Protest Against ‘Boys are Stupid’ Products

Dec. 14, 2003–Mar. 1, 2004


"Boys are Stupid—Throw Rocks at Them" merchandise was removed from nearly 3,500 retail outlets, and our campaign was covered by hundreds of major media outlets in a dozen countries.

A campaign to drive "Boys are Stupid" products from store shelves.

Why This Campaign

The rationale for our campaign is explained in my column Why We Campaigned Against ‘Boys are Stupid’ Products (Los Angeles Daily News, 2/4/04). I wrote:

"Dad, why are they always saying things like that about boys?"

This question asked by my 11 year-old son triggered a campaign which in just seven weeks has driven T-shirts, hats, and other merchandise bearing the slogan "Boys are Stupid–Throw Rocks at Them" out of nearly 3,500 retail outlets worldwide. The products depict a little boy running away as several rocks come flying at his head.

The stores dropped the products after being bombarded with thousands of e-mails and phone calls, largely from the listeners and supporters of my radio talk show. Most of those taking action have been fathers who are concerned about the cultural atmosphere surrounding their boys.

However, some of the most passionate and articulate supporters of our campaign have been the mothers and grandmothers of boys. It is mothers who generally supervise their children’s educations on a day-to-day basis, and they more than anybody see boys’largely ignored struggles.

Though our educational establishment has been slow to recognize it, boys have fallen seriously behind girls at all K-12 levels. Girls get better grades than boys and are far more likely to graduate high school and go to college. The vast majority of learning-disabled students are boys, as are students diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Nearly nine million prescriptions of Ritalin are written for American children each year–most of them for boys between the ages of six and 12.

Boys also suffer from having few men in their lives. Modern schools, particularly at the elementary level, are often devoid of men except perhaps the janitor and the maintenance crew. And there are more boys growing up in fatherless homes than ever before.

Add to all of these problems a boy-bashing preteen and teen culture–where clothing which insults and taunts boys is seen as acceptable and "funny"–and it’s natural that many boys feel the deck is stacked against them.

As parents, we suffer along with our children, and like millions of mothers and fathers, my wife and I have lain awake in bed many nights worrying about our son. Perhaps this explains why the campaign has struck such a chord–over 400 newspapers and television and radio stations in seven countries have carried stories about it.

Some commentators have criticized me, saying the shirts are just a harmless joke and that I need to "lighten up." However, to the limited extent that the shirts are humorous, it is adult humor being played out on boys.

Others say I’m violating the targeted businesses’First Amendment right to freedom of speech. However, the function of the First Amendment is to prevent the government from restricting our freedom of speech. Our campaign is instead a consumer action against companies which carry products which insult boys. Should John Ashcroft ever kick in the shirt designer’s door, arrest him, and beat him with a nightstick, I’ll be the first to help raise the designer’s bail.

Some say that in launching a campaign which has received extensive press coverage, I’ve inadvertently helped the manufacturers of "Boys are Stupid" products by giving them free publicity. There is some truth to this, and the publicity factor is a common problem with consumer boycotts. However, the company can’t be happy that the products it has said are its best sellers have now been knocked out of 90% or more of its retail outlets worldwide. More importantly, this campaign is not about hurting the products’manufacturer–it is about getting "Boys are Stupid" products out of our stores. I don’t care how many other T-shirts the company sells and how many Jaguars the owner buys as long as these products are not in our stores.

Other critics, mostly men, deride me as unmanly. I confess this attitude puzzles me. These men often grumble about TV commercials in which men are portrayed as idiots and clowns, and they read their kids bedtime stories from children’s books where fathers—the few left in modern children’s literature—are similarly depicted. Yet many of these men seem to be struck by cultural amnesia the moment somebody finally decides to do something about male-bashing.

How many times in the past 20 years have several major companies been forced to remove a product and apologize because it was offensive to males? Very few, I would guess. The media attention garnered by the campaign has already led some observers to speculate that many companies may soon be reexamining their marketing strategies for fear of a consumer backlash against anti-boy and anti-male ads.

I’ve never pretended that "Boys are Stupid" products are among the most important challenges today’s boys face. The boy-bashing culture the products typify is just the tip of the iceberg. Today, thanks to the actions of concerned mothers and fathers, that iceberg is a little smaller.

Media Coverage

Campaign was covered by hundreds of major media outlets worldwide, including:

  • Fox News
  • The Associated Press
  • CNBC
  • Time magazine
  • Forbes
  • Billboard
  • People magazine
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • Nationally-syndicated radio talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, both on her radio show and in her book book Woman Power
  • Author Bernard Goldberg
  • Syndicated columnist Dr. Joyce Brothers
  • Nationally-syndicated radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh
  • Author/radio host Tammy Bruce
  • Brandweek
  • Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service
  • Numerous newspapers, including the St. Petersburg Times, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Canadian National Post, the Orlando Sentinel, the Christian Science Monitor, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the New York Post, the Miami Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Post, the Newark Star-Ledger, the Edmonton Journal, the Calgary Herald, the Seattle Times, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and numerous others.

Supporters and Endorsers

Many prominent media figures supported and/or endorsed our campaign. Examples include:

  • Nationally-syndicated radio talk show host/best-selling author Dr. Laura Schlessinger devoted a chapter of her book Woman Power to male-bashing and our campaign, and told her radio audience:
    I want to join hands with my fellow talk show host Glenn Sacks…I back his campaign against "Boys are Stupid" shirts…[the shirts] are symptomatic of a much larger problem…the denigration of males.
  • Best-selling author Bernard Goldberg ripped Todd Goldman, the designer of "Boys are Stupid" apparel, in his book 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America. Goldberg refers to the protests against Goldman’s wares and puts Goldman at #97 on his top 100 list.
  • Syndicated columnist Dr. Joyce Brothers, in her advice column, "T-shirts that degrade boys say a lot about wearer." answered a letter from the mother of a 10 year-old girl who wanted her mother to buy her a "Boys Are Stupid" shirt. Brothers wrote:
    …there has been a flurry of protests over anti-boy clothing made by a couple of manufacturers, and some retail stores are no longer carrying the shirts. They could be offensive, cruel, divisive...try to get her to see herself from other people's points of view -- especially from the perspective of some of the nice boys she likes as friends. I'm sure she wouldn't want to see anti-girl T-shirts on them or have some wiseguy call her names. Girl power is great. But help your daughter choose messages that promote proud females without degrading males.
  • Nationally-syndicated radio talk show host Tammy Bruce, who expressed sympathy for campaign on her 12/18/04 broadcast.
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center, which called the "Boys Are Stupid" products "A demeaning double standard."
  • Nationally-syndicated radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh said "Turn it around and imagine shirts suggesting…’Girls lie and will break your heart. Throw rocks at them’…Can you imagine a newspaper doing a cute little headline and story on how wonderfully cute little boy fashion has become? I doubt it."
  • Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, who said "Male bashing has become the great bonding agent among women…[women] get together in groups and bash men. There is a trickle down effect, so that boy bashing is even acceptable in some circles. The t-shirts came out a couple of years ago, that little girls were wearing, that said things like ‘Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them.’ You can well imagine what would happen if we had boys wearing t-shirts with slogans that were anti-girl; we simply wouldn’t tolerate it."
  • Los Angeles radio host Al Rantel, who told his listeners "The shirts are terrible and are part of a much larger problem in our society--the problem of devaluing males."
  • Cincinnati radio host Jenn Jordan, who told her listeners "As the mother of a boy, I owe Glenn a big thank you for what he’s done."
  • Los Angeles radio host Marc Germain, who told his listeners "[The shirts] are really offensive and I'm glad Glenn stood up and did something about it."
  • New York City radio host Joe Crummey, who told his listeners "I’m angry about these shirts&helliup;I wish Glenn well—I think he’s got a real point here."
  • Author/Fox News columnist Wendy McElroy, who wrote "The protest campaign launched by radio talk host Glenn Sacks…[is a good example] of how hate mongering is a lucrative business and the best remedy is to yank away the financial incentive."

Other Reactions

Other reactions to the campaign included:

  • Wikipedia created an entry for the controversy, explaining that the issue has "Iconic status in gender debates."
  • Helen Grieco, Executive Director of the National Organization for Women, California chapter, called Sacks a "Women-bashing, backlash shock-jock radio host" and criticized the campaign in a Christian Science Monitor feature story.
  • Universal Studios, which pulled the products from its stores, made a public statement in response to the campaign, stating "The T-shirts have been taken off store shelves immediately…Our company does not condone any messages of intolerance to any group within our society and we regret having allowed this incident to occur."
  • Sacks and David Goldman, who created "Boys Are Stupid" products, debated the issue on CNBC on February 24, 2004. Host Dylan Ratigan asked Sacks "What’s the issue? They’re having a good time here." Sacks replied:
    Yes, it’s humor, but it’s adult humor being played out on little boys. Twelve year-old boys don’t get the humor, but they feel the insult.

    Goldman said he was very pleased with the extra publicity Sacks’ campaign had generated. Ratigan asked Sacks if he thought this meant his campaign had backfired. Sacks said, "We’ve knocked ’Boys are Stupid’ products out of 3,500 stores—that has to have an effect."

    Goldman claimed his products had only lost "five percent" of their retail outlets. Ratigan pressed him further on the point and Goldman conceded, "Yes I guess it has been over 3,000." Ratigan replied, "Todd, that’s an awful lot of retail stores."

    Sacks added:

    I can’t even find the "Boys are Stupid" products anywhere. I can’t continue the campaign because we can’t even find anyone who still has the stuff.