“Thought this was a lingerie IG.”
That comment was left on Bluestockings’ Instagram this week. Those of you who follow us on Instagram know that it’s looked like this lately: post-it notes from Union Square Station in New York City. Quotes from Audre Lorde, Martin Luther King, Jr., bell hooks.
Common sense goes that business and politics don’t mix. I disagree. Businesses are fundamentally political - just think about who runs them, which target markets are considered valuable (young/white/cishet men), which social values these businesses are invested in preserving.
(Hint: you know a business’ values by the way they present the products they offer.)
“Thought this was a lingerie IG.”
I won’t deny that lingerie feels frivolous right now. Compared to calling Congress and marching down 5th Avenue, fashion feels self-indulgent. In a time when LGBTQIA+ teen suicide calls have doubled, hijab-wearing women are being assaulted all over the nation, and the peaceful Water Protectors of Standing Rock are being pummeled with water cannons by the police in freezing temperatures - yes, fashion and lingerie seem unimportant.
But it is the self-indulgent, frivolous, unnecessary things - the art, the literature, the fashion - that help give us hope in the wake of tragedy. That provide a way to process. That help us remember what is worth fighting for.
On November 9, I woke up and asked myself how I could, in good conscience, sell lingerie to people when the world was burning.
And I immediately answered my own question:
I can sell lingerie because operating a business geared to a community that this new administration promises to actively disenfranchise is political.
I can sell lingerie because it is vital to tell queer and trans people that they are beautiful, that their lives matter, that they are seen and valued and loved, that this one wild life of theirs is precious beyond measure.
This mission is radical.
This mission is political.
And for me - a queer business owner - this mission is deeply, deeply personal.
In this post, I’m going to dive into three semi-related thoughts around what the election means for Bluestockings, for me as a queer small business owner, and for all of us collectively.
1. Folks need to understand that businesses are political. Full stop.
First, we need to accept this fact.
Businesses are owned by people whose situation in life is informed by politics, and the businesses themselves benefit from, struggle against, and perpetuate varied sociopolitical norms. Like it or not, everything is political: Who gets to open a business. Who the business’ target market is. The values behind the business. Whether the business has a non-discrimination policy. This is all political - which is to say, it all has political implications.
There is no such thing as an apolitical business. No industry exists in a social vacuum, be it oil or fashion (fun fact: fashion is second only to oil in environmental pollution - and that doesn't have political implications at all, does it).
Fashion - especially lingerie - doesn't happen in an echo chamber. Look how long it took for black and brown women to get core bras in their skin tone. You think it was because nude bras for darker skin tones wouldn’t be colorful? Bitch, please. It’s because these companies’ target audience is white.
(To wit: there was a small boom of companies in the wake of Nubian Skin - who we stock here at Bluestockings - that released nudes for every skin tone. However, many of those companies, such as Naja, have not continued with their nude collections, belying that the companies prefered to jump on a trend rather than demonstrate an actual commitment to providing their black and brown customers with consistent options.)
My first experience with this truth was more than two years ago, when I went to my local City Hall to get a DBA (“doing business as” certificate) for Bluestockings. I was sexually harassed by a government employee while applying for Bluestockings' DBA. A middle aged guy around my dad’s age working in the office volunteered to work for me because wouldn't it be fun to fit women for bras? He made an unfortunately big deal out of it.
I didn't say anything, because this man literally held the legal future of my business in his hands. The power differential was such that I couldn't speak up. I wanted my DBA certificate. I wanted to get this show on the road.
Have you ever had to keep your mouth shut through an episode of harassment while doing work related to your business? That’s political. That’s personal.
I am reminded that Bluestockings is political every time an industry colleague subtly reminds me that I “would have had a much harder time” getting the store off the ground if I was masculine-presenting or trans.
“Good that you’re a femme-presenting lesbian,” is the implicit message. “It’s good that you pass as straight.”
I am reminded that in an industry so focused on a narrow definition of what femininity can look like, so narrow a definition of what a woman is, that yes: my privilege, even as a queer woman, has been a significant boon to this business.
The politics aren't all bad, though. I am reminded that Bluestockings is political every time I get an email or social media message from someone thanking me for the store’s existence, telling me they’ve never felt comfortable shopping for lingerie before, that Bluestockings changed underthings for them.
Bluestockings' very foundation is political. I’m a queer woman who saw a need in my community and sought to fill it: imperfectly, incompletely. But address it all the same.
Businesses that explicitly serve marginalized populations are often founded by the marginalized themselves. Natural hair care lines and salons, designers and tailors who bend gender, gay nightclubs: some businesses are explicitly political in their intention, in validating the life and values and experience of folks whose lives are devalued by society - and even the law.
2. We must vote with our money and support the small business owners who stand to suffer most under our president-elect’s administration.
In a capitalist society, consumerism can feel like too easy a bandaid; retail therapy encourages us to numb the pain and discomfort with familiarity and complacency.
But something else is also true: in a capitalist society, we vote with our dollars. (This is sort of one of my favorite topics to discuss.)
In our current society, capitalism is unavoidable, and anti-capitalist progressives need to get over themselves. (Yeah, I said it.)
If you are reading this now, it’s either on a laptop, desktop, or your phone. Someone had to buy one of those things. Someone has to pay for the internet. Someone has to pay for the purse or backpack or messenger bag or jeans you’re carrying your device in.
So before you tell me but Jeanna, capitalism is fucked, consider again where, exactly, you buy your groceries and your alcohol and your clothes and your music and your movie tickets and your sex toys and do I really need to keep going with this list.
Here’s the thing:
Consumerism is not activism, but conscious consumerism is essential, now more than ever.
Consumers who are able can choose conscience over convenience by actively and intentionally supporting the livelihoods of local and online business owners who queer and trans, black and brown, disabled and neurotypical.
Choosing small businesses owned by marginalized folks helps contribute to the livelihood of that person and the vibrancy of their community. You want other marginalized folks to keep fighting? Eat at their restaurants, buy from their bodegas, and shop in their stores so that they don’t have to exert all of the energy worrying about how to keep the lights on.
(And yes. I am explicitly making that plea to you here: please, buy your lingerie and underthings from Bluestockings in the days ahead.)
Those of us who can must choose conscience over convenience.
3. Self-care is important (be careful about commoditizing it).
On a somewhat different note: please do self care right now, whatever that looks like for you. Please take care of yourselves. Please make yourselves feel pretty and beautiful and valued and happy.
We are no good to other people if we are emotionally and mentally drained. We need to be operating with a full cup.
I am sensitive to the fact that there is a fine line between talking the widely consumed retail therapy/self-care model that gets packaged into Facebook ads and the powerful, radical act that Audre Lorde talks about:
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self preservation - and that is political warfare.”
Caring about ourselves when our lives are under attack is an act of survival. It is my goal to help as many LGBTQIA+ folks preserve, care for, and otherwise privilege themselves and their beautiful bodies as possible.
Audre Lorde said that caring for yourself is self-preservation. She also said that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
I’m not going to pretend that running a business is an act of rebellion. But in an age where the world is becoming smaller, purposefully supporting businesses owned by marginalized entrepreneurs is a powerful way to fight.
Please: donate, volunteer, write letters, belligerently call your representatives (at both their federal and state offices!), protest. Do all of these things.
And integrate small acts of resistance into your daily life. (No: not a goddamn safety pin.) Support small businesses owned by queers, by POC, by immigrants. Certainly, this is somewhat easier to do in large cities (especially where I live - New York).
I’ll be fighting alongside you, and I can promise you that Bluestockings will be open for as long as we can financially make it. I am not ashamed to ask you, explicitly, to shop with us rather than with Amazon.
As long as we are around, I will write blog posts like this one. And I promise you that I will use this platform as often as I can, as loudly as I can, for our community.
“Thought this was a lingerie IG.”
Bluestockings is a lingerie boutique. But it is so much more. You make it so. Thank you for being you, and thank you for reading.
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