by Sanjana Lakshmi
During Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, supporter Libby Chamberlain founded a Facebook group called “Pantsuit Nation” — its name a lighthearted reference to some of Clinton’s favorite outfits. The group was meant to be a space where Clinton supporters could share ideas, stories and experiences related to their political leanings. By the election, Pantsuit Nation had 2.9 million members and currently has more than 3.7 million, and there are Pantsuit Nation “chapters” in various cities across the United States. In fact, members of the group had raised more than $200,000 for the Clinton campaign, showing the immense possibility that a group like this has for organizing and mobilizing communities on the ground.
I was never added to Pantsuit Nation — partly because of my politics and partly because Facebook groups can get overwhelming — but I have plenty of friends and family members who are in the group. When Clinton lost the election, Pantsuit Nation became a space for collective mourning. People not just in the United States, but all over the world, shared emotional messages about what the Clinton campaign had meant to them, the hope it had given them, and the despair they felt now that Clinton had lost.
Some of my friends, however, also told me about messages they had seen in the group that they didn’t agree with. For example, a strong sentiment in the group was that Trump’s win mobilized people to create change, and my friends (primarily women of color) and I were shocked at that mindset. When someone I know commented on a post with this message saying that racism and sexism have existed since the inception of the United States and that people of color have been mobilizing to create change, they were immediately called out and told that they should spread love, not hate.
Related: Why America Hates Hillary Clinton
Messages like this, and other posts about how loving and aware people feel that they are and will be post-Trump’s election, seem more like self-congratulatory posts about an awakening that only occurred after a white supremacist like Trump became the president. This is particularly frustrating considering that people of color have been pushing for change for a long, long time—and without the same supportive reaction white women received in Pantsuit Nation. Many women of color I know have said they felt compelled to leave the group because of the treatment they received from white women.
Pantsuit Nation wasn’t perfect, but it was still a place where people felt like they could share their perspectives and where people felt like they could mourn when Clinton lost. However, soon after the election, founder Libby Chamberlain filed to trademark the name “Pantsuit Nation”, the first sign that a space for collective mourning and sharing experiences was becoming a profitable brand. Soon after, Chamberlain announced that she had accepted a book deal under the group’s name. This took many members of the group by surprise—this was not something Chamberlain had even hinted at when starting the group, and she has not made clear where the book profits will go or whether contributors of the posts that will be in the book will be paid.
Members of the group commented on the announcement post with critiques — one wrote that “this is a betrayal of safe space,” and that Chamberlain is manipulating those who have shared emotional stories. Others say that they had hoped the group would result in mobilization and grassroots change and an ability to learn from one another — not in profit for the group’s owner.
None of this is to say that everybody in Pantsuit Nation disapproved of the book deal, but the general consensus seemed to be that this was not what members had envisioned coming out of a group of 3.7 million like-minded people. What started out as a seemingly supportive safe space ended up being a group in which women of color felt attacked and harassed, and then became an exploitative business model that is reminiscent, although on a smaller scale, of the neoliberal structures on which Donald Trump grew famous and won the presidency. Rather than utilizing Pantsuit Nation to create concrete change or to mobilize a real movement against Trump and his policies, Chamberlain has commercialized members’ personal stories and experiences, seemingly only to gain profit.