"Dad, why are they always saying things like that about boys?"
This question asked by my 11 year-old son triggered a campaign which in just seven weeks has driven T-shirts, hats, and other merchandise bearing the slogan "Boys are Stupid–Throw Rocks at Them" out of nearly 3,500 retail outlets worldwide. The products depict a little boy running away as several rocks come flying at his head.
The stores dropped the products after being bombarded with thousands of e-mails and phone calls, largely from the listeners and supporters of my radio talk show. Most of those taking action have been fathers who are concerned about the cultural atmosphere surrounding their boys.
However, some of the most passionate and articulate supporters of our campaign have been the mothers and grandmothers of boys. It is mothers who generally supervise their children’s educations on a day-to-day basis, and they more than anybody see boys’largely ignored struggles.
Though our educational establishment has been slow to recognize it, boys have fallen seriously behind girls at all K-12 levels. Girls get better grades than boys and are far more likely to graduate high school and go to college. The vast majority of learning-disabled students are boys, as are students diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Nearly nine million prescriptions of Ritalin are written for American children each year–most of them for boys between the ages of six and 12.
Boys also suffer from having few men in their lives. Modern schools, particularly at the elementary level, are often devoid of men except perhaps the janitor and the maintenance crew. And there are more boys growing up in fatherless homes than ever before.
Add to all of these problems a boy-bashing preteen and teen culture–where clothing which insults and taunts boys is seen as acceptable and "funny"–and it’s natural that many boys feel the deck is stacked against them.
As parents, we suffer along with our children, and like millions of mothers and fathers, my wife and I have lain awake in bed many nights worrying about our son. Perhaps this explains why the campaign has struck such a chord–over 400 newspapers and television and radio stations in seven countries have carried stories about it.
Some commentators have criticized me, saying the shirts are just a harmless joke and that I need to "lighten up." However, to the limited extent that the shirts are humorous, it is adult humor being played out on boys.
Others say I’m violating the targeted businesses’First Amendment right to freedom of speech. However, the function of the First Amendment is to prevent the government from restricting our freedom of speech. Our campaign is instead a consumer action against companies which carry products which insult boys. Should John Ashcroft ever kick in the shirt designer’s door, arrest him, and beat him with a nightstick, I’ll be the first to help raise the designer’s bail.
Some say that in launching a campaign which has received extensive press coverage, I’ve inadvertently helped the manufacturers of "Boys are Stupid" products by giving them free publicity. There is some truth to this, and the publicity factor is a common problem with consumer boycotts. However, the company can’t be happy that the products it has said are its best sellers have now been knocked out of 90% or more of its retail outlets worldwide. More importantly, this campaign is not about hurting the products’manufacturer–it is about getting "Boys are Stupid" products out of our stores. I don’t care how many other T-shirts the company sells and how many Jaguars the owner buys as long as these products are not in our stores.
Other critics, mostly men, deride me as unmanly. I confess this attitude puzzles me. These men often grumble about TV commercials in which men are portrayed as idiots and clowns, and they read their kids bedtime stories from children’s books where fathers–the few left in modern children’s literature–are similarly depicted. Yet many of these men seem to be struck by cultural amnesia the moment somebody finally decides to do something about male-bashing.
How many times in the past 20 years have several major companies been forced to remove a product and apologize because it was offensive to males? Very few, I would guess. The media attention garnered by the campaign has already led some observers to speculate that many companies may soon be reexamining their marketing strategies for fear of a consumer backlash against anti-boy and anti-male ads.
I’ve never pretended that "Boys are Stupid" products are among the most important challenges today’s boys face. The boy-bashing culture the products typify is just the tip of the iceberg. Today, thanks to the actions of concerned mothers and fathers, that iceberg is a little smaller.
- Los Angeles Daily News2/4/04