After the Victory – Part 2

victoryI blogged yesterday about the tendency of quelling celebration after activism victories because there is more to be done.  Today I want to talk about what happened was the response to an article I wrote for iVillage about the two bullshit “apologies” that Abercrombie and Fitch have offered regarding their CEO’s comment regarding their lack of plus-sized clothes saying “We go after the attractive all-American kid… A lot of people don’t belong, and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary, absolutely.”

Both apologizes are tributes to political doublespeak and obfuscation including this absolute gem from the CEO himself: “I sincerely regret that my choice of words was interpreted in a manner that has caused offense”  Right, I feel so much better right now (sarcasm meter- 1o out of 10)

In discussing the situation several people said something to the effect that even if A&F started making plus sized clothes they would never, ever buy anything from them because they didn’t want to make plus-sizes in the first place.  A similar thing happened when I talked about trying out Southwest Airline’s new policy. and people suggested that no matter what their new policy is, their previous poor treatment of fat passengers was so egregious that we should never patronize them again.

I absolutely understand this, I struggled with it when I was considering flying Southwest, and it was really difficult for me to pay Southwest money.  Ultimately the reason I did was that I felt like we had asked them to make things better for fat flyers and in response they made things better for fat flyers.  If  my response to that was “sorry but it will never be enough to make up for what you did and I will never buy your product” then what incentive do companies have to respond to my requests/demands/activism?

I think that this is tricky and I’m not suggesting that everyone has to go out and buy things from companies they find despicable (and lord knows that A&F have more issues than just their poor treatment of fat folk,) I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do at all, but I do think this is worth discussion.  If a company hears our concerns/request/demands and responds to them by making the changes we asked for, and is then told that because of what they did in the past we will never patronize them regardless, then it seems that we may be training activism targets to ignore us or even be more aggressively hostile, and that it might have been better just to try to put them out of business instead of asking them to change.

If, for example, a petition or e-mail campaign results in desired changes, it seems to me that it would be a good idea to have a second quick campaign thanking the company for making the changes.  Even if we think it’s something that they should have done all along, from an outcome-based standpoint a little thank you can mean that we get the changes and gain an ally instead of a begrudging change and bitter possible future adversary.

So if we make requests of a company, the company makes the changes, and then we give them a second chance and our business, maybe we train businesses that there are rewards for responding to our requests?  As usual I don’t have all the answers, but I think it’s an interesting question.

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4 thoughts on “After the Victory – Part 2

  1. Spot on, Ragen. I remember feeling exactly that way when I was active in the boycott and campaign against the Farah company beca’use of the way they treated their employees in the early 1970’s. When they did settle, I didn’t want to buy anything from them because I was so disgusted by their actions. But I soon saw that if we considered them as a company that had made the improvements at least partly because of our boycott and campaign, it was only fair to acknowledge their improvements by buying from them. I did so, eventually – a few used towels:)

    Your point is very well taken, indeed.

  2. If we tell businesses that we demand changes to recognize and serve us, and then we tell them we won’t use their products/services because they ever left us out in the cold, we’re setting up a ‘damned if we do, damned if we don’t’ situation where they’ll just swat us all away like flies because even if we get what we want, it won’t change our behavior or their bottom line.

    Just as we need to recognize our own victories, we need to acknowledge their progress, even if all we do as a group is say thanks. It’s easier to take the next step if the first one is noticed and praised.

    After all, when a baby takes it’s first, wobbly steps we don’t sniff disdainfully that it hasn’t run a marathon yet or that it needed too much encouragement to get there. We smile until we nearly split our faces in two, clap our hands, and coo in ecstasy. We hold out our hands and ask them to come to us. We hug it when it gets there. Then the baby knows taking a step is a good thing and takes another.

    So if a company expands a size range, or ends a discriminatory policy, or takes down an offensive campaign, we need to think of it as that first, wobbly step and give them some positive feedback. Positive reinforcement can help our cause.

  3. Good point.

    I am old enough to remember when a local iconic ale house refused to admit or serve women.

    I’ve never been there. It’s not that I ever refused to go – there was never a specific situation when I would have – but I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable at the idea. At the same time, I celebrate the fact that a young woman I know hung out there with her fellow engineering grad students – the whole point of the campaign was that a woman could go have lunch with her peers.

    I do think – considering this – that some of my attitude was because, when the change was made, women who did go there were seen as gloating over a victory, seen as instigators, rather than conciliators. But surely that faded after a few years – and even 30 years ago I would have been welcomed just as a customer.

    An airline is a different culture, though – and a clothing company has an entirely different business model. The airline never wanted us not to fly – they just wanted us duly penalized for the problems we were perceived to cause. (While not penalizing socially acceptable people who caused similar problems.) And if a clothing company finally does make a line of clothes for us, they are actually punished for cooperating with us if we don’t buy them… it’s not as if they can sell the 20s to an 8. We don’t want to say “Cooperate with us *and* lose money!” That’s counterproductive.

  4. Gloria Steinem wrote about being compassionate towards misogynists in order to create an environment in which they were able to move closer to the feminist viewpoint without losing face. I paraphrase. I had a lot of trouble accepting what she was saying. But I can see her point, and yours.

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