Domestic violence promotion on T-shirt at Kmart not just a joke

ME Online

ME Online

By Dan Mollison

Last December, a controversy began to brew in our nation’s Kmarts.

The outcry began when Kmart began selling a T-shirt intended for young boys that depicts a scene of domestic violence. The first frame of the T-shirt shows a girl talking excitedly to a boy, under which it says, “Problem.” In the next panel the smiling boy has pushed the girl head first out of the frame to her doom, under which it reads, “Solved.”

After a lawyer who specializes in domestic violence complained to the Kmart in Winona, Minn. the store manager agreed to pull the shirts. But later that week Kmart and its parent company, Sears, made an executive decision to keep the shirts on the shelves and released a statement saying that the panels are intended to be “light-hearted.” The company declined to reorder the shirt last Sunday only after multiple demonstrations against the controversial item.

Abusers use the physical and emotional effects of domestic violence as a means of controlling and silencing their victims. By encouraging young boys that it is acceptable and even funny to silence a woman through violence, this T-shirt plays right into the heart of the issue.

It’s obvious that jokes don’t directly cause violence. We each can choose to be violent or nonviolent, and we should be held accountable for our actions. But joking that women who choose to speak deserve to be silenced through physical violence allows us to trivialize and justify the actions of abusers who do make this choice.

And in a society in which one in four women will be battered by an intimate partner, the last thing we need is to tell jokes that further excuse and glorify perpetrators.

One of the wonderful aspects of living in a free society is that we are each entitled to our own sense of humor. Our right to free speech allows us to enjoy humor in whatever way we choose and we innately know that no one else has any right to control what we find funny. But if we choose to support humor that is hurtful to others, it is important that we understand and accept responsibility for the impact of these choices.

In the case of this T-shirt, it is important that we understand that when we make victims of domestic violence the objects of our entertainment, we deny that they are as human as we are. We marginalize their experiences and as we laugh, we project to those around us that we don’t understand or care about the severity of what these human beings experience. And so when the one who is affected by this violence is someone that we care about, they will believe from our laughter that they cannot come to us for help, because we won’t understand their situation in the slightest.

Last semester I filmed a documentary about sexual violence here on campus in which I interviewed several students who are survivors of sexual assault. When I asked them how jokes had impacted their healing each and every survivor I spoke with said that there are loved ones in their lives including fathers, mothers, partners and best friends that they want to reach out to for help and support, but can’t, because these loved ones have used jokes which demeaned their experiences.

We all make choices regarding how we want to carry ourselves. I choose not to support these jokes because I want to be in a position to offer help to those around me when they need it. I choose not to laugh because I want the women in my life who have been silenced by violence (roughly one fourth of those I will meet) to know that they can have a voice with me.

And I choose to not to demean the experiences of these victims because the last thing I want is to be left in the dark of the lives of my loved ones.