Pantsuit Nation Is A Sham

Panstuit Nation Is A Sham
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Harry Lewis

This morning, Pantsuit Nation founder Libby Chamberlain announced in the Pantsuit Nation group that she had secured a book deal under the group’s name. Most of the world didn’t actually find out the news from Chamberlain herself; in fact, an article in The New York Times explained more of the details, including that the book is coming out in five months under the Flatiron label.

Someone added me to Pantsuit Nation back in October. I don’t remember who it was, and it honestly doesn’t matter. When I first was inducted, if you will, into this group we as a nation were still riding on the assumption that Hillary Clinton would be our next President. Then, of course, she lost. Pantsuit Nation quickly turned into a collective grieving space, where people from around the world shared their thoughts and feelings.

Around that time, things started to get weird. Chamberlain filed to trademark the name and reportedly told smaller satellite groups around the country that they had to stop using the moniker. A project by two women of color known as the Safety Pin Box was removed from the site under the pretense that it was seeking commercial gain and lambasted by white commenters (this is ironic of course, because right under their “shop at our online store” link is the line “please don’t offer merchandise”). What had once been a space of solidarity started to feel like a branding machine.

And now, of course, there is a book deal, announced with no transparency as to where the profits from the book are going, whether the contributors whose posts Chamberlain is presumably selecting for this book will get paid, and without any consideration for breach of privacy laws were someone’s intellectual property and personal experience suddenly able to sit on your coffee table. Pantsuit Nation reportedly is working to become a 501(c)(3) and 501 (c)(4) charity, which raises more questions about profit allocation and distribution. Chamberlain is the only person credited on the book pre-order page, which also is troubling given that the book supposedly has no content, theme, or profit sharing structure and is already available for $17.99 on Barnes and Noble’s website.

What was most disturbing to me, however, was how quickly and viciously white women on the site were attacking anyone, but in particular women of color, who asked well-meaning and important questions about what was happening. The mantra of “Everyone is welcome here” morphed into “Why are you ruining this environment by attacking our sisterhood?” There was a lot of whitesplaining in the comments section (I cannot tell you how many times I saw something like “If you actually read the post, you would see she explains all of that”). Every time a Black or Latinx person raised an objection, white women piled on with insults and general dismissal.

Moreover, Pantsuit Nation has devolved into a space where white people can claim to fight for the survival of the sisterhood by performing apolitical acts of self-humanizing. Instead of doing tangible work, like running for office or even making phone calls to local representatives, white people treat minorities as props in their self-congratulatory posts about being inclusive, loving people and watch as everyone congratulates them for being decent, passive human beings. It does this on the backs of people of color whose lives are directly and disproportionately affected by Trump’s policies yet are read as “fake” or “insincere” in their performance of grief and fear. It purposefully boosts sentimental, apolitical human interest stories rather than focus on policy changes, systemic oppression and even the destruction of the damn patriarchy, which seems to be such an obvious focus that PSN has completely ignored.

Basically, it seems to me ― unless she gives me any reason to think otherwise, which I doubt she will ― that Libby Chamberlain is interested in making a quick buck off of other people’s trauma, hurt, pain, and confusion. She has turned Pantsuit Nation from a space of solidarity into an exploitative business model which replicates the same oppressive structures that supported the election of Donald Trump in the first place. If her intention was always to privatize and monetize PSN and its stories, thereby recreating the same neoliberal systems the group claims to fight against, she is a liar too. It was never stated at its inception that Chamberlain would ever aim to profit off of other people’s stories, and the fact that she even wants to says a lot about her character.

Even if she does have the best of intentions, and even if she does clarify the profits from the project, it does not change what Pantsuit Nation has become. It is now another apolitical neoliberal project, more interested in selling feel-good passivity than making concrete sociopolitical change. There is no attempt to elect women to office, no movement to repeal Trump’s policies. If it wanted to be just a space for venting, then fine. That would have been okay. But Libby Chamberlain made the decision to flip this private space into the public sphere, of her own accord, without consulting anyone other than her literary agent. And there is no going back from that.

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