When I first boycotted Target, it was 2016. The brand had just announced its transgender bathroom policy, allowing males into the female bathrooms and vice versa, and even my budget-conscious mother started paying more to buy the same items at other stores in her efforts to avoid feeding the retail giant’s coffers. It wasn’t enough.
Seven years ago, it seemed crazy that any company would vocally promote something so perverse; such moves were needlessly inflammatory, even financially suicidal. Still, the drop in sales peaked at around 7 percent–uncomfortable, but not miserable–as most people either didn’t know about the policy or assumed Target’s song and dance did not need to be taken seriously.
Certainly, much has changed since 2016. Today, a battle that was once only serious to Christians has become relevant to every voter with children or XX chromosomes. Far from being an unserious blip in the realm of back-of-the-house bathroom policies, the transgender movement has become both mainstream and culturally irrefutable, and its unhealthy mores granted a paved path to the front and center of most stores.
In good liberal fashion, this change has been promulgated not through law but through commerce. The revolution is live, and it’s a “Live, Laugh, Lesbian” T-shirt. Notable here, of course, is Bud Light’s recent partnership with transgender actor Dylan Mulvaney, whose face the brand printed on a beer can in celebration of his one-year anniversary of LARPing as a woman. Not one to be outdone, Target also found a way to make itself a sorer thumb than ever in advance of “Pride Month,” selling “tuck friendly” swimsuits to males of all ages who wish to appear female, and transgender slogans on baby clothes, in addition to the usual rainbow smut.
Ours is a team unused to winning, as the long list of failed boycotts since 2016 attests. Yet the backlash and ensuing boycotts against both Bud Light and Target in the past two months have issued, at last, a real hurt. Bud Light posted losses of nearly 30 percent in sales volume, and 25 percent in sales revenue, in the period ending May 20. Target’s own stock has fallen five times faster than that, according to Newsweek: “In the first nine days of the Bud Light boycott, Anheuser-Busch stock dropped 2.42 percent. From May 17 to May 26, the same amount of time into the Target boycott, the company’s stock price fell 13.5 percent.” In response, Bud Light has placed the two marketing vice presidents responsible for the Mulvaney stunt on leave, while Target has removed some of the offending items and moved Pride displays to the back of several Southern stores.
In the face of these real wins, there are some who still find boycotts inconceivable. Who is propagating “cancel culture” now, they ask? Such people assure us that our efforts to stick it to those who hate us are at once harmful and useless: those hurt by boycotts are minimum wage employees, not salaried policy makers (we will hope they didn’t notice whom Bud Light held accountable), and besides, how many industries do you know that were shuttered by a boycott? (The answer, of course, is collecting cobwebs up and down every main street in Middle America.) But in the end, the tolerant liberal is motivated by something closer to fear, either because he cannot live without $7.99 graphic tees for every emotion, or because he cannot believe that someone else could.
The liberal worldview cannot abide successful boycotts, even as it proclaims that those who don’t want a gay cupcake can simply leave the gay cupcake store. This is because the demand for tolerance is, in reality, a demand for morals to be sublimated to the global market for cheap goods. You buy a lesbian T-shirt, I buy a Jesus one, but we both put dollars into the corporate economy. Thus, the one thing worse than not buying transgender-themed baby outfits, in this sort of logic, is not buying mass-produced baby outfits at all. You are not allowed to not shop at Target.
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A boycott upends this arrangement, using the power of abstinence to muscle the market out of sacred spaces–in this case, the sacred nature of our created bodies. And, as the difference between today’s efforts and those in 2016 demonstrate, its success is directly correlated to the extent of our abstinence. Which is why, if we are to continue to win, we must do more than simply buy graphic T-shirts at Walmart rather than Target.
It is a bold thing to hold morals over markets, but it is also a tenuous thing. We return to Target, Amazon, and Nike, though probably not Bud Light, because it is easier. Eschewing cheap material goods for real ones is expensive, time-consuming, and may require forgoing certain items altogether. It is a pathway that is completely antithetical to trends, especially brand-specific trends, which act as status symbols. Moreover, the list of big box stores worth boycotting is long; even those of us who live modestly would have to work very hard to avoid every one.
But outside the shackles of the mentality that turns morality into a T-shirt slogan is a freedom far superior to any goods that cost less than your lunch. Away from the noise of trends and status symbols and cheap little novelties we didn’t know we needed is a life that is as carefree as it is full of real and beautiful creations: real art, rather than mass-printed photocopies; well-bound books; hand-painted pottery, hand-woven baskets, and hand-embroidered textiles, of which no two are quite the same. These are things created with real materials, not plastic, and by real men and women, not machines. The morals they represent are more beautiful, both in appearance and in kind.