Amazon has been caught selling yet another t-shirt which glorifies sexual violence. In fact, they’ve been caught selling a number of t-shirts which glorify violence against women in general. I’m not entirely shocked that they were found to be selling the following t-shirts designed by Solid Gold Bomb via the Amazon Marketplace: Keep Calm and Rape Her, Keep Calm and Hit Her and Keep Calm and Drug Her. I doubt anyone is particularly surprised by this considering Amazon’s other business practices. It’s also not the first time a major international corporation has been caught selling t-shirts which normalise male violence against women: Topman was forced to withdraw these t-shirts condoning domestic violence last year:
Last week, stationary company Paperchase was discovered to be selling the following cards:
This is what feminists mean when we talk about rape culture: these products are considered socially acceptable and men buy them. Women are socialised into believing they are nothing more than fucktoys and men are raised to believe that rape is a joke.
Solid Gold Bomb and Amazon were both responsible for perpetuating rape culture by selling these pro-rape t-shirts. Solid Gold Bomb’s “excuse” for being caught selling them is pathetic and rather disingenuous. It is available on their website but I have reproduced the full quote:
Thanks for your interest in contacting us. We have been informed of the fact that we were selling an offensive t-shirt primarily in the UK. This has been immediately deleted as it was and had been automatically generated using a scripted computer process running against 100s of thousands of dictionary words.
Any offensive items that are remaining are certainly in the deletion queue and will be removed as soon as the processing is complete. Although we did not in any way deliberately create the offensive t-shirts in question and it was the result of a scripted programming process that was compiled by only one member of our staff, we accept the responsibility of the error and our doing our best to correct the issues at hand.
We’re sorry for the ill feeling this has caused! We’re doing our best here to fix the problem.
First, they simply aren’t the only company making these kinds of pro-violence against women t-shirts. These types of offensive t-shirts are easily available on every online t-shirt printing company going. Secondly, I simply don’t believe their excuse about these t-shirts being “automatically generated using a scripted computer process”. Thirdly, even if I did believe their excuse responsibility still lies with the people responsible for both Solid Gold Bomb and Amazon Marketplace. Computers are not responsible for accepting t-shirt slogans and then making them available online for sale; both Solid Gold Bomb and Amazon have a moral obligation to ensure that products they sell are not pro-rape. Frankly, they should have a legal obligation as well but that’s the problem with rape culture. It lets those who perpetrate rape and their rape apologists abdicate all responsibility for the harm they cause.
Pete Ashton gives a technical explanation of his belief in the computer algorithm excuse here. I’m sure this sounds a perfectly rational explanation to many but I think Ashton’s missing the point. There are indeed random language generators used for all sorts of things: the problem is they are programmed by humans. Humans who should have programmed them to exclude words like rape. Why would any company making “humorous” t-shirts not immediately exclude the word rape when writing or using a random language generator program? That is a question I want Solid Gold Bomb to answer.
This isn’t just about random language generators though. This is about humour. There is a reason the t-shirts say Keep Calm and Drug Her and not Keep Calm and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious** or Keep Calm and Nits. It is because the latter aren’t considered funny. Someone thought Keep Calm and Hit Her was funny. Someone thought Keep Calm and Rape A lot was funny. Random language generators are not capable of humour yet. Artificial intelligence simply does not have the level of sophistication to generate humorous t-shirts. These slogans may have been randomly generated but I refuse to believe that no human ever read through the random generator to see if the t-shirts were funny or not. Someone read them and someone thought they were funny enough to upload onto Amazon Marketplace to sell them.
Amazon is equally culpable in this though. They have been forced to remove numerous products over the years deemed unacceptable. Last year, Amazon was forced to withdraw a book detailing the age of consent for teenagers in the US as it was deemed to be a guide for child rapists. Amazon has consistently refused to take responsibility for what is sold on its site. As an international corporation, no one seems to have responsibility for ensuring that Amazon behaves ethically.
As I have argued before, the right to free speech does not equal the right to be a jackass. We need to stop allowing these companies to hide behind their fallacious legal understanding of free speech and holding them legally accountable. So, thank you to the organisation Miss Representation and the hundreds of feminists who complained to Amazon and Solid Gold Bomb about these t-shirts. Thank you for taking responsibility when our legal system continues to blame women for being raped rather than the men who raped them.
*I know I’ve mentioned my technological incompetence on here before but I know I’m right about random language generators. I have a friend of a friend who did her PhD on natural language processing and humour twenty years ago and now works on space exploration. Obviously, I’ve never actually met her but I’m claiming I know all about this via her work. Clearly.
** I’ve genuinely got no idea how to spell that and I’m too lazy to google to
UPDATE: Here is another t-shirt for sale on Amazon (via @EVAWhd):