"I'm cute, not smart", first impressions [Intent versus Message, Part 1]

Cute Not Smart

I would like all of your help on doing an experiment. This will be part of a short series that, among other things, will look at how intent and message interact. But in order to make my arguments, I need input from my readers. Even if you normally don’t comment, even if you don’t consider yourself to be a feminist, please take a couple minutes to participate in this series. It would mean a lot to me.

So, what I want you to do is first to look at the image. Without any context, what does it say to you? Is your impression a positive or negative one?

Now, have some context: this is a shirt design for a gaming site. Does that change your perception at all? If so, is it a positive, negative, or neutral influence? What has changed?

If you want, include whatever about your personality, politics, or anything else that you find to be relevant to your reading of the image.

Within the next few days, I will be posting the “intent” part of this series and I hope that all of you who participate here will add your voice to that post as well, because seeing what changes (and what doesn’t) is an important part of what I’m trying to understand/illustrate.

Edit (2007.07.18): I would appreciate if people could be more sensitive in the way that they phrase their analysis. A real person designed this shirt and there is nothing gained by being insensitive to her feelings while criticizing the image. On that note, I will also not be publishing any more comments that are about the quality of the artwork, unless they are constructive criticism.

X-posted: Iris Forums.

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This entry was posted in Gender essentialism, Gender issues, Intent versus Message, Series, Tabletop RPGs, LARP, etc. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to "I'm cute, not smart", first impressions [Intent versus Message, Part 1]

  1. Tiana says:

    Part 1:

    I thought the headline was really annoying. Like women/girls can not be attractive and smart at the same time. I don’t see how it relates ti the text at the bottom at all.

    Part 2:

    Same as above. What does the headline have to do with anything? It just doesn’t make sense, is offensive and generally ugly (graphically speaking). I would be mad about it if I thought anyone would take it seriously but since it looks so bad, I don’t think anyone would.

  2. jfpbookworm says:

    My first reaction is a bit biased by the following:

    * I first saw the post through Google Reader, which meant I saw the title of the post long before the image.

    * The post was here, where media portrayals of women gamers get skewered regularly.

    * I saw the title at the top before the image itself.

    My second reaction is “hey, it’s supposed to be positive!”

    My third reaction: I’m not so sure that it is. Not that there’s anything wrong with the “cute but deadly” image, but when your only choices are “cute but deadly” and “cute but incompetent,” that’s hardly empowering.

    Other thoughts:

    * I don’t know what to make of the choice of “smart” there. It seems odd – we don’t tend to regard people with bloody swords as especially smart.

    * There’s overtones of “women can’t be trusted” there, emphasized by the “kill your party” line. This suggests that the blood on the woman’s sword is from her allies – either because of treachery or incompetence. (I think the shirt suggests the former, because it advertises a gaming site, and who’s going to advertise by suggesting your teammates will accidentally kill you?)

  3. Roy says:

    Hmmm. I have to admit, I find it sort of disturbing and problematic.

    It looks to me like it’s trying to play off of the notion that geeky girls are told that they’re smart, but what they really want is to be attractive. In other words, someone has just told her “You’re smart!” and she’s used the sword on him/her, with the response “I’m cute- not smart!”

    It’s hard to know what to make of it, though. The combination of the “I’m cute- Not smart!” and the schoolgirl uniform, and the bloody sword… It’s weird, and it leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

  4. Canaduck says:

    My first impression was that the picture was sort of lame and unprofessional-looking, and I couldn’t quite understand what “I’m cute, not smart” has to do with what is probably supposed to be a cute little girl with a bloody knife. Then it occurred to me that perhaps they’re mocking women who want to look cute rather than intelligent–like maybe the girl is actually smart and vicious, and is trying to pretend to be dumb and innocent so she can attack you. I don’t know why she isn’t HIDING the knife, though. Anyway, maybe it’s supposed to appeal to female gamers. I for one appreciate that they didn’t portray her as many gaming sites seem to portray women–look, she’s proportioned in a relatively normal way!

  5. Cash says:

    I don’t get it.

    Without the bloody sword, it would just be another “*yawn – eyeroll*” wannabe-funny shirt that plays on a very, very tired stereotype. (Sort of the reverse of those equally obnoxious “Just because I’m cute doesn’t mean I’m nice.” designs.) But with the bloody sword, it just makes no damn sense at all. Did she just kill the wrong guy, and that’s why she’s dumb? What the hell do her appearance OR intelligence have to do with killing people? I don’t get it.

    Knowing that it’s a gaming site just makes me go “Well, that would explain why it looks like something a high school freshman would doodle and snicker over,” but it doesn’t increase the meaning. I assume it’s some deep statement (har) about girls and violence in video games (or the importance of each to the culture, rather) but clearly as I am a girl, my puny, sword-desiring intellect can not grasp it. Nor can I grasp how this attempted-”chibi” Frankenstonian abomination can be standing on those matchstick legs, but I understand that I’d need a penis in order to figure that one out, too.

    In seriousness, the wording is the most puzzling thing of all. It’s not quite an apology/substitution – “I may not be smart, but I’m cute!” and the like. It reads almost like a mantra or assertion – Make love, not war; women are cute – not smart. The former (“Not smart, but cute”) is more ditz stereotyping, but the latter – the wording they use – is a little more sinister. “How silly of you for assuming I might have a brain,” she says. (“Perhaps you left it with your thighs,” I reply.)

    But really, the most compelling questions are obvious: “Couldn’t they find someone who could draw a cool design?” and “Who would buy this? You can’t even see her tits.” Because, really, why would anyone want to have a gaming shirt that lacks teh boobies?

  6. joyce says:

    First impression:
    It is for an RPG game, something like warcraft (but not warcraft because there are no school girls there). Some sort of mindless game where you would go around killing things to level up and killing other parties. Not a game I would play – the art isn’t very good and there might not be a plot.

    T-shirt:
    That’s an ugly t-shirt that I don’t want to wear. Maybe i’m cute, maybe i’m not – that’s not something for advertising. Worse yet, it says i’m not smart! I may not be the smartest in the world, but I don’t think I’m stupid or “not smart.”

    I like good graphics for my RPGs – if they have good graphics, I’m likely to try it out.

  7. Betty says:

    I’m sort of confused by the image. The “I’m cute, not smart” seems to be contradicted by the relatively plain girl depicted, even though she has mane “Cute” indicators, such as pigtails, and a pleated skirt/kneesocks. Add in the sword dripping blood and I have no idea. Am I supposed to gather that the player is so incompetent she has accidentally killed her own party? I eventually reached this conclusion with the help of the text at the bottom.

    Then again, maybe if I were more familiar with games I would be more clued in.

    Imagining it as a shirt, though, it gets more offensive, because now it’s a message about the (presumed female) wearer, rather than the rather dim looking avatar. (her eyes don’t focus, which sort of makes her look unengaged.)

  8. Betty says:

    *many, not “mane”

  9. Jo says:

    First Thoughts: This is related to gaming: cute little girl in sailor-like school uniform holding a scimitar dripping blood. The caption hits second: I’m cute, not smart. This, after the image, strikes me to be intended to deceive: Her cuteness will cause you to forget she can kill you. Being distracted by cute == dangerous.

    Second Thoughts: I’m not really getting how this is supposed to be funny, which, ostensibly, it is. Ok, so there’s a cute little girl about to kill you. Great. Is this an excuse to kill anything in games? I’ve had problems before with the hack-and-slash nature of so many games (in my experience, text-based RPGs online) where people think it’s funny to come through and kill random ‘cute’ NPCs (critters, children), or part of the objective is to kill creatures that don’t attack you. (Yes, I know this is to build an Evil Alignment, but it’s disturbing.)

    Third Thoughts: This is REALLY ambiguous. Is the cuteness itself dangerous, or is it the intent to deceive? Is this an equation, cute == dangerous? Where does the ‘not smart’ come in? Is the ‘not smart’ intended to deceive as well? Is all of this supposed to say bad things about girls in games (and, by extension, girl gamers?)

    These are my first impressions. I’m going to come back and comment more, (if that’s okay) once I’ve had a minute to think about this.

  10. tekanji says:

    I’m going to come back and comment more, (if that’s okay) once I’ve had a minute to think about this.

    More than okay. I’m actually pretty surprised at the amount of response that the image is getting; I’m seeing a lot of people who I haven’t seen here in a while. :)

  11. David says:

    Part 1:

    I’m confused about what it’s trying to say. It’s obviously an attempt to play upon a stereotype, but it’s hard to tell what the specifics of the joke are. Is it a stereotype about women? Is it a stereotype about games? Is it a stereotype about feminists? Wha-huh? Maybe in context the message would be clearer.

    Part 2 (Knowing it’s a shirt):

    Shirt design for a gaming site? That’s certainly a negative influence; there’s no context at all, unless I’m expected to also get a matching pair of jeans with a paragraph of explanation running down the left leg. Even if I were a part of the “Spielerz” (Clan? Gamer community site?) I wouldn’t wear a shirt like this. That image, by itself, doesn’t seem to say or mean much of anything.

  12. Jo says:

    Back. ^^

    I don’t know if this site is run by German-speaking ‘gamerz’ (a ‘Spiel’ is a game, although I figure you knew that) but even if I factor in the ‘different culture, different sense of so-called humor’ aspect to things, I still don’t get it.

    What the cute little schoolgirl has to do with gaming, that’s not much of a stretch. The little girl is an obvious reference to the Japanese schoolgirl uniform (and the prepubescent girls who wear them), an image that is pornified all too often [as here, and here]. Since a ‘sexy’ (pornified) woman is the stock female character in RPGs, it stands to reason that since little girls are pornified too, they just might appear in RPGs.

    Okay, now I look at this image and see a little girl holding a long phallic object at waist height that’s dripping blood (FFS!) …

    And for some reason ‘dumb == fuckable’ just popped into my head. I get the feeling that this shirt is a very sick in-’joke’.

    OR: an attempt to portray the full range of games people are looking to play on the site — the sword for hack-n-slash wielded by a cutesy schoolgirl for … other games. (I really didn’t want to think about hentai, but I did anyway. Thanks, Richie.)

  13. Mickle says:

    (without reading anybody else’s response)

    dumb. they are trying to be funny, but aren’t. “I’m cute not smart” wtf? Girl with sword, ok. “cute” girl with gory sword, funny. but wtf does “smart” have to do with any of it? Oh, yeah, to tell me this ad isn’t for me. dumb and sexist and really cheap looking.

    (now having read other responses).

    Mostly it’s just dumb. Whatever it’s trying to say, it’s not communicating it very well. And I really don’t see who this is supposed to appeal to except people that think that sexism is funny. More because the sexism is the clearest message than because it’s really evil.

  14. Calfaile says:

    part 1:
    I smiled. To me, it seems like she’s trying to be underestimated. “look at me, I’m harmless *tee hee hee*”. Of course, she’s just doing that to lure you in. The big bloody sword says that she’s a lot more competent than she pretends to be and you should underestimate her at your own peril.

    part 2:
    neutral. I don’t really get the link between the image and a gaming site. I’d wear the shirt if the art was a bit better though. . . It reminds me of megatokyo’s “ph33r the cute ones” line

  15. Kria says:

    First impression: It makes me sad inside, as any time I see a person (male or female, but female hurts more) who wants to be attractive before intelligent. It also makes me sad because it makes it sounds as though you can be only one or the other. The bloody sword makes no sense with the tagline.

    Second: A terrible motto for…anything. But for a gaming site, it is annoying and confusing. The sword makes more sense now. The only good thing I have to say there is that a gaming site using a girl for their image == good. Although less impressive if it’s some sort of all-girl community.

  16. Richie says:

    Without context, I like that “I’m cute, not smart” means “I’m adorable but prone to accidentally butchering my comrades” rather than “I’m SUPER HOT and can therefore blunder through my life without consequence because the boys all love my humps (my humps, my humps, my lovely lady lumps)”. Also, it’s a female gaming avatar (I think – is it meant to be the avatar or the player?) who’s not hypersexualised and not one of the standard female avatar roles (Cleric / Wizard / Thief). In fact, she’s a “Dumb Warrior”, which is traditionally masculine. She reminds me of Tsunade from Far East of Eden

    On a shirt, however, “I’m cute, not smart” gets applied to the person wearing the shirt, rather than the girl in the image. And considering one of the stereotypes of girl gamers is that they’re not good at complicated stuff and better suited to infantilised “cute” games that are easier to understand, I think there are problems with this, even though I don’t really feel negatively about the image itself.

  17. Katealaurel says:

    My immediate first reaction was irritation at the same constant, annoying assertion that women can be either cute or smart, but not both– and that they’re more likely to be the former than the latter. I have to admit that I sort of skimmed over the image and the text at the bottom initially, since the poorly drawn illustration didn’t catch my eye and the bottom text didn’t make a great deal of sense.

    My reaction after reading that it was a shirt meant to advertise for a gaming site was a transfer of irritation from the design itself to the site. Also, some confusion: do they actually think this will gain them users?

  18. Sage says:

    You might also want to mention to people to avoid reading the comments before commenting, just to avoid the concensus effect. (so i didn’t read any comments)

    At first sight, the shirt is offensive to me. My first guess is a shirt made for young teens, and I hate the idea that they can’t be sexy AND smart.

    But as a gaming shirt, if that’s made clear on the back perhaps, then I’d assume it’s just one of many characters people can play, and it’s far less offensive. Is that a knife dripping blood? (to me it looks like a leaf with petals falling at a glance) Clarify that it’s all about evil and killing, and it makes the character look strong instead of completely useless.

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  20. LC says:

    I think everyone’s pretty much covered it and I only have a minute so I’ll be brief. The picture is okay, although I don’t know how it relates to the label exactly. The label, though, is offensive, like something Talking Malibu Stacey would say, except less catchy. On revelation that it is a T-shirt design, I find it slightly more annoying for having been seen as worthy of people’s money. Finally I figure that being shallow and deadly are two unrelated traits of the girl’s character that are somewhat awkwardly shoved together in this graphic. But I’m not assuming the character is actually used in a game or anything; I figure she is more likely intended to be a generic example or mascot.

  21. 01d55 says:

    My impression of the image, with top and bottom quotes, is that it’s a sexist joke: “Tee hee, the silly little girl caused a TPK with her adorable stupidity.” The gaming site T-shirt design info gives me someone to blame (and it’s an unsurprising culprit).

  22. N2 says:

    I too didn’t like it and couldn’t understand it moreover (i’ve deliberately not read any of the comments so that i could post fresh).

    I couldn’t see the point of the “I’m cute not smart” headline. is it trying to say that gaming is for cute but dumb people? or is it targetted at a male audience and so saying that also . also can’t make out what the object in the girl’s hand is. is it a quill with blood/ink at the end, signifying a ‘we don’t need no education’ kind of message (since she’s supposed to be dumb? or is it a bent out of shape sword indicating that she’s deadly? can’t tell.

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  24. Denise says:

    First impression: Must we play the brains vs. beauty game again? I hate that one.

    Then, I am confused by the bloody sword. Whose blood is it intended to be? Did she kill the enemy, but in a “dumb” fashion? Did she accidentally kill her party member? Did she intentionally kill a party member as part of some intrigue with another group? Finally, I decide I’m paying too much attention to the confusion cased by a t-shirt design, and I am not in the audience for this promotion.

    I think the central image itself is kind of appealing (cute, not too sexualized, and dangerous; I can go for that), but the text surrounding it just confuses me, then puts me off completely.

    My background: white bisexual (in long term lesbian relationship) radical feminist, gender warrior and anti-racist radical leftist atheist (with respect for respectful religous persons) granola-cruncher who works a tidge too much and so doesn’t have lots of time for discovering/exploring new games.

  25. ty says:

    man i’m late,but if you want my opinion this picture scares the mess out of me it seems like a crazy girl who is smarts but really wants to be considered cute and will kill anyone who says she isn’t

  26. Sarah says:

    It makes me think that she was allowed to join the party because of her cuteness, but ended up (accidentally?) team-killing all of them due to her stupidity. “Oops, I totally thought *you* were the bad guy! Tee hee!”

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