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Protest against T-shirt message gaining in strength

By BARBARA BEHRENDT
Published March 3, 2007


CRYSTAL RIVER - Diana McIntosh sees everyday what can happen when a man believes that violence can solve his problems.

That is why she was so upset when she learned about T-shirts that had been on sale in the local Belk department store.

The shirt shows a box with a woman stick figure speaking to a man stick figure. In the next box, the man stick figure has shoved the woman out of the box.

The caption states: "Problem solved."

On many levels, that is the wrong message to send, said McIntosh, executive director of the Citrus County Abuse Shelter Association, the county's domestic violence shelter.

"I think we live in a very violent society," she said Friday. "America has become so desensitized. It's in our movies, our cutting-edge drama, the music, the video games.

"Now it's in the clothing. It's just more desensitizing," McIntosh said.

She learned of the shirt from Crystal River resident Renee McPheeters, who was shown the shirt by a clerk at the Crystal River Mall's Belk store. She bought the shirt and vowed to keep others like it off the shelves.

On Friday McPheeters said she would like to see a national boycott of stores that refuse to take the T-shirts off the shelves.

Crystal River and Belk are not the only place where the shirts have turned up. Late last year the identical issue was raised in Maine when the same message appeared on kids' T-shirts in a Kmart. While the store manager originally took them off the shelves, that manager was ordered to put them back again.

That raised the hackles of a local group that works to make the Waterville, Maine, community safer for girls and women.

Hardy Girls Healthy Women asked Kmart to remove the shirts, take a national stand against violence and train employees to recognize messages of domestic violence like the ones on the shirts.

But the group never got an official word from Kmart or Sears Holding Company, according to Megan Williams, executive director of the Hardy Girls Healthy Women group.

What they did learn through the media was that Kmart made statements that they would continue to sell the shirts and that they should be taken in the "light-hearted" spirit in which they were meant.

"Frankly, it's frustrating," Williams said. "I don't think violence in any way is funny or light-hearted. Domestic violence is something we should be taking very seriously."

Williams and a spokeswoman for the Family Violence Prevention Fund said the shirts have been removed from some stores across the country. In some places community protests have raised awareness to the issue.

It is not the first time the Family Violence Prevention Fund has taken a stand on the growing issue of T-shirts with violent and inappropriate messages.

In late December, the organization destroyed a $25,000 donation check it received from an organization that sells T-shirts with obscene and outlandish sayings.

The fund's president, Esta Soler, said in a news release that if the firm's leaders "truly want to support efforts to stop violence against women and children, help and promote justice, the company will stop depicting woman as sex objects and reinforcing negative stereotypes.

"While we recognize that some of these products are meant to be humorous, we are convinced that they foster attitudes that debase woman and minorities and sanction violence."

McIntosh said even the portion of the T-shirt showing a violent reaction when a woman was speaking to a man sent a chilling message.

"It's demeaning to women," she said. "It's like whatever the woman is saying, it's not important. It's nagging."

McPheeters said she hopes Belk and any other store that sells the shirts takes them off the shelves and send a strong message that violence against women is not acceptable.

The shirts could not be found in the Belk store when a reporter searched for them on Thursday. The Belk store manager declined to comment and referred a reporter to the corporate headquarters.

Calls for comment were not returned.

Jerzees, the company that makes the shirt, responded that it manufactures only blank shirts and does not put messages on them. Nowhere on the shirt could another imprinting company's name be found.

Kmart officials also did not return calls seeking comment.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at 564-3621 or behrendt@sptimes.com.