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?

8 Comments

  • February 3, 2014

    Anna

    No, it’s not offensive. It’s cute and joining in with the hipster trend. Being a geek is now cool and wearing glasses is very common actually. There is no way that that little boys friends are old enough to understand what geek means anyway. They’re babies.

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  • February 3, 2014

    LamentingLizzie

    I will also go with no. I thought terms like “nerd” and “geek” had lost all offensive connotations in modern society. Heck, many people ask for geek glasses! They even make fake ones for those who are not seeing impaired. And I personally highly doubt that an 18 month old’s friends are ridiculing him.

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  • February 3, 2014

    xony

    The world Geek itself doesn’t sound offensive to me, but really there is no reason to link it to the glasses-wearing stereotype, I can see how that stigma can be harmful to many people’s self image and awareness and why stereotypes should be avoided altogether. So, maybe it’s not offensive but it’s perpetuating an stereotype that is harmful to a lot of people.

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  • February 4, 2014

    Claire

    It won’t be an offensive term by the time this kid and his peers get to be old enough to string complete sentences together, but when the mother would have been in grade school it would have been an insult for sure. So I can see why she is concerned. And it’s definitely not a totally innocent term even nowadays – it’s still used cruelly and unironically sometimes. But I really don’t think she has anything to worry about.

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  • February 4, 2014

    Brenda

    Yes it is offensive to call children names for wearing glasses. And while the trend is stylish and ironic for adults to wear it is not the case for children. This baby is already being teased and laughed at by older children.

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    • February 4, 2014

      The Fashion Police

      The question isn’t whether it’s offensive to call children names, though – I don’t think anyone would argue with that. It’s whether this type of clothing is likely to cause that to happen.

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  • February 7, 2014

    Brenda

    Where a slogan appears on children’s clothing pointing out that those who wear glasses are “different” and suggesting a name to call them it can be seen as encouragement of said name-calling.

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  • February 9, 2014

    Alvina

    Agree, not offensive, and perhaps even cooler: maybe it gets the stereotype stronger, OK, but as a non offensive one. A word or symbol that appears on a garment usually says to me “tolerated”, “democratized”, at least in my opinion. (And whatever your child’s t-shirt is saying, children will always be cruel.)
    I find Tally Weijl young girls swearing clothes much more scary.

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