Stealing Sexy Calendars isn’t Jesus, and it isn’t Radical.

Stealing Sexy Calendars isn’t Jesus, and it isn’t Radical. December 20, 2013

On December 4th, the editors at Jesus Radicals chose to publish a post that left me baffled for awhile. I had to read it multiple times to make sure it wasn’t a joke, and double check the website to make sure I hadn’t accidentally ended up on a satire site.

But nope. This post was real life. It shared an anonymous woman’s story of walking past a calendar kiosk, seeing those sexy calendars that feature a different woman in a bikini each month, and getting angry at the objectification of women.

Her solution?

Shoplift ALL the sexy calendars!

Yes, the author of the piece gets some friends together, they form a plan, and they steal sexy calendars from this kiosk, leaving behind signs that say things like “Sorry, Misogyny Is Out of Stock” and “Should’ve Gone With the Puppies.” They say that this was “easy and fun” and that “We all left laughing.”

The piece then provides instructions for how YOU TOO can get in on this barrel of monkeys fun, with tips like “Always use gloves” and “Wear something to obscure your face from cameras and passersby.”

Lord have mercy.

Naturally, people responded to this piece with many variations of “What the hell?” Several Jesus Radicals editors and contributors pushed back on the critics, claiming that Jesus Radicals doesn’t necessarily promote this kind of action–they were just trying to start a conversation! This doesn’t change the fact that someone at their website chose to publish a how-to manual for shoplifters. It also doesn’t change the condescending ways that some of the folks involved with Jesus Radicals have been defending the piece. 

Let’s talk about a few things, shall we?

First of all, these “radicals” stole $2,000 worth of merchandise from a small business owner, preventing her (yup, her. Stealing from a woman trying to make a living in a patriarchal system–sounds like an A+ way to solve misogyny, right?) from giving her employees Christmas bonuses.

They did this on the watch of probably low-wage employees, putting those employees jobs and paychecks at risk. It sounds like no employees in this case were penalized for the theft happening on their watch (besides the fact that they miss out on their bonuses now). But, as a low-wage worker myself, it outraged me that these folks apparently didn’t even stop to think about who they had to step on in order to have their “fun.”

Mark Van Steenwyck defends this so-called activism, accusing those who are outraged on behalf of the low-wage employees of being “selective” (I guess if we are mad about these activists putting low-wage workers at risk it means we are not also mad about income inequality in general?). He also says that “it is easy to sit back and judge” these activists. But you know what else is easy, Mark? To sit back and defend these actions when you are not the one dealing with the consequences. 

As a low-wage worker myself, I have been stolen from, though in more subtle ways (customers lying about how much cash they gave me, etc). I have had to take money out of my own paycheck to make up for it. It’s not “easy and fun.” We don’t “leave laughing.”

In keeping up with the recent wave of fast food worker’s activism, I know my experiences aren’t unique:

Fast food worker holding a sign that says “I have to pay for stolen food if I am robbed.” Via Fast Food Crime Wave

Another thing–I’m not convinced that shoplifting sexy magazines breaks any glass ceilings at all. I’m not convinced it does anything to actually curb the objectification of women, honestly. It’s not going to stop the demand for sexy calendars. It’s not going to hurt the companies putting out these calendars, as shop owners are just going to have to buy more to make up for stolen product.

I can picture kids in an evangelical youth group doing something similar to what these radical feminist shoplifters did. Can you? How about imagining that instead of saying “Misogyny Is Out Of Stock” the signs said “Immodesty Is Out Of Stock?”

Now can you see it?

The message that this activism sends is that hiding women’s bodies from the public eye will stop men from objectifying women,* which is the same messages Christian relationship books send out. It puts the blame on the women posing for these calendars, using their bodies to make a living (which, I want to point out, is something ALL of us do in one way or another), rather than challenging our misogynist system that dehumanizes those women.

This so-called feminist activism attempts to liberate women, but instead puts low-wage workers (who are more likely to be women) at risk and blames women’s bodies for the existence of misogyny. Yet folks continue to defend it. Kevin Daugherty, of the Koinonia Revolution, even went so far as to compare this to the year of Jubilee and to Jesus’ overturning the money-changers’ tables.**

I have this to say.

If your activism involves turning over tables and then leaving them there for minimum wage workers to clean up, please rethink. If your feminism involves “breaking glass ceilings” and leaving other women to sweep up the glass, stop. 


*Special thanks to Dani Kelley and Dianna Anderson, who helped me put my finger on just why I was so disturbed at the idea that stealing sexy calendars fixes patriarchy!

**Update: Daugherty claims in the comments on his piece that he was not trying to make a direct comparison between Jesus’ actions and the activists actions, but trying to challenge assumptions about Jesus. I still find it highly problematic to respond this way to those who are upset over stealing/hurting low-wage workers. It still draws parallels between Jesus and what these activists did.

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  • SarahLynne

    I disagree with your analysis of the blame. It puts the blame on the people purchasing these calendars. The signs speak very directly to that. You interpreted it as putting the blame on the models. I highly doubt the people who did this believed the models were to blame. I personally wouldn’t interpret it that way, but that is the problem with any action. Sending a clear message is always a challenge.

    Your analogy with evangelicals putting up signs with a very different message mean nothing to me. I would disagree with their message (which does seem to put more blame on someone for being immodest), but not necessarily with the method.

    Regarding the target. I don’t know if the people knew it was run by a woman or that it was a sole proprietor. I hope they would change their mind and found a new target if they were aware of the latter, but I don’t think you need to guard every woman’s source of income simply because she is female regardless of how she earns it. It is a confusion of feminism to think it is simply about safeguarding every female or that no female could be hurting its causes.

    Regarding the workers. I absolutely agree the harm done to the workers sucks. It is a complication with many actions. I was involved in one last spring where we stopped trucks involved in frac sand distribution. The drivers were incensed because they are paid by the truck load rather than by the hour. I hate that they lost income, but I still think the action was worth doing. Of course that was played up by the media around how insensitive we are, etc. I imagine the workers at the sit-ins in the south were put in a crummy position too, possibly lost wages.

    • SarahLynne

      To be clear, I personally wouldn’t have done an action stealing from a sole proprietor. I do not think I would’ve expected the workers to lose bonuses. If I did somehow anticipate that it would’ve been another strike against it. Other than that I think it was a great action and message.

      • SarahLynne

        One more thing… Regarding effectiveness. I don’t think any if Jesus’ actions were “effective,” either, but they sent a message and were prophetic. Doing symbolic, prophetic actions is a very Jesus-y thing to do.

        • Jesus’ actions didn’t need to be effective, because he believed the end of the world was going to happen within one generation of his ministry. Just FTR.

          Also, see _Weapons of the Weak_ by James C. Scott.

          • SarahLynne

            I was responding to Sarah’s claim that it wasn’t “Jesus.” It sounds like you don’t think we should emulate Jesus in this area. Personally I am on the fence. We need to balance fears of being misunderstood and ineffective with a willingness to do something. I personally have done very little because I haven’t come up with or found an action I think would be effective and clear without any cons. I have often wondered if it is more my ego and fear that hold me back, so I’ve decided to be less exacting and did participate in one last year.

            With this action, I have found a lot of opportunities to talk about the issues with how women are represented in the media. Sometimes with people who hadn’t thought about it at all. In that sense it was effective even though it didn’t stop or target directly the producer. If we would take the opportunity to discuss these issues rather than harp on how stupid the action is there might be some good that comes from it. Obviously I’m not saying we should ignore the problems, just that we can acknowledge them without totally distracting from the issue of objectification of women and education about the issues it raises.

            If people see it as being about immodesty or body shaming than let’s say, “yes I can see that, but this is the real issue…” People I’ve talked to personally have been responsive to that (people who I know are opposed to women’s liberation haven’t been, but that’s to be expected and I’m not interested in letting them control the message). Just claiming that it is sending that message reinforces the misunderstanding. It was easy for me to see what they meant because I’m familiar with the issue, if its not easy for other people then let’s acknowledge the problem and then help them understand. That will reveal what is simply pigheadedness and what is true misunderstanding.

      • Theft is a great action and message? I fail to deduce the logic there.

    • Plutosdad

      This is incorrect. We cannot look into the minds of the people who did this, but we can examine their actions:

      People who blame the consumers do not get angry because products are available, they just don’t use those products. People that want to ban certain types of television or movies do not blame the people watching, If they did blame the watchers they would say “i just won’t watch it”, but instead they say “people should not be allowed to watch it”. And when we deliberately punish a group, it is safe to assume we blame that group for the harm we perceive.

      Banning, stealing, etc, punishes the distributors and desires to punish the producers. The consumer does not even enter into the picture. In the same way, their actions desire to punish the retailer, and indicate a desire to punish the calendar creators. And ultimately, if their goal to eliminate all such calendars can be realized, seeks to punish the originator of the images – the women posing, by taking away their income as well.

    • Ron

      And may I ask if your group end up paying for their lost wages?

  • Erindm

    If these women had bought the calendars – legally – in a move of personal financial sacrifice, and then publicly destroyed them, I could understand this as a ‘radical (although pointless and useless) gesture’. They didn’t. They hid their identity to escape personal identification (which Jesus never did); they did not confront or speak to the owner of the stall (which Jesus always did). They stole, hid their faces, and crept off. That’s not radical, nor prophetic. It’s cowardice. I cannot think of a single martyr who would term this to be anything like witness. Witness means declaring yourself. This cost them nothing and the seller/employees everything – the very opposite of what Christ did.

    • If these women had bought the calendars – legally – in a move of personal financial sacrifice, and then publicly destroyed them, I could understand this as a ‘radical (although pointless and useless) gesture’.

      Yeah, but it would be a gesture of the desire to censor and destroy ideas they don’t like rather than change minds through discourse. Book burning has an ugly history.

      • Matthew Steele

        Change minds through discourse? What discourse were they having, by hiding their identities and not giving someone a chance to defend it? And they are STILL engaging in that censorship, aren’t they? I mean, they hide their identities, steal things, and then… What are they doing with them? Maybe they’re keepingt hem in the attic. Is that any different from destroying them?

        The message it sends is the same. “How dare you show this? How dare you say this? How dare you do this?” They’re just using theft instead of outright fire.

        The purpose of burning books goes beyond simple censorship. It’s to declare them not only censored specifically, but bad and wrong to have. That’s the same thing they’re doing. Except they’re using passive aggressive notes and theft instead of fire and speeches.

        The intent is the same. The action is the same. It’s just what they’re doing is slightly more cowardly, ’cause they’re not willing to put themselves at risk for it.

        You call this promoting discourse? What discourse? Discourse with whom? Who am I talking to? Where can I find these people, who are so interested in discourse. Did they leave names? Phone numbers? Anonymous email addresses or twitter accounts that I can engage in discourse, even WITHOUT there names? Oh, wait, I see that in fact they didn’t. So they’re “Promoting discourse” and not “Engaging in Censorship” by not letting us see things they don’t like, and refusing to allow us to talk to them. This is discourse? I suppose for you, perhaps, and if so, bless your preternatural abilities, because I for one have never been able to engage in discourse without a way to contact.

  • Well said, Sarah. As a low-wage worker myself in the grocery business, it’s a little like thinking that stealing all the GMO corn, soy and wheat products off grocery shelves is going to put Monsanto out of business. It just doesn’t work that.way. And as you pointed out, it has the opposite effect. All that stolen product has to be replaced, which on the books looks like increased demand, so we order more from the supplier.

  • Alice

    Ha, this makes the old-fashioned fundie boycotts look good in comparison. 🙂

    I’m not sure why they are focused on sexy calendars in particular rather than all the sexy magazine covers. Those are at check-out counters all year long. They explicitly rather than implicitly tell women they need to lose weight and learn new bedroom tricks. Short attention span much?

    • Plutosdad

      My wife joked about this recently. She read a magazine – the first half was all feel-good you should love yourself etc, the second half was everything that is wrong with you and how you can fix it.

  • I cannot fathom justifying theft as a way to promote Christian ideals. There is a lot of things they could have done instead…

    Purchased the entire stock of the calenders they didn’t find offensive. Nothing gets a distributor’s attention like items having to be restocked. If the cute puppy ones sell out faster than the girls in bikinis, guess which made the distributor and the shop more money.

    Written to the calender company that they thought such calenders were demeaning to women.

    Said something to the store clerk about the merchandise and request that they pass on the complaint and a desire for less skin more puppy.

    Posed for calenders demonstrating their own versions of feminine beauty, sold them and given the proceeds to a rape crises center.

    Of course none of that happened. Instead they used cowardice, pride and disrespect. Shame on them.

  • ♫ Jesus wants you for a sunbeam shoplifter
    To shine steal for him each day. ♪

    Radical, dude.

  • Abena Peasah

    Accurate. This is so accurate.

  • ThePhantomSafetyPin

    There are so, so many other, better ways to protest what you believe to be an unfair system. I just don’t understand why anyone would choose to do it this way, in a way that actually hurts people, many of them the very same people they claim to be trying to protect and help!