Right-Wingers Think Capitalism's Great - If You're Selling Something They Like
Part of the reason crowdfunding draws so much ire is that it necessarily happens before the product is a reality. It’s the old-as-the-hills technique of the “presale” – small manufacturers take money to reserve a product before it’s made, so they know what demand is and avoid overproducing (It’s also related to the even more venerable Proper Capitalist approach that you might know as “looking for investors”.) There’s nothing new or weird about it, presuming that your belief in the free market economy is sincere. The atheist shoes, the inflatable Lionel Richie head, the TARDIS launch – these pass without comment, or at least without outrage. It’s their money, right? One born every minute.
And yet, when a woman entrepreneur like Ijeoma Oluo or Anita Sarkeesian asks for investments or gauges interest pre-production, it’s taken as begging at best, a con at worst. How dare they just ask for money? That’s not what leaning in means! Well OK, it is what it means, but you’re not supposed to actually do it!
Is the problem that women are not supposed to take part in this economy – not supposed to be creators or entrepreneurs? Or is it just that they’re hawking a product that makes men mad – so mad their commitment to personal freedom suddenly transforms into a sacred duty to protect vulnerable wallets from rapacious feminists?
Oluo, a feminist writer and occasional Guardian contributor, has been managing a very successful Kickstarter for a coloring book featuring pictures of feminists. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked with Oluo, consider her a friend and have been trying politely not to ask to be in the coloring book while quietly crying in a corner.) More than 400 supporters have bought copies of the book or pledged money for other rewards.
A whole bunch of other brave souls have volunteered critiques of the project. “Feminist should be sent to Iran for hanging,” said one. “This just makes me sick,” said another. “I want to help this dimbo move to western Iraq, where she (it?) can meet some real sexists.” “Are we going to surrender our country and freedom to these fascists?” “A coloring book? Even the gays would heckle them for this one.”
In Oluo’s case, the trolls seem to be coming primarily from readers of Breitbart, which picked up a story about the coloring book from the Huffington Post. (And filed it under “Big Government,” evidently.) Breitbart enthusiastically supports stores that choose to keep selling Confederate flag merchandise, and decries those that don’t; its readers clearly believe in unfettered capitalism and letting consumers vote with their dollars – in some cases. Oluo’s project, which allows people they disagree with to exercise similar economic freedom, makes them apoplectic.
The lightly mocking tone of the Breitbart article would suggest that the objection is just that coloring books are stupid and childish, but market forces say otherwise. Adult coloring books are a huge fad, and they’re becoming bestsellers for exactly the reasons the article mocks: because they reduce stress and anxiety. If the Breitbart commentariat applauds free enterprise, it should be celebrating Oluo for tapping into a hot trend, identifying an audience and providing a product that people want. Isn’t that the capitalist American dream?
Not if the dream belongs to a woman of color or promotes a political ideology that conservatives oppose. Apparently, there’s something about crowdfunding liberal feminism that short-circuits people’s capitalist ideals.
Take Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter, which sought to fund her video series examining misogynistic tropes in video games. She asked for $6,000, and got $160,000 – by capitalist terms, a clear indication that her services were wanted. Sarkeesian didn’t solicit funding from companies, governments or academic institutions; her donations averaged $23 from each of nearly 7,000 backers. That’s 7,000 people who really wanted what she was selling, and were willing to spend their own hard-earned money to buy it.
And yet the response was livid. You probably already know what happened to Sarkeesian – she was swept up as part of a campaign of hate and targeted harassment against women (and, increasingly, men as well) who criticized any part of video game culture. But you might not remember that one of the earliest examples of this harassment was an online game called “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian” – created by a gamer who thought the Kickstarter was little more than a scam. “She just wants to use the fact that she was born with a vagina to get free money and sympathy from everyone who crosses her path,” the game’s creator complained – “free money, ,as in money from willing and enthusiastic participants supporting product development.
Meanwhile, there are crowdfunding efforts that are morally indefensible but which hardly earn conservatives’ outrage (or earn unsnarky write-ups). A GoFundMe campaign for officer Darren Wilson, who shot Mike Brown in 2014, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of no product at all – Wilson, who hadn’t been charged, didn’t even have legal fees to cover. If we were adopting the pro-capitalist stance of the Breitbart types, then, it’s their money and they should they get complete freedom over what they buy with it. But, in this case, they weren’t actually buying anything at all; Wilson was just actually getting money for nothing, which is what conservatives have accused Oluo and Sarkeesian of doing. (Wilson was getting the money from people who think public assistance is a travesty.)
To recap: a store should be able to sell rebel flags if it wants to (and still can!), but a woman should not be able to solicit pre-orders for a popular book. A mother living in poverty should not get “handouts”, but a police officer who killed a boy should get six figures. The consistent elements have nothing to do with freedom to control the disposition of your money; they have everything to do with who’s allowed to buy or sell.