When I was 12 years old, my older sister passed down one of her shirts to me. She no longer wanted it, and when I was young, I wanted to be just like her, so I accepted it with excitement because I was always trying to find excuses to wear her stuff.
It was a pale yellow color, with a pink quote in the chest area:
‘Boyfriends make good pets.’
Back then, 12-year-old me didn’t think much of the statement. My 14-year-old sister didn’t either. When she gave it to me, she was entering her ‘black only’ clothing phase, and I was happy to take this pale yellow mash-up from her closet.
I wore it every day — apart from school days. I’m not quite sure why. I think I enjoyed wearing it because firstly, it was my sisters and I looked up to her; secondly, I enjoyed the relaxed way that it hung off my torso. There was the odd occasion on Fridays at school when we had ‘Free dress day’, when you could turn up at school without a uniform. I remember wearing it one of those days too. It was still my favorite shirt until that one day on ‘free dress’ when a classmate commented on it:
“I mean, they don’t really make good pets. Who wants to clean up after them and feed them?”
Looking back on it, obviously, she was joking, but it did make me step back and think — even if I was only 12. Did I think for a second that maybe this shirt sends the wrong message? And because of that classmate’s little push, it was the last time I wore my favorite shirt. I put it away until I found it years later.
A lot has changed between the 12-year-old me, and the person that I am today.
Back when I was 12, I never had any self-awareness of my appearance. At least not until I was 16 or 17. So I didn’t think much of the quote that was sitting on my chest every day.
I remember when my sister bought that shirt. It was from a clothing shop aimed at young teens, so it’s not as if I was wearing something considered out of my age range. Most of the shirts they sold had some quote or another that seemed normal for the time, but today would be a bit of a stretch.
This was 2007, so things weren’t as politically correct as they are now. And it’s sad that I can say that. It’s sad that I can say that it was seen as ‘okay’ to objectify men in sneaky ways such as a quote on a t-shirt. And sadly, there’s no doubt that things like this still happen today, on both ends of the male and female gender spectrum.
There is no way that I would wear something like this today. Although the quote seemed harmless and was intended to be funny, it is derogatory and shits all over the male population.
You wouldn’t see a guy walking around with, ‘Girlfriends make good pets’ on their chest because imagine the uproar — not to mention it’s not true or right either. So why was it okay for 12-year-old me to strut around with ‘Boyfriends make good pets’ on my chest? That’s what I don’t understand, besides the lacking of political correctness and clear gender discrimination that I mentioned above.
Not only does it make males look incompetent, but it sets up young straight girls to think that it is expected of men to be lazy and half-assed in relationships.
No, I didn’t think all of this back then when I was young… Initially, my first reaction to finding this shirt years later was, “really? How could I have worn this?” But subconsciously, indeed, being surrounded by messages such as this impacted how I viewed relationships as I grew older.
When I started dating at age 16, I grew to expect males to ‘never do the dishes’ and ‘make the pile of laundry bigger’ and be generally lazy around the house. That’s how I was brought up by the messages — as subtle as they were — that were planted around me throughout my adolescents.
There’s a guarantee you could find something on TV that implemented these messages from watching TV shows, because ‘traditionally,’ men worked, women didn’t. They were ‘lazy’ around the house, and as women, we cleaned up after them. Thus the reinforcing stereotype joke quote ‘Boyfriends make good pets’.
Funnily enough, my partner, who is male, is the exact opposite of the sexist stereotypes that I grew to believe. If anything, I’m lazy when it comes to doing the dishes and the laundry, and I’m lazy when it comes to cleaning around the house — it doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female. Chores have nothing to do with gender.
To conclude this summary of events: a seemingly harmless quote such as ‘Boyfriends make good pets’ is still wrong. It’s sexist and harmful to the subconsciouses of young people.
And what’s worse is that this was on a shirt intended for young people, aimed at young people. It sends out the wrong message of what to expect from men, even if it is ‘funny’ and written for a joke — its sexist undertones inflict the wrong message.
Just because a quote is intended to be funny doesn’t mean it’s okay or right to say; it can do more harm than good.
It’s not okay to target women with such comments, and the same should go for men. While this was printed and made 13 years ago, and we are less likely to see things like this on clothes today, it’s still important not to support and encourage these sorts of printed quotes because it’s much more harmful than it appears on the surface.