In recent news, Pantsuit Nation founder Libby Chamberlain decided to turn the site into a book. Some longtime members have made it very clear that they are bothered about this, and I absolutely respect anyone who opts out of the site.
Here’s what I have more of a problem with: In a new Huffington Post piece titled “Pantsuit Nation is a Sham,” Harry Lewis excoriates site founder Libby Chamberlain for minimizing the experiences of persons of color (POC) and for turning the site into a book deal. Please, read his post. I’ll be here.
Finished? Great, now let me tell you eight things I hate about Lewis’ polemic.
- Most of Lewis’ rant is entirely straw man invective. His examples include “I cannot tell you how many times I saw…” – uh, actually Lewis, you can tell us that. And if you were to include five of those examples, people would realize you’re making something out of nothing. He writes, “Every time a Black or Latinx person raised an objection, white women piled on with insults and general dismissal.” Really, every time? If so, should be pretty easy to back up that damning charge with, say, one example? Nope. The posts are all still there, so…nope, Lewis can’t do it. How about just a screenshot? Nope. Lewis’ one concrete example is a case in which a POC business was pooh-poohed, as though that hasn’t happened to white business posts as well.
- Lewis claims, based on that one flimsy piece of evidence, that the site’s appeal to sisterhood is “on the backs of people of color”; in that case, I claim that his whole rant is on the backs of the mom who posted a photo of her daughter dressed as RBG, of the mom who explained to someone in line that “happy holidays” doesn’t mean you hate Christmas, and about 100 other actual examples. Using examples is a concept this writer should look into.
- By implication, Lewis agrees with his one cited example, the Smart Media Mom; she asks, do black women matter? I see all kinds of black women and POC represented on the site. If this were a public group, I would name them or at least show their photos, but they’re clearly there. I have read the HuffPo comment section, and yes, I see that many POC feel unheard by the site. I also see many POC standing up for the site and saying they have seen nothing but positivity. It’s one thing for us to believe any victim of sexual assault; it’s another thing to believe anyone who says that a given forum is anti-POC. Just because Trump has been elected President doesn’t mean that “my truth is just as important as your truth”; in fact, it’s all the more important that we work toward the truth. In this case, the truth is: many POC felt excluded from PSN, and many didn’t.
- As someone who has been writing and calling my reps, as someone who has for years been advocating for justice on my blog every week, I still believe that not everything has to be stridently activist. Sometimes it’s just about creating a safe space. The Smart Media Mom says “What exactly are you doing with this group? Who are you supporting?” Why does the group have to do something? Katy Perry and Beyonce have got millions more Twitter followers; why not browbeat them over what they’re not doing? I’d love to go over the NYT Top 10 best selling books right now with Harry Lewis and the Smart Media Mom, and them explain to me why each book is activist enough, or not. I suppose the authors of “Wild” and “Eat Pray Love” are shits because their stories don’t end in calls to anti-patriarchal action? Pantsuit Nation is about story-telling and a safe space for women and women-loving people who don’t live in deep-blue states. Why must it have a political component?
- If Lewis had a case, he would be able to compare Chamberlain to other internet sensations who sought to cash in; books by YouTubers, books by creators of other oddly popular sites. Here are some examples. Why hasn’t Lewis slammed all the people who have mined their 15 minutes of internet fame into a book? I’ll tell you why he doesn’t go down that rabbit hole; it’s because he knows he would look like an idiot. I can’t wait until Kelly Oxford does something with all those (millions?) of women who tweeted to her about their first sexual assault. When she turns that into something I plan to tweet to Lewis and ask why he’s not jumping all over Oxford as he jumped on Chamberlain.
- Safe spaces get monetized. Safe spaces are best-known at colleges, which only exist because of complex private-public partnerships. Sometimes a safe space is a church basement or likewise. What about the vending machines in the hall? Lewis should be ready to explain why no safe space should ever be monetized.
- I hate the headline: “Pantsuit Nation is a Sham.” I realize Lewis may not have written the headline, but he’s hardly disavowing it on Twitter. I mean, is it a sham for all the people who posted stories? Do Lewis and HuffPo realize that there’s a rabid right-wing half of the country looking to discredit any story by a woman or POC as whining, as something that never happened? Do they realize this headline plays right into them? And makes all of the left – not just the parts they agree with – look like hypocritical idiots?
- Lewis says “It was never stated at its inception that Chamberlain would ever aim to profit off of other people’s stories,” after he admits that the group was created in October as a celebratory thing. So how was she supposed to think of that then?
Now, I wouldn’t write any of this if Chamberlain hadn’t promised to seek author permissions. Obviously that’s necessary. Perhaps Chamberlain could be more forthcoming about where the profits are going, though I’d like to know who else has been held to that standard.
I just hate seeing the strident left ripping down the more moderately liberal. It’s like watching comment-thread leftists fight over Oscar nominations and what sort of previous sexual allegations, and job (e.g. director, writer, actor), should disqualify a nominee. When the left is this divided, it’s little wonder Trump will exert dictatorial control during the next four years. SIGH.