Joho the Blog » Girlcotting the Dixie Chicks (or: The asymmetry of free speech)
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Girlcotting the Dixie Chicks (or: The asymmetry of free speech)

I’m glad to see the Dixie Chicks’ new CD at #1, even though I liked their previous one better, because it bodes well for free speech: I think it’s wrong to boycott singers because of their political views but fine to girlcott them for those very same views. (Yes, I just made up “girlcott”: To buy from a vendor to reward her for her actions or beliefs. And, yes, I know “boycott” comes from Charles C. Boycott, so “girlcott” makes no sense at all.)

In March, 2003, I blogged that I was buying my first DC CD because it was being kept off the air because of an anti-Bush remark Natalie Maines made at a concert. Isn’t that as bad as boycotting the CD? Aren’t both actions a type of free speech?

Yes, both are free speech (in some extended sense of the term). You are totally within your rights to never buy another DC CD, to microwave your DC collection, to tell your local radio station you’ll change the channel permanently if it plays a song by any band with a D and a C in its name, and to say on talk radio that Maines is a traitor who ought to have her head shaved and be driven down the streets of Baghdad tied to the front of a Hummer. Whatever. There’s no question in my mind that all this is free speech.

Boycotting and girlcotting both exercise the right to free speech, but one is bad for that right and the other is not. Boycotting an artist because of views expressed outside of her work chills free speech. That seems to me to be the same as not shopping at your local convenience store because the owner said something at town meeting about, say, the local schools, with which you vehemently disagree. If half the town boycotted the store because of that, the owner would be driven out of business. This would discourage citizens from stating their views…an exercise of free speech that’s bad for free speech.

But suppose the owner were girlcotted because of something she said about the school system. This might have the effect of encouraging citizens to support popular causes in public. This would not be good for free speech since it provides an economic incentive to support what’s already popular. But, presumably the populace has less reason to girlcott for the expression of popular views than for unpopular views. Thus, girlcotting should tend to encourage a diversity of views. At the least it can mitigate the chilling effect of a boycott.

Sure, girlcotting could be gamed and manipulated. But, girlcotting — especially to mitigate the effects of a boycott — is overall good for free speech and good for democracy. I think. [Tags: ]


Girlcott” has been used before, but to mean a protest by girls.

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