It’s not been a great few weeks to be a woman. Against the backdrop of recent allegations of sexual misconduct in politics and a thoroughly sexist Oscars ceremony, Twitter was all a flutter last night as it discovered t-shirts being sold through Amazon with the slogan ‘Keep Calm and Rape Her’. The t-shirts, supplied by company Solid Gold Bomb, contain slogans that are supposedly generated by a computer algorithm with no human input and therefore no human to take responsibility for them. Realizing that there was massive outcry the company said:
“We have been informed of the fact that we were selling an offensive T-shirt primarily in the UK. This has been immediately deleted as it was and had been automatically generated using a scripted computer process running against 100s of thousands of dictionary words.”
So far so good. Twitter then looked closer at Amazon and found t-shirts with the slogan ‘Statistically 9 out of 10 people enjoy gang rape’ supplied by seller CharGrilled.
Even funnier right? Amazon were quick to remove both rape t-shirts and most people thought that was the end of the story. However, they are still selling t-shirts that have the slogans “Keep Calm and Cut Her’ and “Keep Calm and Knife Her’ and a whole host more, again supplied by Solid Gold Bomb.
Is this just random algorithm or something more sinister? If it was random surely you would expect to see all the same verbs applied on the “Keep Calm and … him’ t-shirts, right?
No, because there are no “Keep Calm and …. Him’ t-shirts. This particular joke is reserved for women. Why is that? This must have been a decision made when a human being was programming the algorithm in the first place. Why is ‘Keep Calm and Knife Her’ a funny t-shirt while “Keep Calm and Knife Him’ is not?
You also don’t see t-shirts being the phrase ‘Keep Calm and lynch them’ or ‘Keep Calm and gas them’. Why not? Surely if the random word generating story is true we should see all these options? Imagine the public reaction to those items of clothing. We’d be utterly shocked and appalled and demand they were taken down. The reason they are not up there in the first place is because the people making choices about what words to combine know that, they know that racism and anti-Semitism are not funny and not acceptable. They do not know that sexism and rape culture are not funny.
This is the problem. As some one put it on twitter “Hate crime is only funny when it’s about women”. We still live in a culture where slogans like this can be sold on the assumption that no one will bat an eye. This is rape culture. This is patriarchy.
It’s good news that Amazon are taking action to remove these items. The clothing companies needs to have a word with themselves and investigate what culture they have that allows these ‘jokes’ to slip through. The press also needs to look closer at what passes for excuses. The algorithm story alone doesn’t stack up. Will this be the new excuse, in place of “It’s just banter!” when horrendous sexist and misogynistic comments are made in public? How come, since the eating of the apple, it’s never men’s fault.