Uday Mehta

Engineer | Writer | Podcaster

Boys Will Be Boys: Debbie Dee and Dangerous Spaces

When in life you find yourself angry, or offended, or even upset, it's somewhat educational to ask why. Because those aren't necessarily emotions, they're reactions. You're reacting with anger or offense, all to give life to the frustration -- the true emotion. Frustration is natural, it's instinctive, but how you *choose* to react is all up to you.

This is best exemplified in the case of Debbie Dee. Debbie Dee, in addition to having an admirably alliterative name, also has a remarkably rapid trigger. She was shopping in Peterhead – a city in Aberdeenshire and not a retro thrift shop you haven't discovered yet – and came across a shirt. Not just any shirt, one that she thought 'excused rape and sexual assault', a shirt that left her 'raging' enough to write a formal complaint on the manufacturer's website.

Now given that description, what do you think this shirt looks like? Close your eyes and picture the horror that Debbie Dee encountered that fateful day.

 Debbie Dee / Facebook

Debbie Dee / Facebook

That's it. Four words, two of which are the same. The most outrageous thing about them is that they're £4 each, and if you buy two then they're £3 each!  Fucking ridiculous.

It's at this point that you have to go through that exercise… why exactly is it that you're mad? Whenever I try to judge something or someone – as a sidenote, I really hate the "I don't judge" crowd – I always look at three things. The intent, the message, and the audience.

Starting with the intent: it's a supermarket retailer named Asda, which has an interestingly similar logo to Walmart (I just checked, it's actually owned by Walmart as of 1999). They have a bit of a shady past, considering they've sold padded bras to pre-pubescent girls and underwear with the phrase 'Dive In' from High School Musical (also to, you guessed it, pre-pubescent girls). But almost a decade removed from each of those incidents, it's reasonable to say that there's little correlation. A spokesman even said "Our aim is to make clothes people love, never to offend," because of course it is! Why would someone who's trying to sell you something want to offend you!

What about the message? 'Boys will be boys,' while a seemingly innocuous message, has been used to justify actions that probably don't deserve justification. Some of these actions may even be sexual assault. But these are all connotations, and this is a line on a t-shirt. It's not someone yelling this at your kid or indoctrinating them through a textbook or something. Do you think that people wearing an 'Obey' cap are more susceptible to persuasion? Or that people wearing chokers are more likely to engage in domestic abuse?

And then there's the audience. If you asked your son what it meant, would they say anything you said? Would they think it empowered or enabled them to do something they wouldn't previously have done? Would they now think that they live by a different set of rules? Because it only leaves a negative impression in a certain context, a context that the shirt doesn't provide.

There's a caveat with taking offense – even though you're likely claiming the moral high ground, that doesn't necessarily mean that you own it. Just because you're offended doesn't put you in the right. Something to consider: if you think that your son has the capability of perpetuating rape culture by wearing *this* shirt, maybe that's more of a mark on you as a parent than what your kid wants to wear.

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