Is It Offensive? | Tesco removes “Geek” slogan clothing following complaint

Tesco Geek Sleep pyjamas

Are they offensive? Tesco’s ‘Geek Sleep’ pyjamas

In what has to be one of the stranger editions of our sporadic “Is it Offensive?” series, today we ask you to cast your eyes over the slogan shirt above, and answer the question: is it offensive? 

At least one person out there thinks it is: and because of this, Tesco have pulled similarly printed items from its children’s range. The clothes in question all featured animals in glasses, accompanied by the words “nerd” or “geek”. You might think this is just the latest step in the ongoing trend-ification of the word “geek”, but Aneliese Whittaker, from Surrey, would disagree with you. Anelise’s 18-month old son, Logan, wears glasses due to cataracts, and his mother feels that the connection between glasses and “geeks” could encourage the bullying of children like him, who also wear spectacles.

Anelise says:

“Logan is regularly teased by other children for his goggle-like glasses and this is all before he has even stepped foot in the playground…’I understand that nerds and geeks are trendy now, but those words still have negative connotations to many. Those t-shirts were stereotyping, saying all people with glasses are nerds. It’s profiling, and it’s wrong.”

In a message posted on Tesco’s Facebook page, she added:

“It’s ‘fashion’ statements like this that give children the negative associations to glasses.Teaching children that you are a ‘geek’ if you wear glasses, and are of a lower self-worth than the ‘rest of the gang,’ although it may only seem like a t-shirt to some people it’s things like this that encourage bullying, damage self-image and leave a lasting idea in a young impressionable mind. Why is it OK to have a negative connotation associated to someone’s impairment? Why should my son grow up with people making fun of him because it’s ‘fashionable’?”

It’s certainly true that the words “nerd” and “geek” have started to change their meanings in recent years, and are now used as badges or honour, by people who aren’t even remotely “nerd-like” or “geekish”, in the traditional sense of those words. We wrote last year about how “geek” has become synonymous with “hipster”, with people eagerly proclaiming themselves to be “OMG, SUCH A GEEK!”, just because they watch Doctor Who, but the fact is, it wasn’t always this way. Words like “geek” and “nerd” do, indeed, still have negative connotations for some, which is why Aneliese Whittaker is so offended to see them used on fashion items.

Is she right? Tesco presumably think so: they responded to her complaint by pulling the items in question from its children’s ranges (the image at the top of the page comes from their women’s section, which still appears to be selling the pyjamas in question), and apologising for any offence caused. In an email to Anelise, a Tesco spokesperson wrote:

“The glasses/geek/nerd/dork graphic trend has been massive on the high street, and from a fashion perspective the words and glasses have been reclaimed as a sign of in fact being cool and trendy. However, I completely understand why you feel that this style might cause offence. I am very sorry that this has upset you, in no way did we intend for this t-shirt to suggest that it is OK to call any child names. I always see things from a design and trend perspective, but in this case I have not considered that this might be viewed by some as a negative association. Further to your complaint, the garment will be marked down and will be removed from the shop floor shortly.”

What do you think? Is the association between geeks and glasses offensive to you? Do you think it’s likely to encourage bullying? Should Tesco have removed the items from their stores, or is it an over-reaction  to a simple item of clothing?

Is it offensive?

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