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End of Gender: Urban Outfitters' Epic Fail

Trigger Warning: This post discusses—and therefore contains—transphobic slurs.

This week Urban Outfitters added yet another epic fail to the clothing company's laundry list of misdeeds.

UO has been selling a greeting card that reads: "Jack and Jill, Went up the Hill, So Jack could see Jill's fanny, But Jack got a shock, And an eyeful of cock, Because Jill was a closet tranny."

Screen shot of Urban Outfitters' "charming" greeting card as displayed on the store's website. The card is written in old-fashioned script with swirls around the margins.

Angry Redditors called UO's nursery rhyme "blatantly transphobic" with its use of the much-debated "t-word" and its objectification of trans bodies.  But that's not the only reason why UO's "charming" card is such a slap in the face. 

For years UO has been gobbling up gender-bending style and regurgitating queer fashion for the masses.

This Urban Outfitters ad features two figures in giant, androgynous cardigans. Their pained facial expressions suggest that they're so hip that it hurts.

In 2009 the New York Times identified androgyny as the "it" fashion trend of the coming decade.  Psychologist Dr. Diane Ehrensaft told the Times a new peer culture made gender-bending "not only acceptable, but cool."

The cool-factor of androgyny has been amplified in recent years by icons like Lady Gaga, who performed in drag at last year's VMA's and played up media rumors that she is intersex in her "Telephone" music video (the pop star has since revealed that she's not).  Androgynous models like Andrej Pejic have been walking the runway for Marc Jacobs, and the andro-hot heroine of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has inspired a clothing line at H&M.

UO stores are cropping up in suburban malls everywhere, selling hip, gender-neutral accessories like beanies, tees, hoodies, plastic-framed glasses, and skinny jeans.  Last year the comapny, which includes Anthropologie and Free People, opened 57 new stores, competing with preppy retailers like American Eagle, Abercrombie & Fitch, and the Gap. 

UO stands out with is self-proclaimed "funky" (queer?) threads.  I'm not suggesting that all "funky" and "androgynous" fashion is queer fashion, nor am I suggesting that all queer folks wear the same things.  But come on now, where do you think UO got the idea for this photo in their winter catalogue?

One person wearing an androgynous white shirt and jeans shaves another person's head (the second person also wears a white t-shirt and jeans).

In a culture that punishes princess boys and fears Chaz Bono, why is androgyny considered fashionable, even sexy?  And how did gender-neutral/gender-bending clothing go mainstream?  It's no secret that what scares, sells.  So when the queers go bump in the night, the scaredy cats behind UO swipe our clothes and duck under the covers.

UO has no problem taking without giving back.  The company has been outed a number of times in the past few months, first for ripping of independent jewelry designers, then for selling culturally-appropriative "Navajo" clothing and accessories.  But sometimes, UO co-founder and CEO Richard Hayne is in the spirit of giving, so he donates to anti-gay politicians like Rick "gay sex equals man-on-dog humping'" Santorum.

Hayne might think the gays are scary, but his customers are probably less likely to be spooked.  Now more Americans support gay marriage than ever before, and among the young, "funky" folks who buy their leggings and Bill Cosby sweaters at UO, I'd guess that the percentage is probably higher.

Since the gays aren't so scary anymore, UO has resorted to a "tranny" jokes to get that extra "edge." And it's just not funny.

While the the young and hip prowl the streets in their androgynous attire, it might look like the "end of gender" is near. But as Coco Chanel reminds us, fashion fades. UO's darling greeting card brings us back to harsh reality: When it comes to understanding and respecting the spectrum of identities beneath the clothes, we have a long, long way to go.

Previously: The Beginning of the End

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Comments

22 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Great post!

Really smart. Thanks!

I think I might be a little

I think I might be a little confused as to why androgyny going mainstream is a bad thing. It's another way to blur the gender lines, so shouldn't Bitch be supportive of this? Or are we supposed to shy away from this now that fashion is encouraging this appearance?

Could you elaborate on why androgyny is a negative thing in fashion?

the point this article makes:

Is not that androgyny's heightened awareness and fashion-forwardness is a bad thing, but that UO is making a profit off of the queer and trans community in appropriating the "look" and then blatantly objectifying and humiliating trans folks for "humor's sake". The article was more about shaming UO for their blatant sexist and homo and trans phobic behavior than about their adoption of the androgynous "trend" (androgyny is nothing new either UO!)

That makes sense, but I think

That makes sense, but I think the article would have been better had the offensive card been the standalone issue.

Androgyny is a very beautiful thing, and just because the styles are more readily available, we shouldn't condemn retailers who provide it.

However, I really do understand the point that it's ironic Urban can't seem to settle on a consistent stance.

I agree. It seemed for a

I agree. It seemed for a second that the article was dismissing "queer-cool" clothes for a sort of "selling out" process. But it seems good, that the fashion of androgeny is popular and sold to modern hipsters. The fact that they may be attracted to more gender neutral clothes is comforting and the greeting card issue, seems somewhat separate from that,a lthough i agree that the "tranny" "joke" may be a reductive and hurtful message. I wonder though how transgender folks feel about it as a joke. I think Bitch has pushed the envelope with other subversions that at first seem "offensive but "funny" like the "Douchebag Decree" which needed its own article to explain why it was in fact feminist and not sexist. So, maybe the same could apply to "Tranny" and bring lighthearted humor to something people might usually be afraid of. Not sure. I realize it's a tough issue.

Confusion

I understand the point to be made on transphobia, and the slurs published by UO.
However I agree with a previous comment made, why is androgyny in fashion such a sin?
Sure the fashion may fade, and companies are profiting off the look perhaps; but to be honest I think it has done wonders for lifting gender boundaries.

The article leaves me with mixed feelings, as I feel it is mixing in two very different points.

My take...

My take is that it's not androgynous style that's the issue so much as mainstream media and retail outlets (like the NY Times and Urban Outfitters) capitalizing on a trend while at the same time remaining transphobic in many ways. Accepting the style should go hand in hand with accepting the people, but much of the time it doesn't.

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

"Accepting the style should

"Accepting the style should go hand in hand with accepting the people, but much of the time it doesn't." (See: Hip Hop and racism)

This seems like a classic

This seems like a classic example of what the TVTropes refers to as Reactionary Fantasy: "An attempt to profit from any new (particularly socially radical) trend or subculture while at the same time subverting or preaching against it. "
It is disheartening to see scum like this profit off of exploitation, but on the other hand, the very fact that we're *worth* exploiting at this point suggests that we must be making at least some small progress.

Honestly, I thought the card

Honestly, I thought the card was hilarious. I would have thought it was funny if they were making fun of lesbians too, as long as the joke was clever. Of course, I really do not get this concept of "queer" fashion. It's just skinny jeans (blech..) and extra long cardigans. Maybe I'm just out of the bubble o'queerness, but I almost never see anyone dressed in the ways described above. (I actually detest that word and the entire concept of queer theory, but that's a whole other topic.) The ripping off of other people and the donating money to Santorum, are infuriating, and in the first case they should be held accountable. However, I don't really care which candidate their CEO donates money to. Getting upset about that is absurd because Liberals (and Conservatives too) love it when other companies support the candidates they like. I realize the issue being discussed here is that UO, it seems, profiting off androgynous, queer, etc people and then giving money to Santorum.

But that's just how life is sometimes.

Appropriation

R.D., the main issue with the card, at least to me, is the use of a trans slur as the punchline of a joke. Using harmful, oppressive language in that way isn't funny, it's harmful and oppressive.

As far as not "getting" queer fashion, it's not really for you to "get" or not. This is about Urban Outfitters profiting off of a marginalized group in an appropriative way, and that really shouldn't be "just how life is sometimes." That's where awesome writers like Malic come in—to call things like this out!

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

If the profting you're

If the profting you're referring to is the so-called queer fashion or androgynous fashion, I still don't see what that has to do with the trans community. They don't own androgyny. And what I mean by not "getting" queer fashion is, I get the concept or why it's important. It's not really that subversive or new.

And they aren't the only company to profit off a marginalized group, that's my point. Calling them out is fine, but the people who don't like this and shop there should stop shopping there if it's that important to them. Ideally, yes, they should change tactics, but I'm not holding my breath for that happening.

Subverting normative gender

Subverting normative gender is okay in a small dose but ugh stay away from those gross trans women and their monstrous genitalia! I would be more offended if we didn't already know UO is owned by a bigot.

Given how many

Given how many trans women have been brutally murdered after exactly that kind of "discovery," I think you'd have to be a pretty sick person to find that card funny. Not to mention that although trans people -- or at least trans women, to whom the epithet has historically been applied -- are entitled to use or "reclaim" the T word for themselves if they want to, non-trans people have no right to do so. I suppose you think it's hilarious when straight people call gay men "faggots"?

DonnaL

If feminism is a name that

If feminism is a name that describes a huge variety of contested and changing practices that, at base, have an eye for gender justice, then transwomen, or those of whom want to identify with the term "feminism," have everything to do with it. Many people have said it before, but it bears repeating, that biology is not destiny. We are all totally complex beings, none of whom can be taken to be self-evidently reinforcing rigid gender roles. Complex beings need a complex analysis. And a gentle, generous one at that.
I don't know you, so I don't know what might motivate you to post a comment this hurtful and disrepectful of the histories and present trajectories of trans* struggles and achievements, but I do sincerely wonder why you would spend your time reading a feminist media site in order to find a place to express hateful views like this.

Hilarious?

No. Fuck you.

I'm not well versed in UO's

I'm not well versed in UO's misdeeds, but I def don't appreciate their ridic exploitation of hipster trends where they find a granny sweater at good will, remake it and sell it for $100, nor do I appreciate the fact that most of the clothes will look stupid on you if you're not a size 0-2. BUT can it really be a bad thing that androgyny is coming into the mainstream? If anything, this should work to get rid of gender roles (once and for all!!) or work to blur them, helping everyone, not just the queer community. In reality, all of us should be/are queer - as in unique, free-thinking - but we are socialized into rigid gender identities. This is the root cause of 'queer' discrimination. If you could simply do what you like and be who you are without a pressure to conform, there wouldn't be backlash against those that don't fit the mold. So if UO is actively trying to break down the gender dichotomy and eroticize and popularize the idea of being gender queer, I can only see it helping our warped, robotic society.

Uh, why read a website where

Uh, why read a website where it's normal to critique transphobia if you think it's thin skinned? I guess you didn't get the memo but 'tranny' is usually used outside of trans circles as a slur. Heaven forbid trans women not want to be made into a punch line.

Like transphobic violence?

Things to be concerned about, like the murder of trans* individuals? Like assaults motivated by hate toward the trans community (I dislike using the word phobic for what is hate rather than fear)? I agree, hate crimes against trans people are of bigger concern than the use of a word, any word. However, why is there so much violence against trans folk? Could it be because of smaller things that foster non-acceptance? Things like use of a slur in a "cute" greeting card in a mainstream brand. And no, "we" (non-trans individuals) cannot say tranny.

I have always felt most

I have always felt most comfortable looking androgynous. Sometimes I want to look more feminine. Other times I want to look masculine. Sometimes I want to look feminine AND masculine. I think we all have feminine/masculine elements to us, and I love to express that. But, according to this article, that would mean that because I'm straight, I'm appropriating androgyny from queer fashion, which I don't agree with.

PS: I loathe Urban Outfitters for countless reasons, including this one. And the nursery rhyme/joke is an epic fail.

Androgyny as a fad

I may be wrong, but here's what I got from the article's take on the androgyny fad: UO is not really embracing androgyny or "queer fashion," whatever that is (I'm queer and I wear clothes. Does that make me have "queer fashion"? I don't know.), it's appropriating characteristics of a marginalized group of people to turn a profit, much in the way they did with the "Navajo"-themed items. They're taking the aspects that they like and they feel are marketable and ignoring the other, perhaps more complex or less pleasant realities. They're also watering down the concepts of what it means to be "androgynous" and molding it to fit their very binary system of clothing.

Like the color photo in the article. Yeah, the man and the woman are both wearing long, unisex-type sweaters, but there's no question as to who is male and who is female based on the coding of their dress and postures: she's in a minidress and he's in pants. She's standing demurely and looking down; he's standing up straight and looking directly into the camera, postures that denote traditional "femininity" and "masculinity." In this way, UO can seem "edgy" without being in danger of taking customers out of their societal comfort zones. The issue arises, then, that a subculture is becoming co-opted into hipster fashion and begins, as a result, to lose cultural meaning. That's the problem I'm seeing here.

Oh yeah, and the card is gross. But that kind of goes without saying.

Malic, this is a really

Malic, this is a really interesting article! It got me thinking about the ways in which androgyny has been a part of high fashion, and now increasingly ready to wear stuff that can be found in stores to which not only the exorbitantly rich have access, but how it might not translate into streetwear. It seems that UO uses a particular aesthetic which, maybe even more than being androgynous right now specifically, is just coded as "hipster cool." In a town where we have a UO, I think I've been seeing that people who shop there might buy some items, but they won't wear them like these ads suggest. They'll buy a dress here, a pair of pants there, but the way they choose to arrange the clothes doesn't necessarily evoke any of the same androgyny on which the ads capitalize. It's always amazing to me what advertising tactics work and why.