The shops along the boardwalk yawn and stretch, blinking winter-weary eyes at the gradually strengthening sun, raising their metal security doors to welcome another summer onslaught of tourists. Tables stand ready and waiting at the outdoor cafes with rookie servers anxious for their first customers. Souvenir shops hawk their wares with signs advertising pre-season sales on t-shirts, boogie boards, and caged hermit crabs which will not survive the return trip across the Bay Bridge. There is that top of the roller coaster sense of anticipation, of here-we-go-again—like the optimism of teachers at the beginning of the school year.
What marred this late-spring saunter down the boardwalk for me was seeing those ubiquitous t-shirts with sexually suggestive slogans. I suppose they’re meant to appeal to the high school seniors who will flood the town in the next few weeks, flaunting their pseudo-adulthood by excessive drinking and other forms of debauchery. Tacky t-shirt shops are as much a part of this resort as sunburn and crab cakes, but I found this season’s crop more offensive than usual, and I don’t think it’s because I’m turning into a prudish curmudgeon. Displayed on racks right out on the boardwalk for all to see were shirts with utterly revolting and disgusting words, far worse than the typical “I’m with stupid” underscored by a pointing finger. And, to a one, they were demeaning to women.
I realize that simply talking about them is the whole point. Get attention at all costs. Shock value makes for great publicity and a healthy bottom line for the purveyor of the goods. Who cares if something is not just in poor taste, but is absolute filth or that young children walking the boardwalk with their parents say, “What does that shirt mean, Mommy?” It’s a free country, if you don’t like something displayed in a shop, you can walk by and ignore it. But when it’s placed right in the path of our boardwalk bicycle, taunting us, saying look at what I can get away with printing and selling in my store and you can’t do a thing about it, I am offended. On one hand, we’re preaching kindness and respect for all, and on the other hand, let’s see how far we can go with a sexually explicit t-shirt that values women for nothing more than their body parts. Even if it’s meant as a joke, it’s not a joke. Not anymore.
Oh, come on, they’re just a bunch of cheap shirts in junky stores—they’ll always be there in one form or another, and I suppose no one is harmed by wearing one. But why would someone choose to wear a shirt that makes most of us cringe or turn away in embarrassment? Offensive clothing and bumper stickers are like canker sores growing on our newly formed skin of political correctness—minor annoyances, but their very presence makes me question how deep and resilient that skin actually is. Are the current conversations about sexual harassment and gender equality just lip service? If not, then why are we still selling and buying clothing that makes references to gynecological procedures or are motivated to buy a vehicle from a local car dealer who advertises “Buy a Jeep and get babes?”
I understand the idiotic eighteen-year-old’s need to go over the top and defy his parents, but it’s not just high school graduates gone wild that are buying into this. Sadly, there is still an element who says forget political correctness, this is what I want to wear or paste on my car bumper and just you try and stop me. So, in the name of equality, there should be shirts and bumper stickers with sayings just as offensive to men, but I didn’t see them. Maybe they keep those in the back of the store.