19 October 2011
To: Manie Maritz, Managing Director, Markham Head Office
Cc: Abigail Bisogno, Retail Director, Foschini
Tamlyn Triegaardt, Operations Manager, Markham Head Office
Kathryn Sakalis, Communications Director, Foschini
Lucinda van den Heever, Sonke Gender Justice
Mmapaseka Steve Letsike, South African National AIDS Council, Women’s Sector
Lilian Artz, Gender, Health and Justice Unit, University of Cape Town
Re: Complaint regarding Markham t-shirt
Dear Mr. Maritz,
Earlier this year, Markham was criticized for marketing t-shirts with slogans including ‘I [recycle] girls’. We understand from an article published by IOL that, due to the number of complaints received, Markham decided to withdraw this t-shirt and to stop the production of another with a similarly offensive message. Harry Fokker, the designer of the t-shirts, explained that the purpose of these t-shirts was ‘satirical’, and that they were ‘meant to be humorous, to use controversy’. Fokker was also quoted as saying that Markham’s withdrawal of the t-shirts was an ‘unfortunate outcome’.
Fokker’s explanation exposes his lack of awareness about the importance of the media (including, in a broad sense, slogans on clothes produced by popular chain stores) in influencing public understandings about key social issues. Research has shown that the t-shirt is a particularly powerful form of ‘social marketing’, because of how the wearer literally embodies its message. The importance of the t-shirt as a political tool is particularly relevant in South Africa, in which social movements – including the anti-apartheid movement – have used the t-shirt to spread political awareness. Fokker’s use of images and slogans that are explicitly misogynistic on Markham t-shirts is neither humorous nor satirical. In the South African context in which rates of violence against women are among the world’s highest, his t-shirts display, at best, foolish naivete, at worst, casual bigotry.
As the company responsible for the production and distribution of these t-shirts, and the dissemination of their messages, Markham’s decision to withdraw these from public circulation was laudable.
We therefore regret Markham’s recent production of another t-shirt that conveys similar messages condoning the practice of multiple sexual partners (empirically, one of the principal drivers of the HIV epidemic in South Africa) and of alcohol abuse. Recent evidence shows that the intersection of multiple sexual partners and of alcohol abuse in South Africa are particular risk factors for HIV transmission.
This photograph was taken of a t-shirt displayed prominently in a Markham window at the O.R. Tambo chain on Saturday 24 September 2011.
The t-shirt’s slogan, which reads as both a series of instructions and unpacking of the word ‘SINGLE: stay intoxicated nightly get laid every day’, condones sexual concurrency and alcohol abuse. The findings of Townsend et al. present this message in a particularly harmful light: ‘Alcohol may fuel once-off sexual encounters, often characterised by transactional sex and women’s limited authority to negotiate sex and condom use; factors that can facilitate transmission of HIV. HIV prevention interventions specifically targeting drinkers, the contexts in which problem drinking occurs and multiple sexual partnering are urgently needed.’
In opposition to these recommendations, Markham’s production and sale of the t-shirt above is an intervention that encourages alcohol abuse and sexual concurrency.
Markham’s participation in the ‘White Ribbon: Act Against Abuse’ campaign signals your company’s promise to ‘never commit or condone violence against women… and to speak out about violence where [you] see it’. In honouring this commitment, we therefore request that you withdraw this t-shirt from your outlets, and that you commit to no further production of clothing with slogans that condone misogyny (or any other form of bigotry) and alcohol abuse.
Jeanine Cameron, journalist Paula Chowles, journalist Rebecca Davis, journalist Rebecca Hodes, academic Mara Kardas-Nelson, journalist Lesley Odendal, journalist Elizabeth Mills, academic Michal Singer, researcher Abigail Smith, women’s rights advocate Anso Thom, health journalist Jennifer Thorpe, editor FeministsSA (written by Rebecca Hodes)
 Grace Huang, ‘T-shirt terrorist defends his line’, IOL, 11 April 2011. At http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/kwazulu-natal/t-shirt-terrorist-defends-his-line-1.1054941?ot=inmsa.ArticlePrintPageLayout.ot.
 J. W. Eaton et al., ‘Concurrent sexual partnerships and primary HIV infection: a critical interaction’, AIDS Behav. 2011 May; 15(4):687-92.
 L. Townsend et al., ‘Associations between alcohol misuse and risks for HIV infection among men who have multiple female sexual partners in Cape Town, South Africa’, AIDS Care. 2010 Dec;22(12):1544-54.