When Jamie Bryant joined Pantsuit Nation just before the 2016 presidential election, she thought she had found a safe space to share her hopes and fears about the future. The secret Facebook group — no one can find it or join without an invitation from a member — started as a gathering place for women who were passionate about Hillary Clinton.
The focus, initially, was to get women to don pantsuits when they went to the polls, dressing like Clinton in a show of solidarity. As the membership grew, people began sharing personal stories about their reasons for supporting Clinton. Despite the rapidly increasing numbers in the group, members felt a sense of trust. Bryant told Liberal America about the atmosphere in Pantsuit Nation early on:
“[Pantsuit Nation] was a secret page and I’d been on secret and closed pages on Facebook before that had been run well so I did have a certain expectation of privacy.
Yes, I know it’s Facebook, and I’m not naive, but the page grew into a community … It was a really hopeful atmosphere. I hadn’t been hopeful before I got on that page. I became more hopeful as I read the posts and the stories.
I think, and I think others would say, that there was an understanding of privacy. People posted really private things. And others responded in really kind, supportive, loving ways. People posted about really sad things, about loses, about tragedies, about joys, and it really became a community.”
‘The Trust Is Gone’
In late December, Pantsuit Nation founder Libby Chamberlain made an announcement on her blog that left members of the group reeling:
“I am beyond excited to announce that I’m working on a book. A Pantsuit Nation book. 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.
…Stories and images will only be shared with explicit permission from the author, there will be a clearly defined process for members to grant that permission, and most identifying information will be excluded.”
Despite her reassurance that stories shared in the group would be used only with permission from the authors, members responded with outrage.
You just did to us EXACTLY what the powerful & privileged have done for centuries: Used us for your own gain, sans consent #libbychamberlain
— M. Felix (@Writerprof) December 21, 2016
— Regal Smith (@BeingHuman00122) December 21, 2016
#pantsuitnation Another woman brought up consent. There was no consent for a book. Libby got an agent, a book deal, THEN told us. Not okay
— Jamie B (@jambie61) December 21, 2016
The anger, Bryant says, comes not from Chamberlain’s book deal itself, but from the fact that Chamberlain didn’t let members of the group know it was in the works:
“…The book deal feels like such a violation. Especially when it seems, from what I’ve read, that Libby knew as early as November, shortly after the election, that she had an agent and was working on a book deal. She kept that secret and let people continue to pour out their hearts. She let people think their privacy was being respected when all she was doing was research for a book. It feels really low and really cold.”
Many people didn’t feel they could talk to anyone other than the people on the page… Some people lived in states that were mostly supporting Trump, so they had no one to talk to other than the people on Pantsuit Nation.
“I remember that they said on the Pantsuit Nation page that we would become a force for political action after the election. Then nothing happened… a directive was given to us to focus on storytelling.”
When the book deal was announced, Bryant said the shift away from activism and toward storytelling made sense:
“I felt like she used me and every member of the group. I felt like she used the stories that people shared with the expectation of privacy to get published and get famous, and possibly to make money.
I also think it’s a tremendous waste, to have a page with over three million members, all ready to engage in positive political action and instead she chose to write a book. Even yesterday thousands of people were leaving the page out of frustration and anger. I can’t see myself staying there much longer. The trust is gone. Libby ruined. it.”
Featured Image: Screenshot Via YouTube Video.