Feminist Aspie

The problem with the “If you don’t like it, don’t buy it” argument.

on January 27, 2013

If I don’t like something, or if I find something offensive, I’m not going to buy it. Of course I wouldn’t; that’s basic common sense. “Voting with your wallet” can sometimes be effective; if enough people take their custom elsewhere, maybe the company in question will listen in order to get their profits back.

So, if you don’t like it, it makes sense not to buy it. However, sometimes that isn’t enough. If you think there’s genuine damage being done by something, you’ll want to stop it completely. For example, many people don’t like The X Factor* because it could be seen to undermine self-run acts who work hard for years before discovery in favour of 15-minutes-of-fame acts who can sometimes be “fake”. Many people don’t watch The X Factor for this reason. So viewers decline, and people take notice. However, so far this has done nothing to stop the very problem that these people dislike.

Furthermore, if the product is spreading harmful messages about a group of people and/or perpetuating stereotypes, a mere refusal to buy it will not stop that. Sorry if this is rather predictable, but I’m going to use autism as an example. Let’s say I was reading a magazine, and I saw an article claiming (directly or indirectly) the false stereotype that most autistic people are violent. I would be appalled, and angry, so I stop buying that magazine. I don’t like it, so I don’t buy it. Job done.

However, other people out there would still be reading, and believing, that article. People who weren’t familiar with the autistic spectrum would take the article at face value, not even realising the prejudice they were taking on board. Similarly, the views of the article could be passed on as fact to other people. The falsehood spreads. None of this is changed by my choice not to buy it. Also, what if I’d heard about this article from someone else, and I didn’t buy the magazine anyway regardless of the article? Then what am I supposed to do?

This is why I have a problem with not only Page 3, but the sexualisation of women in newspapers in general, especially on front pages, and especially in the eyeline of children and young people. There are many reasons why I don’t buy The Sun, or any other tabloids for that matter, and sexism is only one such reason. In other words, I’m already not buying it. Women are being portrayed as sex objects in mainstream family newspapers, sometimes in full view of the entire shop regardless of their buying habits, and I’m already not buying it. Should this mean that I don’t get a say, that I have to sit there and smile and let people believe a stereotype that I will then have to conform to? Does this mean that the only views that count are those from people who are buying it, usually the people who do support the stereotypes?

Let’s turn this on its head. Some people who read this will be fervent supporters of tabloid newspapers. Using their own argument, if they disagree with this blog post, they should just stop reading. And that doesn’t make any sense, does it?

*Personally, I’m a bit of a fence-sitter when it comes to The X Factor. I just think it’s a good example to use.

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4 responses to “The problem with the “If you don’t like it, don’t buy it” argument.

  1. Ally says:

    Very good point, and very well-written! Thanks for writing this!

  2. T.Rob says:

    In his book Anti-Fragile, Nicholas Taleb askes what the opposite of fragile is. Most people say “robust” and he contends this is wrong. Fragile is “that which degrades under stress” whereas robust is “that which does not degrade under stress” and anti-fragile is “that which gets stronger when stressed.” Essentially, it is a recognition that what used to be considered the end of the spectrum may actually be the middle.

    Same kind of thing with this argument. “Buy it” used to equal support and “don’t buy it” was non-support, and this is how vendors like it. Thanks to social media, we now have “anti-support.” So “don’t buy it” is really the middle of the spectrum. And you don’t have to be particularly well-followed to have an impact, provided your network is either broad or deep.

    So I believe what you are doing is the perfect answer for the problem you describe. Although social media is democratic, I dispute the popular notion that “anyone can do it.” In order to be effective, you have to provide a high signal-to-noise ratio in your own blogs and pages, as well as improve the ratio when responding to other pages and blogs. I’ve only just discovered this blog but it seems like this is a high-signal zone. Keep whacking away, you are making a difference.

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