Tell Markhams to take offensive T-shirts off their shelves

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.[1] 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.[2] Recent evidence shows that the intersection of multiple sexual partners and of alcohol abuse in South Africa are particular risk factors for HIV transmission.[3]

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 in question

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.

Yours sincerely,

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)

[2] J. W. Eaton et al., ‘Concurrent sexual partnerships and primary HIV infection: a critical interaction’, AIDS Behav. 2011 May; 15(4):687-92.

[3] 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.


21 thoughts on “Tell Markhams to take offensive T-shirts off their shelves”

  1. FUCK YEAH! You rock, whoever wrote this! I would like to see a website where ppl take photos of ppl wearing gender-horrible shirts in everyday life and post them.


  2. People, it’s a stupid t-shirt. Stupid people are allowed to wear stupid t-shirts if they wish to do so. How many people have ever had sex because a shirt told them to? Muster up the willpower to not be on of their “multiple sexual partners” by not sleeping with them if it offends you. It’s not like the wearer of said garment didn’t advertise their I.Q. Thank Markham instead for giving you a tool with which to identify idiots at a glance.

    With regards to the whole HIV/multiple parntners/condom issue, is it up to clothing manufacturers to educate people working with food to wash their hands regularly as well should they print a shirt with the text “Will Work For Food” on it? I mean, thousands fall ill due to food poisoning every year, don’t they?

    Perhaps the time has come for us to think for ourselves and not others?


  3. Quinton your an idiot. T-shirt slogans are just one small contributer to the enormous culture of gender discrimination in which we all live. Every action matters.


  4. Agreed the last shirt regarding the word SINGLE is in shockingly poor taste BUT have to agree with quinton too, we need to chill in some respects. I don’t feel that a shirt stating that one “recycles” girls jeopardizes the fight against women abuse and/or HIV. I truly believe that integrity is sacrificed when insignificant elements are addressed and the last thing that fight against women abuse/ and or HIV can afford. Just a thought. This is not to say that I do not support these causes, so please bare in mind that its just a thought.


  5. You are completely entitled to your point of view, Emily and I the constitutions enshrines it to a certain degree, apart from the fact that it might be considered a little slanderous. It’s OK, though. I don’t mind.

    I agree that those shirts are in poor taste, hence I never bought them. Nor did any of my friends. Nor did I sleep with any boy or girl that owns such a stupid shirt or holds those views. I also know that shirts are worn to promote causes and show solidarity with causes.

    The issue here is censorship. Close your accounts at Markham, do whatever, but stop trying to tell people what they can sell and what they can’t.

    As a matter of interest, where did you stand on the muzzling of the media debate?


    1. “The issue here is censorship. Close your accounts at Markham, do whatever, but stop trying to tell people what they can sell and what they can’t.”

      Sorry, but this is stupid and intellectually dishonest. The letter points out to Markhams that their t-shirts are inconsistent with their policies and asks them to remove them. Markhams not only voluntarily did so, but they also undertook an audit of the rest of their t-shirts.


  6. Quinton and radman,

    In South Africa, thousands of women are raped every week. Statistically speaking, one in every three South African women has been raped. Remember, your own mother is a woman. This means that of your mother and two grandmothers, statistically speaking, one of them has been raped.

    All forms of misogyny, even and especially the subtle ones, contribute to the disempowerment of women in South African society.

    Please wake up.


  7. The t-shirts are in poor taste and also are just plain ugly, turquoise?

    Perhaps it’ worthwhile to put and keep the role of t-shirt marketing of this kind of thing into perspective. The power of a t-shirt vs the power of a song. There is no need to state how popular and misogynistic Hip Hop is.

    Perhaps it would be better to campaign to ban 90% of Hip Hop from clubs and radio…
    The t-shirts just spell out(har har) what many people already believe is the most awesome state of existence.


  8. B, I couldn’t agree with you more. Turquoise is ugly and belongs in the sea. However, we can’t just go banning things left right and centre. Since when has feminists ever been against promiscuity or what you do with your OWN body.

    Rapists rape, pure and simple. Why take away the rights and freedoms of free speech of spotty teenagers who’ve never had sex and who never will, due to their choice in turquoise t-shirts. Their only crime is against fashion and good taste. No one is “dispowering women” here. Look at all the t-shirts “empowering women” in that case, like: “Wanted, meaningful overnight best friend”, “Drinks first, sex later”. Should we stop women from buying them?

    Show of hands, who of us on this esteemed forum has wept inconsolably when whatsisname sings about crying him a river?

    It’s as ridiculous to suggest that the t-shirts are the cause of our society’s misogynistic tendencies as that the song is responsible for promoting depression and a high divorce rate.

    Rape is an issue. The spread and fallout of HIV is an issue. Ignorance and censorship are issues. Terry, Emily, you have issues.

    And if you think that banning a lousy t-shirt will in any way help solve these issues or change people’s views you are misguidedly optimistic at best and horribly naive.

    Go on, waste your time trying to ban things that you find in poor taste rather than finding real solutions for the very real problems. Promiscuity does not equal rape. Wearing a short mini skirt does not equal “asking for it”, and an saying “I like to get laid (but probably never will)” on a shirt doesn’t imply that hordes of adolescents will descend on your village, kill the men, rape the woman and spread disease all over the country.


    1. Quinton, as many have said before me, these t-shirts are a reflection of the culture from which they emerge. They reflect a culture that says that rich kids who can afford these clothes are not at risk of HIV infection. They say women’s bodies are not good enough, or that women are only interested in men’s money. They say that multiple concurrent partners are cool. If you endorse these messages, but believe that you are for women’s rights then you are a living oxymoron.

      Here are some more bad taste t’s, all from the Foschini group


  9. Jen, “They say women’s bodies are not good enough, or that women are only interested in men’s money. They say that multiple concurrent partners are cool.” – those are widely held views. For most high school boys at least. And that is not because of a few stupid t-shirts.

    It’s nothing new.

    Quinton, I don’t think removing the shirts from their range goes against anyone’s freedom of speech or expression. It’s commercial – like the stupid statues on Sea Point promenade.

    You do have to wonder why the Foschini Group is promoting this kind of thing.

    I still don’t think it’s as harmful as it’s made to sound…


  10. I’m launching a clothing line. All stock will be produced by pregnant, barefooted women in sweatshops. Because that’s their place.

    Furthermore, because I love HIV and AIDS, I am devoting a significant portion of the proceeds of each shirt to abstinence-only sex education.

    I realise you might be worried about the female workers. Don’t be. Their brains are too small to independently use the skills and technology I am teaching them. They will not rise up against their masters- their husbands, fathers, brothers and uncles.

    Go out and buy one of my shirts, you capitalist, woman-hating men! Assert your misogynistic tendencies.

    Ladies, these products are not for you. I wouldn’t want the lesser sex to devalue the social capital of my products. Stay away. Thank you.

    The label, IHATEALLWOMENANDIAMANIRRESPONSIBLESEXMANIAC, is in a Foschini Group store near you.


    Disclaimer 1: None of the views expressed in this work are held by Baer.
    Disclaimer 2: None of the above should be interpreted as support for misogyny, HIV/AIDS, or employee pay of below minimum wage requirements.
    Disclaimer 3: Women are equal in every way to men- except where law and science says otherwise.
    Disclaimer 4: Where abstinence fails, remember your ABCs.
    Disclaimer 5: You may need a brain or sense of humour to interpret the above. If you lack either, avert your eyes.
    Disclaimer 6: You agree that by exposing yourself to the above work, you indemnify Baer for any of your actions henceforth.


  11. It’s a great piece and a strong response.

    However I think we also need to highlight how these kinds of messages are not only ‘bad’ for women but also have negative implications for constructions of masculinity that are also ‘bad’ for men.

    When many people hear about gender they automatically think women and while the focus on women is and has been necessary there are two genders which have been constructed in oppositional terms (think nature/culture dichotomy, etc).

    So when addressing anything to do with gender we cannot just react to what is happening or being done to women but we need to address the corresponding issues in the ‘opposing’ male gender.


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