Artist Petra Collins has designed a gorgeous tee-shirt exclusively for American Apparel. The tee-shirt depicts a manicured female hand masturbating a menstruating vulva. 50% of proceeds from the sale of the shirt (and two others) go to The Ardorous, a platform for female artists curated by Collins herself.
Naturally, the shirt has caused some controversy. Collins was quoted by Vice that “The headline they used was, ‘Does this T-Shirt Graphic Go Too Far?’ Talking to these news anchors is the best. The woman was talking to me in her news anchor voice and trying to avoid saying ‘vagina’ and I would say, ‘Oh, the masturbation, vagina, and pubic-hair tee?’ She had trouble saying it back to me. Vagina is such a scandalous word.”
I do agree with Collins that the uncomfortableness surrounding the word vagina and the “scandal” of female masturbation is a bit silly. I also think that this shirt is gorgeous and done tastefully, it doesn’t feel forced or super sexualized. While there is controversy, it’s natural, Collins didn’t make this shirt to say “look at me! look at me! I put the bottom half of a naked woman on a tee-shirt and she has her period! I want attention!” she made it to spark a conversation and help her artist collective.
So for all these good reasons to support the shirt, why does part of me feel conflicted? Again, I don’t find anything wrong with my vulva/vagina, I don’t think it’s dirty, and masturbation and menstruation are natural things, but is this a little too much? Masturbation and menstruation together–again, I get that Collins wants it to be a conversation starter, but could the shirt have been just as effective with just the menstrual blood or just the masturbating hand?
Or is it that my problem isn’t with the shirt, but with whom Collins chose to distribute it with? I have very conflicted feelings about American Apparel. While I do love their raglan tees and the fact that they’re so proud of being made in the USA and sweatshop free, and that they’re progressive when it comes to immigration and LGBTIQ rights, there’s just so many other things that irk me that such a feminist shirt would be sold there.
I’m not a fan of their advertising campaigns, hypersexualizing women’s clothing while the men get to be fully clothed and just stand in front of the camera. I’m wary that Collins would go with a company whose CEO is a notorious pervert, and who uses one of the most sexist, sleaziest photographers to oversee a lot of the ad campaigns. I’m also not a fan as their search for a plus size model back in 2011 wound up not being a contest, but a platform for people to shame women above the company’s golden size 6 standard. I know that Collins started as a store employee with American Apparel and sometimes works as a photographer for them, but really?
Or am I just annoyed that this shirt is being carried by American Apparel instead of say, Bluestockings or Bitchmart? Perhaps American Apparel carrying Collins’ shirt is a good thing, that it will inspire other progressive artists to submit to the shop and help end the bad advertising. And by using American Apparel to distribute the shirt, Collins reaches a wider audience rather than those who go to Bluestockings and/or read Bitch.
I don’t know, LivLunatics–what’s your take on the shirt and it’s message? Why is there so much internal conflict? Should Collins have picked a different distributor?