Hillary Clinton carved out yet another section in future history books yesterday when she officially secured the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States, becoming the first woman ever to do so.
In her brief, literally glass-breaking address to the convention before the evening session ended, Clinton said, “and if there are any little girls out there who stayed up late to watch, let me just say I may become the first woman president, but one of you is next.” It was a moment that Clinton’s been building to for decades. It also offered a reminder to when the idea of a woman becoming president seemed like something that could only happen in fiction. That is to say, it was a reminder of the 1990s.
Shortly after Bill Clinton’s speech about Hillary, Rutgers professor Nick Kapur tweeted a very bizarre, very true story from 1995: the time Walmart removed a feminist T-shirt from its stores for offending “family values.” The offensive T-shirt’s crime: implying that one day a woman would become president.
The Associated Press story, dated September 23, 1995, carried the following headline:
The T-shirt featured cartoon strip character Dennis “the Menace” Mitchell’s rival (and presumable future romantic partner) Margaret Wade, declaring, “Someday a woman will be president.”
According to the AP story, the shirt, which sold for $10 to $15 in one Walmart store in a suburb of North Miami, was pulled after a customer complained “it didn’t represent the company’s family values.”
Asked what the removal from the country’s biggest retailer meant, Ann Moliver Ruben, a Miami psychologist and president of Women Are Wonderful, INC, the company behind the shirt, said, “it means to me that promoting females as leaders is still a very threatening concept in this country.”
Ruben, who holds a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh, had long been a fan of the character, who had used the phrase in the comic strip in 1993. In the strip, Dennis refused to admit Margaret to his club, telling her that only boys could join. Margaret replies:
“Open your eyes, Dennis, and join the rest of the world, ” Margaret says. “Women make great cops, senators and representatives . . . Someday a woman will be PRESIDENT!”
Ruben went so far as to get permission from Hank Ketcham Enterprises, owners of the copyright, to produce the T-shirt. After learning in her research that young girls wanted to become president more than their male counterparts, Ruben set about to design the shirt and help boost their self-esteem.
She called Walmart “a censor” for pulling the shirt, which she described as “humorous and delightful.”
“What could be threatening about that?” she told the AP.
A spokesperson for Walmart at the time would not confirm that the shirt went against the company’s “family values” (which Ruben said was the reason given to her by a buyer from the national office), only that at least one customer had complained. “In this case, it was determined the T-shirt was offensive to some people and so the decision was made to pull it from the sales floor,” Walmart’s Jane Brockholt said.
In a followup with Ruben following the removal, The Miami Herald reported that sales of the shirt skyrocketed, with Walmart reversing its decision after it received complaints and experienced boycotts:
Since September, Ruben says she has received 50,000 orders for her shirt from women’s groups and retail chains such as Target, Burdines and Byron’s. A company from Medley in Northwest Dade is printing the T-shirts.
Wal-Mart alone ordered 30,000 T-shirts for its 2,188 stores nationwide.
“Wal-Mart, being a company that responds to customers’ comments, overreacted and that was a mistake, ” Bockholt said.
“We should not have pulled it, ” said Bockholt, who has six shirts and was in Miramar on Sunday. “It has nothing to do with politics. It’s a cute T-shirt.”
In 2011, Ruben left Florida to return to her native Pittsburgh. Last May, she wrote a letter to the editors of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, asking if they thought Dennis the Menace would be a Donald Trump voter, noting the similarities between the cartoon character and the Republican nominee, specifically in how he insults his female rivals.
Dr. Ruben, I hope you had the TV on last night. Your T-shirt’s prediction of the future just became that much closer to become reality.