In December 2003, radio-host and masculist Glenn Sacks started a campaign against the T-shirts, on the grounds of misandry. This raised national attention and led to the removal of the shirts from several thousand retail outlets.
The debate between Sacks and the clothing designer, Todd Goldman, was covered by hundreds of television and radio stations. More than 300 publications in half a dozen countries ran articles covering the issue. These included TIME, Forbes, The Washington Post, and The Guardian in the United Kingdom.
The phrase may have been a response, or the origin of the phrase (or viceversa): I am a woman, watch me shop.
Goldman claims that the campaign against his company boosted its sales. According to the Wall Street Journal, the sales volume of David and Goliath was expected to rise to US$ 100 million in 2005, up from US$ 90 million in the previous year.
The campaign against the line received support from several masculist groups, such as the National Coalition of Free Men, but also from groups with broader agendas, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center. Many critics of the T-shirts pointed out that similar slogans directed against girls or ethnic groups would be widely regarded as unacceptable. The Canadian Children's Rights Council termed the slogan hate speech. The campaign led to the removal of the shirts by several retailers, including Bon-Macy's, and Claire's, a total of more than 3,000 retail outlets. The slogan has also been criticized by Bernard Goldberg in his book, 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, where Todd Goldman, the shirts' creator, was listed as number 97.
In a Boulder Daily Camera article, later condemned by its editorial board, Linda Scott, faculty member at University of Illinois, expressed support for the T-shirts as revenge for boys' "bullying". The National Organization for Women (NOW) discounted the issue as unimportant and depicted Sacks as hypocritical, alleging he publicizes anti-women views in his radio broadcasts. Helen Grieco, Executive Director of NOW California, described Sacks as a "shock-jock radio host". She also said "[At NOW we] don't have time for T-shirt campaigns. Others, like San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jane Ganahl ridiculed Sacks' efforts in an article saying, "shut up and get a life, already". Rush Limbaugh criticized this approach. Ganahl argued that the T-shirts are perceived as harmless fun by children and that sexism against women is a far more widespread and substantial problem in United States' society.
Glenn Sacks responded to criticism of the campaign, asserting that the criticism was dismissive of the feelings of boys and that the idea that boys should laugh at the joke at their expense creates a "double bind" for boys.
Dapy's, a store operated by our company, offers various lines of popular apparel. It has recently come to Senior Management's attention that we have inadvertently offered some items from one of these lines that contain offensive messages.
The T-shirts have been taken off the store's shelves immediately and will no longer be sold at Dapy's or at any other location owned by our company. Our company does not condone any messages of intolerance to any group within our society and we regret having allowed this incident to occur.
In Canada, the complaints by the Canadian Children's Rights Council resulted in numerous major retail chain stores stopping their sales of the merchandise. The Bay, Canada's oldest retailer and one of the largest retailers in Canada, was persuaded by the Canadian Children's Rights Council not only to discontinue selling the merchandise, but to not purchase anything in the future from the company manufacturing the T-shirts and merchandise. Wal-Mart Canada was also contacted and refused to carry any more of these products.
The televised debate took place on the February 24, 2004, hosted by Dylan Ratigan. Ratigan opened the show by displaying pictures of the T-shirts and asking Sacks, "what's the issue? They're having a good time here." Sacks, a former high school teacher, replied "yes, it's humor, but it's adult humor being played out on little boys. Twelve year-old boys don't get the humor, but they feel the insult."
Goldman was asked if he felt an "obligation to consider the impact" of the products on young boys. He replied, "no" but claimed, "we sell [to] 16, 17, 18 year-olds, you know, college students." Sacks objected that Goldman had been quoted saying the products were his "top selling junior line."
Goldman pointed out that his company sells many "positive shirts, including ones with the slogans 'It's all about me' and 'Chicks Rule!'" He noted that he was very pleased with the extra publicity Sacks' campaign had generated, and that sales had increased. Ratigan, as host, asked Sacks if he thought this meant his campaign had backfired. Sacks said, "we've knocked 'Boys are Stupid' products out of 3,500 stores — that has to have an effect."
Goldman claimed his products had only lost "five percent" of their retail outlets. Ratigan, clearly dubious pressed him further on the point and Goldman conceded, "yes I guess it has been over 3,000." Ratigan replied, "Todd, that's an awful lot of retail stores."
Sacks took the opportunity to note, "I can't even find the 'Boys are Stupid' products anywhere. I can't continue the campaign because we can't even find anyone who still has the stuff." Goldman replied, "you need to get out more. Ratigan closed the show, offering Goldman, "congratulations on the success of your business."
"The age-old gender war is being sold to our children in new, and some argue, insidious ways," wrote Jeffrey Zaslow for The New York Times. "If the kiddies want to volunteer for trench duty in fruitless gender wars when they turn 18, that's their business," wrote Clay Evans, concerned to see under-18s have a less adversarial introduction to learning to relate to the opposite sex. Emily Garringer also makes reference to the famous T-shirt in the course of her analyses of male and female habits in dating practices.
Avril Lavigne has shown that she acknowledges the shirt, and apparently, thinks that it is humorous. On a radio show, when asked what she thought about boys, she replied suddenly, "Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them! This made the surrounding women around her, as well as the male radio-cast of men, and the male radioshow host, all laugh and agree with her.
However, Goldman himself says that his T-shirts have nothing to do with the girl-power movement, "I'm a guy. I couldn't give a rat's ass about girl empowerment. Our market is teenage girls. I know what sells."