These are trying times for most Americans. Despite all the comforts of modernity, it seems as if our political problems are completely intractable—and that despair stems from our moral failures. Harvey Weinstein is far from the only cretin in a position of extreme power in this country. From Donald Trump, to Bill Clinton to [literally fill in the blank from any industry], the United States of America is defined by men who make life dangerous for women.
#WomenBoycottTwitter began on Friday, then picked up more steam over the weekend—as Alyssa Milano sparked a #metoo movement that demonstrated how wide and pervasive sexual assault really is.
I knew it was a problem, and have had family members become victim to destructive male impulses—as well as ex-girlfriends. Sexual assault has been an issue in my life as long as sex has; however, I was absolutely shocked at the overwhelming number of women in my timeline joining the chorus of voices speaking out against this all-too-common injustice.
After a bunch of women boycotted Twitter in response to their platform festering into a haven for abuse and sexism, Jack Dorsey—Twitter's CEO—said they would update their policies the very same day.
Seemingly feeling the pressure from the #metoo hashtag launching on the heels of the #WomenBoycottTwitter campaign, Dorsey made sure to let everyone know that his Friday night tweetstorm was the start of a more proactive role against the spam and abuse which defines his creation (at least as a public stance, only time will tell if Twitter follows through on this or if it's just a bullshit PR spin designed to get this fury to blow over).
Twenty-one percent of all female internet users are on Twitter (compared to 24% of men), and all it took was one organized day to finally get Jack Dorsey and his company to address the trolls and abusers who make life hell for so many of their users. The only thing big business cares about is their bottom line, so in order to win this war, the balance sheets of America's oligopolarchs must become our targets.
Meanwhile, the sports world's emerging conscience, Jemele Hill, advocated a boycott of her own. She was suspended by ESPN for calling Trump a white supremacist last month, and ESPN suspended her a second time for a much less explosive reason. The owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones, said that he would bench any player who “disrespects the flag,” despite kneeling with his team two weeks before that fateful quote. This enraged much of the sports world, and Hill made some suggestions about how fans could support the players' protest.
Hill was immediately suspended for two weeks following her suggestion that Cowboys fans target NFL advertisers—a much more forceful response by ESPN than when she called the president a white supremacist. In a span of six days, perhaps the most powerful woman in sports and an army of women on Twitter scared the ever-living shit out of Corporate America with the mere threat of boycotts. This should be a lesson for all of us.
Hell, this country was founded on boycotts. We rebelled against the Stamp Act, forcing King George III to repeal it in 1766, and the next decade was punctuated by Americans refusing to purchase British goods en route to the American Revolutionary War. Fast-forward to the modern era, and Martin Luther King’s bus boycott in the 1950’s helped set the stage for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Initiating a boycott doesn’t automatically mean that it will work, but if morality is on your side, a broad campaign to convince people to stop using a business is a massive existential threat to that company’s existence.
Sure, there is some disagreement as to whether boycotts actually hurt sales, but that’s not where the true threat of a boycott lies. Sales go up and down from quarter to quarter, but a brand’s value is much less quantifiable—and thus, much more susceptible to being irreversibly tarnished. Did #WomenBoycottTwitter really demonstrate to Twitter how much revenue they would lose? Maybe, but that’s not verifiable. What’s for certain is that it shone a gigantic spotlight on the unassailable fact that Twitter is the premier place for women to be abused and harassed online.
Suspending Rose McGowan for venting about being one of Harvey Weinstein’s victims while the president threatens nuclear war was about as bad of a juxtaposition as it gets for Twitter, and Jack Dorsey’s response seems like #WomenBoycottTwitter put a serious scare into him and his shareholders. ESPN’s advertisers seemed equally petrified of Jemele Hill, and that’s why you won’t see her face on their flagship 6 pm Sportscenter this week.
Given how intractable our government is even when it’s not run by a meat-filled bottle of dollar-store spray tanner, pressuring our corporate overlords into supporting basic human rights is one of our most effective avenues to obtain real democracy in modern America (for example, the swiftness with which public opinion shifted on gay marriage could not have happened without capitalism realizing which way their customer’s winds were shifting). Starting the day after his inauguration with the Women’s March, mankind’s better half has been leading the charge to combat Trump, and given the fact that women drive 70 to 80% of all consumer purchasing, this could be the start of a larger trend.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.