Girls can be with the band, but not in the band — that’s the message a Hard Rock Café shirt is sending to women of all ages. The plain t-shirt, which reads “I’m with the band” in block letters above a city-specific location stamp, can be spotted on the front page of the restaurant’s Rock Shop website, as well as in the Rock Shop of Hard Rock locations around the country.
A few weeks ago during a recent trip to New York City, Ryan Walsh of Hallelujah the Hills noticed a NYC-centric shirt on a mannequin in the Times Square Hard Rock Café (the shirt on the store’s website features a San Diego version, and also comes in a pink tank top). After realizing that the shirt only came in women’s sizes, both online and in the store, he called the Rock Shop out on twitter and posted a photo of the shirt with an “x” over the word “with”, giving the garment a message that better reflects the times.
“It struck me as ridiculously out of touch, sexist, and disempowering,” Walsh tells Vanyaland. “We can all glean the intent here behind the saying: ‘I’m not in the band, I’m with the band,’ wink wink. It’s right out of Almost Famous, a barely coded phrase for being a groupie.”
Multiple attempts to reach Hard Rock Café for comment, by both repeated phone calls and emails to their customer service reps, were unsuccessful. Walsh’s tweets to the Hard Rock Cafe twitter account asking for clarification on the shirt have been ignored.
The shirt itself is frustrating at most, but what it represents is far more unnerving. The shirt’s message reinforces the popular idea that women aren’t expected to be musicians, nor are they to be taken seriously if they pursue a career in music.
“The fact that the saying is only printed on women’s shirts is the kind of garbage that keeps the music industry so reliably scummy,” Walsh adds. “The shirt broadcasts the idea that women aren’t creators, they’re muses. Total horseshit. Culture is shaped by the language that’s attached to it, and the language on this t-shirt is stone-age and no longer welcome.”
Potty Mouth bassist Ally Einbinder was hesitant to attack the Hard Rock directly, as she said that the company is not the first to brand clothing this way, and that PacSun and Forever 21 sell apparel with similar messages. However, that doesn’t excuse the inherently sexist message of the shirt, which encourages women to aspire to be a groupies and not musicians.
“Marketing pink t-shirts to women that presumes their position outside a sphere culturally constructed as ‘male’ is nothing new,” Einbinder says. “It’s just another glaring example of how all of these systems and institutions, namely capitalism and patriarchy, intersect and work together to reinforce and reproduce the same old rigid binary of gender roles and relations that we all know too well. At this point, whenever I see gendered products reinforcing these ideals, I’m barely surprised but I still think to myself, ‘Really? We haven’t gotten past this yet?’ It’s a reminder of how much work still needs to be done. Cultural change is slow, but we can’t stop pushing — it’s our only option.”
Similarly, Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz and Sad13 noted how the Hard Rock shirt alienates women from making music. The guitarist and vocalist also called out nastygal last year after the issued a “with the band” fashion lookbook for women, emphasizing that women should be band aides and backstage groupies, rather than musicians themselves.
“This is really mindless garbage,” Dupuis says. “Obviously people of any gender can play in a band, and people of any gender can be music fans. It’s very alienating to see corporations misunderstand that very simple concept.”
As a solution, Walsh proposed that the Hard Rock should either start selling the shirt for both sexes, or stop selling the shirt altogether. That, and that the girls who have bought the shirt should cross out “with” and join forces to start their own band.
“If rock and roll is going to stop racing towards total irrelevancy, it needs to get with the times,” Walsh adds. “This is exactly the type of worship of the past that holds back innovation.”
Below is a look at the shirt, via Walsh, as sold at the New York Hard Rock Café. Follow Victoria Wasylak on Twitter @VickiWasylak.