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I Like Vaginas, But Not on My T-Shirt

10/09/2013 12:38 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

You like T-shirts? You like vaginas? You like playing with yourself? American Apparel has you covered. I present to you the Menstruating Vagina T-shirt for the bargain basement price of only $44.

In this hyper-sexualized world we live in, there is a fine line that is continuously being crossed when companies consciously choose to peddle sex and the female anatomy in order to push a product.

That line seems to have recently been crossed again when the marketing geniuses behind American Apparel decided to create, market and sell a T-shirt depicting a menstruating vagina and a woman on it "exploring her sexuality" (i.e. masturbating).

As was to be expected (and undoubtedly desired) by American Apparel's CEO, Dov Charney, (who's been described as a "ladies' man" and a "bon vivant" by many who've interviewed him in the past), the T-shirt with a bleeding vagina on it has created quite a bloody controversy (pun intended).

Petra Collins, the 20-year-old Toronto-born artist who designed the T-shirt is surprised that this has caused so much of an uproar, leading me to believe that she may -- perhaps -- have an M.F.A. from a reputable college, but never took any classes in common sense.

She wonders why people are so uptight and outraged over something so natural, and in an interview with Jezebel, claims to have "trolled the mainstream media" because everyone is now talking about her art.

Well, not quite, Petra. They're not talking about your art. They're talking about the pretentiousness of American Apparel pretending that this is about "pussy power" when it's really nothing more than Charney utilizing shock value to market his product and ultimately his brand.

And no one should confuse my disapproval of the marketed design as a childish and prudish reaction to seeing a vagina displayed in public. It's not what is displayed that bothers me, but why it's displayed and what it pretends to represent. And ultimately whom it benefits.

Because, here's the deal: I think vaginas are awesome. I have one. I love its capabilities and power, and the sexual pleasure I derive from it. I love knowing that it's where every single one of you reading this emerged from. Vaginas are kick-ass and life-giving. They deserve respect and love. There's nothing provocative or repulsive about them.

At the same time, I think there is nothing gross or unclean or dirty or unseemly about a woman's period. For too many centuries and in too many religions and cultures a menstruating woman was seen (and still continues to be seen) as unclean and untouchable. Ladies, we should not be ashamed of our periods and the men who love us should not be taught that there's anything distasteful about them.

I also think masturbation is healthy and glorious; something to be celebrated and undertaken as often as possible. Go ahead and play with yourselves! I most certainly am not judging.

This rant isn't about me thinking that this shirt's message is gross or unbecoming. It isn't about me being a prude or not cultured or liberated enough to understand the subtle nuances of artistic expression and female liberation manifesting as a cotton T-shirt that sad-looking models were forced to wear (although, to be fair to them, how happy would you look if you were ordered to wear a bleeding vagina on your shirt and pose for the camera?).

I think it's great that we're attempting to remove the stigma surrounding this embarrassing-to-many trifecta of vaginas, periods, and masturbation.

But ultimately, if we can just put the sexual politics aside for a moment, it comes down to this: I want to walk around wearing a T-shirt shoving menstruation and masturbation in people's faces just about as much as I want to come across a guy wearing a dick on his shirt.

And Dov Charney knows this. He knows this shirt won't really be selling. He knows people won't be rushing to order them online, because at $44 a pop I won't be spending that even on a gag gift. But he knows people will be talking about them. People will be arguing about them. People will be outraged or amused, but they most certainly won't be indifferent.

It is not by accident that American Apparel was once one of the fastest growing companies in the United States, and has been named Top Trendsetter of the Year and Marketer of the Year in the past.

In a world constantly competing for your attention, it doesn't happen by accident when they talk about you. Charney knows how to push people's buttons and get them to notice. That's a valuable trait to have as a businessman. I don't necessarily begrudge him his marketing savvy, but I will call him out on it when he tries to pretend that it's about a higher purpose. Because it really isn't.

And I don't buy the artist's explanation that what she's depicting is natural and should therefore not be eliciting such outrage.

Just because something is a body's natural state doesn't mean it merits being put on a shirt. Defecating is also natural. Should I adorn a baby T or tank top with that too?

I also reject her assertion that this is art pushing the boundaries and shocking people. There is nothing necessarily "bold" about this. Nothing about this design shocked me. The decision, however, to place it on a T-shirt made me raise my eyebrow in bemused and confused bewilderment because who in their right minds would want to walk around wearing this design, and who would want to be seen with them while they were wearing it?

Ultimately, this isn't about artistic expression and female empowerment. This is nothing more than a savvy, opportunistic businessman of a flailing company trying to keep its name in the media spotlight.

And, in the interest of fairness, while I fully recognize that American Apparel treats their manufacturing employees incredibly well, promotes sweatshop-free labour practices, has commendable environmental practices, and has been incredibly generous during Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake, it's, nonetheless, built its business on questionable marketing techniques.

At the end of the day, I think what annoys me most about this menstruating vagina business, is watching American Apparel try to spin the controversy and pretend that they're supporting feminism and women's empowerment.

Having the gall to claim that this is about "exploring female sexuality" while 99 percent of your ads are exploitative soft porn is downright laughable.

I don't buy your claims, American Apparel, and I most certainly won't be buying your T-shirt.

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