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Friday, May 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Store Needs To Take Stock Of Its Values

By Robert L. Steinback Knight-Ridder Newspapers

Perhaps the nation’s largest retail chain should modify its slogan “Watch out for falling prices” to read “Watch out for falling principles.”

Wal-Mart, which promotes U.S.-made products and prides itself on representing good old American values, has given us a glimpse of its ideal America. Earlier this month it quietly stopped selling a Florida-made T-shirt featuring the character Margaret from the comic strip “Dennis the Menace” proclaiming, “Someday a woman will be PRESIDENT!”

The message was too political for Wal-Mart. Women in leadership positions? There’s a radical concept. Makes you wonder about the retailer’s other claims of terrific values, doesn’t it?

Miami Lakes psychologist Ann Moliver Ruben designed the T-shirt in 1993, after doing surveys revealing that most elementary school boys felt girls weren’t smart enough to be president. She hoped the shirt would help children and adults break down subtle gender stereotypes.

Ruben found teenage boys wouldn’t wear the shirt even if given to them free. Some women found it invited nasty remarks from men. I wonder how it would sell at the Citadel.

Still, Ruben persuaded the manager of the Miramar, Fla., Wal-Mart outlet to stock the shirt. In four weeks, 130 of the first shipment of 164 were sold.

Then, on a visit to the store, Ruben found unsold shirts stacked in a back room. She was told a few customers found the message offensive. Later, Ruben spoke with clothes buyer Sharon Higginbotham. “She told me they’d never carry the shirt because it is against Wal-Mart’s philosophy of family values,” Ruben said.

Higginbotham later denied making the statement, though Ruben stands by her account. The comment Higginbotham did acknowledge wasn’t much better: She said Wal-Mart’s “policy of political neutrality” led to removal of the shirts.

Oh? A girl’s optimism about a female presidency violates “political neutrality”? Maybe Margaret should be arrested and charged with sedition.

Jay Allen, a Wal-Mart vice president who obviously aced his Spin Doctoring 101 class, explained, “That’s what we tend to do when it comes to customers’ concerns. We overreact.”

They didn’t react to the 130 customers who bought the shirts, but they reacted to a handful of complaints. Right.

Wal-Mart quickly reversed itself once the story got out, but it’ll be a while before the chain recovers from nationwide scorn. “This is showing the world, and the United States, the power women have when they gather together and say ‘No, no, no, we’re not going to accept that kind of behavior,”’ Ruben said.

Ruben is an unflinching promoter of women’s empowerment. Traditionalists who’d like her to be a bomb-throwing radical will be disappointed to learn she is a gentle grandmother of 70, married 52 years, with three sons. Ruben is proof that feminism not only isn’t contrary to solid family values, it represents a set of values BETTER than the traditional, man-as-boss model.

Embedded in the rhetoric of many who champion a “return to family values” is a message to women: You gals should stop being so assertive. Put your children first. Your selfishness has ruined a generation of kids.

This is bunk. The problems of America’s children can be traced just as easily to men who spend too little time with their kids as to women who spend too much time on their careers. Balanced gender roles, not patriarchy, is our kids’ best hope.

So get a life, Wal-Mart. Try this on: A woman’s place IS in the house. The White House, the House of Representatives, the State House …


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