The Pantsuit Nation Facebook Group Is Becoming a Book, and a Lot of People Are Really Pissed Off

There's definitely a problem, but what exactly is it?
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The “secret” Facebook Group “Pantsuit Nation” popped up in late October as a place where Hillary Clinton supporters could share stories, celebrate their candidate and be “stronger together.” It clearly hit a nerve and filled a void, and its member count increased to millions almost overnight.

After the election, the group not only continued to exist, but to grow. It now has almost four million members. And so now, looking back, it seems almost inevitable that this special private gathering place to grieve and celebrate and support each other would eventually be monetized. Because earlier this week, the site’s founder Libby Chamberlain, announced that there will be a Pantsuit Nation book.

A book of YOU. A book BY YOU. A permanent, beautiful, holdable, snuggle-in-bed-able, dogear-able, shareable, tearstainable book. Your voices. Your stories. Our community. Our project. Our message of hope and change.

I’ve been struggling with my own feelings about this, because I have trouble faulting a woman for making that paper off of a passion that is based in a mix of politics and emotion. (That is, essentially, what I do, and I’ll tell you it’s a dream.) And some of the most angry reactions—of which there are MANY, with the Huffington Post’s headline going so far as to declare “Pantsuit Nation Is a Sham”—have been based in the understanding that members posted their stories in a private group and will now be shared publicly, even tangibly. But that’s not the case. Chamberlain makes it clear in her announcement that consent will be required for each post that gets included in the book.

So what’s the problem, then? Is it that, to many, this feels like “selling out?” Because that is a term that’s being used a lot in the criticism of this project. But just because the group was founded as a place to boost up each other and ourselves, why does money taint that? Where is the line between exploiting emotions and utilizing them? Does it even matter if the group was started with the intention, or even the idea of a possibility, of monetizing it? Where, exactly, is the problem?

The problem, really, seems to be that for a group based in connecting people, Pantsuit Nation and its founders are woefully out of touch with its members, and with the country and world at large. The group has long been receiving criticism that has gone unaddressed from its creators over the lack of stories from and the denial of a conversation with its non-white members. The group, created by white women as a declaration for a space for all women (expanded to any Clinton supporter), seems to only know how to deal in simplicity. They ignore criticism, be it about race or, now, about money.

The lack of conversation over criticism is amplified by the lack of transparency in this book deal, which is proving to be a bigger issue than the deal itself. There have been promises of gaining consent for using members’ stories, but no word on where the money for said stories will go. Even more, the group is undergoing the process of establishing itself as 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations, meaning they are now dealing in money, not just stories and feelings. And something that has irked many members is that in this announcement, right under the link to their online store, is the request “Please don’t offer merchandise or solicit members for personal or political donations.” Which is understandable, because the creators as well as the members don’t want ads and spam and personal promotions. But it’s the deafness to any voice that isn’t their own that is striking so many, so strongly. Especially since Chamberlain refuses to even acknowledge that a book is in any way about money, focusing instead on relishing emotion tangibly.

There are many ways to share stories, and we’ve seen how powerful they can be when simply scrolled through on a Facebook feed. But I also know that many of us, dare I say most of us, have had moments of profound inspiration and connection while holding a book in our hands. And as many of you have commented, the stories of Pantsuit Nation are worthy of a book. The kind of book that will inspire and connect people. I’m so proud to be starting the process of bringing that beautiful idea to life.

I can’t disagree with that. I love books! Actual, non-Kindle books! (Although, sure, I have one of those too.) But people are clearly having a reaction to this blatant lack of transparency, both in actual results (read: money) and intention.

You want to create a group where feminism is the conversation? Awesome! You’ve found a way to make money off of that idea without taking anyone’s ideas and words without permission? Right on! But the blatant lack of interest in anyone who wants more, or to feel included in this project that is supposed to be based entirely in inclusion—well, it’s hard to feel good about giving them money for that, isn’t it?

(via Facebook, image via Zazzle)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.