on user generated content printed on CafePress supplied t-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, bags...and so on. Here are the shocking results - sexism directed toward political candidates is A-OK and widespread; racism is not.

My assumptions and study design are below the main findings.

Total offense count:
Racism: 1
Faith bias: 9
Gender bias: 43 - maybe 44
Age/disability bias: 3

Honorable mention - perhaps one slogan with sexual preference bias.

The offense counts of the designs which came up as I searched against each politician's name. Interestingly, for both Clinton and Palin all of the offensive designs were directed at them (with one exception). For male candidates, offensive designs were often directed at others.

Barack Obama
Offense count:
Racism: 1
Faith bias: 0
Gender bias: 1 - maybe 2
Age/disability bias: 0

A surprisingly offense-light zone. Only one possible racist association - Barack Obama's head photoshopped onto a gangsta-rappa type with the slogan "Barack's gonna knock you out." I wasn't clear if this was pro or anti Obama, but I felt it played to negative racial stereotypes.

Bro's before ho's (sic) was the slogan with a clear gender bias.

There was also a t-shirt that said "Barack with your cock out". I'm pretty sure it's pro-Obama. It think it means the person is an enthusiastic supporter. I count this as the only maybe on the Gender Bias category.

Fullscreen capture 25092008 132225

John McCain

Offense count:
Racism: 0
Faith bias: 6
Gender bias: 5
Age/disability bias: 1

Half of the offensive material was linking Obama to radical Islam - mostly making a play on words between Obama and Osama (typical example)

There were a couple of references too Sarah Palin's sexual attractiveness and Hillary Clinton's lack of same. More under their own entries.

There was one instance of a visual pun that was a reference to John McCain's age and possible infirmity John Mc(and a picture of a cane).

Fullscreen capture 25092008 132319

Joe Biden

Offense count:
Racism: 0
Faith bias: 3
Gender bias: 0
Age/disability bias: 2

I flipped through pages and pages before I found anything particularly offensive here. There were a couple of instances of designs showing Joe Biden in a wheelchair urging him to stand up (a reference to a gaffe he made inviting a political ally in a wheelchair to stand).

Two references to McCain's fitness - "It's 3pm and John McCain is napping."
Three links to Osama Bin Laden, two of them rather tortured visual puns linking Obama and Osama and Biden and Bin Laden.

Fullscreen capture 25092008 132250

Sarah Palin

Offense count:
Racism: 0
Faith bias: 0
Gender bias: 10
Age/disability bias: 0

Almost all of the offensive material here was about Sarah Palin's fuckability, reducing her to a "hot" object of desire - often with a gun (examples here and here). There were several references to wanting to be Sarah Palin's intern.

I didn't count designs that included the slogan "Drill, baby, drill." or any images of a pitbull with lipstick, or "Hero and Hottie" - though I probably should have included instances of the latter. I tended to limit it to the most graphic images or descriptions.

There were two instances of "VP Palin - I'd drill that".

I'm not entirely sure, but I think a lot of this offensive material was ostensibly pro-Palin.

Fullscreen capture 25092008 132339

Hillary Clinton

Offense count:
Racism: 0
Faith bias: 0
Gender bias: 28
Age/disability bias: 0

If the gender bias about Sarah Palin was about her attractiveness, most of the references to Hillary Clinton were the opposite. The predominant messages were that she's ugly, undesirable and a bitch. Like Lewinsky '08, vote for the woman who's willing to do the job or Even Bill doesn't want her.

There were many instances of "Life's a bitch, so don't vote for one" or similar. Similarly, I counted several instances of "Just Vote for the Bitch," which I counted and "Bitches get things done," which I didn't. It's a fine line to draw, but that's where I drew it.

There was one pro-Hillary slogan which was sexist toward men (and women) - which I did count - Chicks before Dicks. Probably a counter to Bros before Hos.

Fullscreen capture 25092008 132404

Study design
I searched under five names Barack Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Sarah Palin to look for any type of negative "ism" in designs available on the site. Most of the designs were available on a variety of items, but some were only t-shirts or only bumper stickers. I didn't count these differently. For each politician, I looked at 15 pages of possible designs - with 30 designs appearing per page - a total of 450 designs each. I counted similar or practically identical designs as separate instances if they had a different design identification number.

I found negative gender, age, and religious bias - but only possibly one instance of negative race bias. I judged negative bias as distasteful or offensive use of racial, faith, age or disability, or sexist stereotypes used to attack (and in some cases putatively support) a particular candidate. Negative bias is based entirely my judgement - a serious flaw in this little study, but I tried to be as objective as possible.

I also found lots of positive gender and race bias - i.e. it's a good thing to vote for Barack Obama because he's black (a small number of these) or vote for Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin because they are women (lots of these). I didn't count those. I also didn't count instances where the political slogans were an obvious twist on negative sterotypes (e.g. the slogan that said Some Guy/Palin '08).

I also found a number of "vaguely sexist" references - such as Obama Girl or Chicks for Obama or McCain Girl. I didn't count these. Similarly, there were usages of the urban slang "homeboy", but these appeared to be without racial bias and were I felt supported both the Republicans (McCain is my homeboy, Sarah is my home girl) and Obama is my homeboy. These weren't counted.

UPDATE: For a bonus round including political headlines, check out Tennessee Guerilla Women.
Sarah Palin Sexism Watch
16 Sexist Sarah Palin T shirts that will probably piss you off.

1 comment:

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