Has Pantsuit Nation Imploded?

Pantsuit Nation started as a secret Facebook group where supporters of Hillary Clinton came to coordinate wearing pantsuits on election day. Once Clinton didn’t win the election, it became something of a collective grieving space for those who couldn’t believe we didn’t have our first female president. All that changed one week ago when Libby Chamberlain, the group’s founder, announced she’d landed a book deal.

The Huffington Post quickly called Pantsuit Nation a “sham.” Apparently someone didn’t like the New York Times reporting on Chamberlain’s book deal the previous day. Chamberlain also filed a trademark application for Pantsuit Nation, despite allegedly seeking no profit or compensation from the group’s activities. HuffPo writer Harry Lewis called the move “a branding machine.”

Elizabeth Chamberlain has every right to make a living. Are her activities a “sham?” Is she guilty of scamming people? All signs, from this deception artist’s perspective, point to “no.”

Assuming the facts least favorable to Ms. Chamberlain, she isn’t under any obligation to abstain from profits under a book deal she signs. People are allowed to make money in America. That’s part of the good stuff in this country. Starting a Facebook group isn’t illegal, and getting a book deal for “stories” told in the group is a testament to the power of social media.

Ms. Chamberlain is under no obligation to pay any participant who chooses to submit a story for her book. If that changes, I’ll change this post. What sticks out as interesting is her decision to only include stories submitted with express permission. Obtaining that “express permission” would arguably require sending each potential participant a contract for signature and return. The terms of such a document would be worth examining, and each participant would be well advised to look over the “permission slip” with an attorney.

She also, according to my understanding, does not owe the collective, invitation-only Facebook group she created any sort of “duty” to tailor its activity to anyone’s liking. That argument’s been tried before at other sites, and with no rules placed other than what Chamberlain and the group’s admins set the “duty” is whatever Chamberlain and her friends say it is.

The issue people seem to take with Chamberlain’s actions is they’re not active enough. Over at Slate, Christina Cauterucci finds several members of the (approximately) four million member Facebook Group wanted to do more than just share their stories. A book didn’t live up to their expectations.

“We came to fight Trump,” [one Pantsuit Nation member] continued. “Instead, [Chamberlain] made a coffee table book? Really? Not only are there millions of us, but we are passionate and ready to go. A coffee table book feels like a kick in the teeth.”

A book may not have been what brought Pantsuit Nation together. That book may be the group’s undoing. But for now, if Elizabeth Chamberlain happens to make money off the Facebook group she created, that’s not a scam, sham, or any other negative word you might choose to label it. Asking for additional transparency won’t do any good. Someone got lucky and secured a book deal.

Unfortunately for the Pantsuit Nation Facebook group, they can’t even be happy about that.

I accepted an invitation some time back to Pantsuit Nation for reasons I can’t explain. Part of me was fascinated at the alternate reality some of its members saw. Another part of me was curious at the alleged fear its member base “felt” in the aftermath of President Elect Trump’s rise to power.

Now that it’s disintegrated to infighting, it’s time to move on. There’s more important battles to fight, and more conflicts worth discussion than the self-destruction of Pantsuit Nation.

The book deal Elizabeth Chamberlain has is far from a potential scam. Some people just can’t accept her refusal to do more. That’s expectation management, not deception.