Urban Outfitters is known for its quirky, often edgy products, but now, for some Yale administrators, the store has crossed the line of decency.
One men’s T-shirt, which depicts a naked woman as a piece of meat about to be butchered and which refers to her as “tender juicy beef,” has become the center of much controversy. Because of complaints from Yale and elsewhere, Urban Outfitters has agreed to pull the shirt from its shelves across the country, said Jennifer O’Donnell, store operations assistant at Urban Outfitters headquarters in Philadelphia said.
The shirt, which once sold for $20, bears the title “Kansas Cattle Queen,” pictures a submissively kneeling “cow girl,” and demands, “Break the Dull Beef Habit.” The woman is labeled with the name of beef parts, including “chuck” for her shoulder, “round” for her hip, and “soup bone” for her thigh.
The outcry at Yale began when Linda Anderson, senior administration assistant in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, stumbled upon the shirt while browsing at Urban Outfitters Sept. 12. She then asked the manager to remove the shirt from the shelf.
“I asked the manager what she as a woman thought of the shirt, and she said, ‘I don’t bring my philosophy or politics into the office,’ and I said that perhaps you should,” Anderson said.
Anderson said her main concern is not just that the shirt is offensive, but that it is part of a larger social construct to objectify women in a violent way.
“The level of violence against women is so profound that we don’t have the luxury of being neutral. Anything that objectifies women so blatantly is dangerous,” Anderson said. “For me, this was the literal dismemberment of a woman’s body. I did not only see woman as a piece of meat in a sexual way but I saw knives and electric cutters. I saw this women being cut.”
After leaving Broadway’s Urban Outfitters, Anderson said she contacted Urban Outfitters’ Philadelphia headquarters to have the shirt removed from the store location.
As women’s and gender studies professors heard from Anderson about the shirt, rumbles of outrage spread through the program. Professor Laura Wexler distributed to her “Introduction Feminist Thought” class Tuesday photocopied Urban Outfitters Internet advertisements for the T-shirt.
“I used [the advertisement] as a teaching example and a vivid one,” Wexler said. “I wanted to show the class that you can make a difference. You don’t have to shut your eyes. Three cheers for Linda Anderson.”
The concern found on Yale’s campus has not been an anomaly. O’Donnell, an Urban Outfitters representative, said she had received “a few” criticisms from the public and said other employees also may have fielded complaints.
This controversial T-shirt is part of the Urban Outfitters “renewal” line in which clothing is made from used T-shirts or parts of T-shirts, O’Donnell said.
“The shirt is not typical of Urban Outfitters, and we recognize that,” O’Donnell said. “We took our customers’ concerns into consideration.”
But Russell Greenberg ’02 does not see the grounds for such great outrage.
“This is a controversial shirt, but there is a sort of self-applied silent objectification of women, and you can just go to Toad’s for that.” Greenberg said. “I really love this shirt. It is so perfect, so true. What about a tube top or a low-cut shirt that objectifies women in reality?”
While Ezra Stiles Dean Susan Rieger, who teaches the seminar “Women in the Law,” defended Urban Outfitters’ constitutional right to sell the shirt, she still questioned the store’s decision to sell it.
“Commercial establishments have a right to free speech. But how could they have misunderstood their target audience so grotesquely?” Rieger said. “After all, Yale’s Broadway development office was instrumental in bringing them in and I assume they wanted Yale students, including women, to shop there. I see I was wrong.”
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”20326″ ]