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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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I had reservations about doing so, but I finally ordered the "My Marxist Feminist Dialectic Brings all the Boys to the Yard" T-Shirt from T-Shirt Hell. I loved the shirt from day 1, but wanted to discuss the issues surrounding this.

But you're male. And? This is one of the strangest responses I've yet encountered. People are so absorbed in self interest that it seems impossible that someone would want something for others beside their dominant group. Yes, I'm male, but I would prefer it that women were given equal opportunities in society. Although I'm aware that the term is fragmented and in some definitions I cannot be a feminist, under the broad, succinct definition just given: it is possible to be a male feminist.

What about the shirt's heteronormativity?
Well, being male and wearing it certainly helps to undermine that statement!

What about T-Shirt Hell?
Now this is where it gets thorny. One of the reasons I resisted buying this shirt for a long time was that the site from whence they come seems to primarily sell misogynist and downright offensive material. First off, I didn't want to pay them! Secondly, though, this leads to the question of whether the shirt is being ironic.

Reading the shirt
The original reference is to the innuendo in Kelis' Milkshake in which her unspecified metaphorical "milkshake" "brings all the boys to the yard". Now, without entering into the debate on whether the liberation of female sexuality has been recuperated by the still-extant patriarchy in a post-feminist mode, in the case of the substitution here, the humour would be derived from an unlikely source of attraction. This reading is then logically saying that there is an incongruence between Marxist feminism and the sexual attractiveness of its adherents. Problematic to say the least, if only in raising the utter irrelevance of such a statement. Of course, it is possible that the humour is picking on the academic frame of reference and is a purely linguistic phenomenon, in which case all fair and good. It seems, though, quite plausible to read it as "ha! hardly going to pull with that kinda attitude, are ya, feminist?"

On the other hand, another potentially positive reading of the shirt is that "bringing to the yard" resonates with "brings to task", a taming of the patriarchal order. This brings the reading back in line with the empowering surface reading of the shirt.

Anyway, this is all food for thought. This week in my Texts in Time class, we'll be looking at The Roaring Girl and in particular Jean Howard's excellent article on cross-dressing in Early Modern England. As it will be necessary to discuss the history of Marxist (or at least Materialist) Feminist Dialectics in our work on this piece, I'm going to wear the shirt. I'm then going to ask the students to read it, in an academic sense, and see if they struggle with the implications or whether, at the end of the day, it's possible to laugh without a laughing-at-expense.