Friday, 31 January 2014

Glasses Wearing and the Negative Connotations of being a Geek

Today I wrote this post about clothing featuring glassing wearing animals in response to an article in the Daily Mail that I read this morning.  As a parent of a glasses wearing child it resonated with me, although my opinion differs to that of Aneliese, the mum at the centre of the story.

The Daily Mail reported that the decision by Tesco to ban the image of glasses in childrenswear alongside clothing featuring words such as geek or nerd, was following a campaign by Aneliese, whose little boy wears specs, which 'forced' the retail giant to remove these clothing lines.  In fact Aneliese was just one of many people who complained about one particular t-shirt design  featuring a cartoon character in glasses alongside the slogan 'geek' in an innocent Facebook rant.  She did not launch a campaign, nor did she demand the removal of all clothing lines featuring glasses.  As is common with Daily Mail reporting, the story was taken out of context. She did not give an interview to the DM and the information was pulled from another publication and twisted to sensationalise the truth.  This afternoon, I have spoken to her on Twitter and found out the facts behind the headlines.  This isn't a story of political correctness gone mad, as implied in the article that I read this morning.

Aneliese's little boy has been subject to some horrible abuse because he wears glasses which have powerful prescription lenses. The Daily Mail and subsequent articles, including a mention on The Wright Stuff have opened this family up to a world of online notoriety.  Some responses to the story have been supportive but unfortunately some people have used it as an excuse for bullying her 19 month old son.  Grown adults have stooped to the lowest levels of trolling, victimising a baby because he looks different.  They have been thrown to the lions by the media.

I sympathize with her situation, so I felt a duty to post this to offer a different viewpoint.  Although I've personally never had to suffer the horrendous situation where my son has been laughed at and cruelly called a 'geek' or a 'nerd' for wearing glasses, she has, which is why she feels there is such a negative connotation to these words when used in conjunction with an image of a character in glasses. Her argument is why don't clothing retailers use a word with a more positive connotation such as 'cool' or use no wording at all. She is not against glasses being featured on clothing, as the DM article suggested, in fact she said she thought that was 'nice'.  It is just the profiling of glasses wearers, labeling them as geeks or nerds that she objects to, as it can provide fuel for bullies to use against these children.  No other disability or impairment would be used on a t-shirt in this way alongside a potentially negative association.  I see that point of view and if Freddy had been the victim of name calling I  too would be angry to see those very same words used so flippantly.

It was interesting to talk to Aneliese on Twitter today.  It has reminded me that behind every DM story is a real person who has not necessarily been correctly represented.  Although I still love merchandise that embraces my son's difference in a positive way and allows him to feel 'normal' and represented in popular culture, the stereotyping of glasses-wearing on children's clothes could be used against other children. We mustn't forget that while many of us now regard words such as 'geek' as trendy and desirable rather than detrimental, somebody else's child may have been the victim of bullying because of the previous negative connotations associated with the same word. It's a sad fact that children (and adults) feel the need to attack others who they feel are 'different' and if my son had been treated in the way that Aneliese's precious little boy has been, I too would be up in arms.

We need retailers to continue to represent glasses wearers in merchandise.  Glasses are super cool at the moment and very fashionable. This is great for us mums of kids who wear them. Geek chic is very trendy and being a nerd is no longer seen as a bad thing since being adopted into youth culture. This has helped to break down barriers and reduce prejudice and I've never heard 'geek' or 'nerd' used as an insult to any of my glasses wearing children.  I'd hate to see a reversal of this trend.

I personally do not believe that slogans on clothing will suddenly cause bullying, however if my child had been subject to the same abuse as Aneliese's son, I'm sure I would also be ranting on Facebook about the glamorization of a word I'd heard used as a hateful, hurtful insult.


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