It’s post-holiday sale time at Old Navy, which means you can buy your kids shirts that say everything from “Deer with it” (complete with a picture of a deer in sunglasses, of course) to ones that proclaim “Anything is possible with pizza.” But some customers are taking issue with a shirt they say is anything but lighthearted.
The shirt in question is a long-sleeved T-shirt that appears to come in two variations. Both say “Young Aspiring Artist,” and both have the word “Artist” crossed out and something that the shirt’s creators must have felt was more high-minded: “President” or “Astronaut.” It’s probably meant to be empowering. It’s not.
Unlike the usual controversy surrounding girls’ shirts, which have been, on occasion, everything from kinda sexist to really ultra-mega sexist, the outrage directed at Old Navy and its lapse in judgment stems from the idea that careers in the arts are not “real” careers. They are certainly undervalued and typically underpaid, leaving trained professionals out in the cold when they are expected to exchange their skills for “exposure,” a type of imaginary Internet Fun Buxx that do not, in fact, function as legal tender.
So in this case, it’s understandable that people are annoyed that Old Navy would attempt to bolster female self-esteem not only by putting down artists, but by putting down little girls who want to be artists, under the assumption that, hey, if a little girl wants to do it, it’s probably a made-up, sucky job like “princess of the world.”
Fortunately there’s an easy fix for this kind of thing.
Stop trying to decide what little girls kids want to be when they grow up from the day they’re born. Seriously, why are we all so dead set on using a child’s future career choice as an ice breaker with tiny humans that don’t know what an educational ROI is or what a 401K does? Why is it that important?
From the day they enter kindergarten, they’ve got adults in their face, asking them what they want to be when they grow up, even as people in their 30s still consider that question to be a head-scratcher. Not only is it kind of a dumb question, since most of them will usually say something like “king of the ninjas” or “robot ballerina” or “koala bear,” but telling them what they pick is stupid and that they should aim higher is super confusing.
Tons of little kids want to be artists when they grow up. It’s not a less noble career than “president” or “astronaut,” and they actually have a higher chance of arting for a living than the other two. Most of us know many more artists than astronauts, right?
This kind of stuff wouldn’t even be a problem if we just stopped trying to decide what girls want to be and then reduce that down into a pithy T-shirt that they will outgrow long before they start thinking seriously about what they’ll be doing in the long, slow decades in between college and waiting to die.
These shirts have already brought out the always levelheaded “I’m offended” and the much more reasonable “I’m offended you’re offended” crowds in tandem over whether this is anti-girl or anti-artist or both, and those are interesting debates to have. Some have merit, some don’t.
None of them would be happening at all if clothing retailers could just stick to what they do best: making T-shirts with adorable kittens and the phrase “Pawsitive Cattitude” splashed across them.
There’s no reason to turn a kid’s torso into a political billboard.