Boycotts (and ‘Girlcotts’)

Boycotts are a way to force change by collectively refusing to do business with a person or business.

Illustration by Avery Adamson

Spinning Up A Revolution.

One of the first boycotts in the U.S. was actually a ‘girlcott,’ a term that wouldn’t be used until two centuries later.

Back in the 1760’s, American colonial women (and girls) banded together to impose and enforce a ‘boycott’ on buying British imported goods, in response to a painful British tariff on imports like tea and clothing. These women pressured colonial men not to buy British, and also organized ‘spinning bees’ to make homespun clothing, which they then wore as a political statement.

Ever since, boycotts (and girlcotts) have been a staple of protest movements and international politics, because cutting off sellers from their revenue can be very effective.

Boycotts work if enough consumers (or countries) participate in them, for long enough, to get the attention of their target. But they can also make a difference just by drawing public attention to their cause.

Here are some examples of boycotts from the past century:

  • Bus boycotts to protest segregation as part of the civil rights movement.
  • Grape boycotts to protest farm worker labor conditions.
  • Boycotts against companies doing business with South Africa (to protest apartheid).
  • ‘Girlcotts’ against Wimbledon to promote equal pay for female players.
  • ‘Girlcotts’ against apparel companies to protest sexist T-shirts.
  • Boycott (U.S. – led) of the 1980 summer olympics in Moscow to protest the invasion of Afghanistan.
  • Boycott-like ‘divestment’ campaigns to encourage investors to sell their holdings in bad companies.

All had the same basic theme: money is power.

If you don’t like the behavior of a company (or country), the best way to send that message is to stop buying from them, and convince others to do the same.