The group’s founder, 33-year-old Libby Chamberlain, announced on Monday that she is publishing a book based on the Facebook page with Flatiron Books on May 9. In a lengthy post on Pantsuit Nation’s public page, Chamberlain explained that the book will be filled with the stories and images women have posted in the private group about encounters with issues like racism, sexism, and adversity in their lives.
“There are many ways to share stories, and we’ve seen how powerful they can be when simply scrolled through on a Facebook feed,” she wrote in the post. “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.”
Although many users commented voicing their support for the book and Chamberlain, many took issue with the fact that what started as a private movement is going to be made very public — a fact users were unaware of at the time when many of them posted anecdotes on the page.
“Libby, this is a betrayal of safe space,” user Ellen Byrne commented. “You can’t invite people to share intimate thoughts and feelings in a secret group then summarily, as an individual, change those terms. Something sacred has happened on this page and I don’t believe it belongs to you to share, sell, or in any way reveal to those not in the group.”
However, Chamberlain retorted that the stories and images shared within the book will be shared only with permission from the author, which she stated in the post. She clarified that “there will be a clearly defined process for members to grant that permission, and most identifying information will be excluded.”
With such a large following, it’s hard to consider what’s posted in the group “private.” On Pantsuit Nation’s website, it states, “While we continue to value the security that environment affords, particularly to our most vulnerable members, we must also “[come] out from behind that and make sure [our] voices are heard going forward. To do this, we will entrust our stories, selectively but confidently, to our neighbors, our online communities, and, ultimately, the public.” In a sense, the group is openly admitting that in order for more voices to be heard, more information will be “confidently” disclosed to the public. Although users whose stories and images will be used in the book will have to give permission, what started as a private sphere has been ultimately transformed, and the message the group stands for has changed in the eyes of many of the members.
Some users even saw Chamberlain’s book move as an act of personal gain. “Congratulations. You’ve turned something communal that was supposed to be about strength and action into your own personal gain. It’s incredibly concerning that you are not clarifying where your profits will go to,” Adinda V. commented.
She wasn’t the only person who questioned where the profits from the tome would go.
“There are a whole lot of ‘I’ statements here for a project that is purportedly driven by the stories of a GROUP,” Kristin Weber Jimison commented. “If the intent is to use some of the proceeds to fuel the good and charitable work of organizations already fighting for the causes so many of your members care about, I surely do not see it mentioned.”
In a follow-up to followers’ concerns, Chamberlain noted that on the same day she announced the book, Pantsuit Nation became a nonprofit organization. Proceeds from the book will support the charity that will be “fully transparent” and “engage in the work of advocacy, education, and political activism.” Additionally, the nonprofit will serve “as a way to raise money for other like-minded nonprofits (like Planned Parenthood, ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, etc.), by matching contributions given by our members for our weekly calls to action.”
In a blazing op-ed titled “Pantsuit Nation Is a Sham” on the Huffington Post, author Harry Lewis also slammed Chamberlain and the direction in which Pantsuit nation has evolved.
“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,” he writes about Chamberlain. “It is now another apolitical neoliberal project, more interested in selling feel-good passivity than making concrete sociopolitical change.”
Since the former Democratic presidential nominee’s loss, the social media community of 3.7 million individuals has transformed from a campaign outlet to a place of solace for forlorn members. Clinton even delivered what many perceived to be a subtle shout-out during her concession speech.
We have reached out to Chamberlain for comment and will update when we hear back.