In October, a new “community hub” for families is opening up in Los Angeles called Loom. Loom may not be open yet, but its membership quota is full (you can join a waitlist on their website). They have 16,000 followers on Instagram and 18 reviews on Yelp, mostly effusive praise for one of its co-founders, a practicing doula named Erica Chidi Cohen.
Loom’s mission is to “provide evidence-based classes, results-driven coaching, and a community that supports people throughout the reproductive, pregnancy and parenting experiences.” This is a deeply worthy reason for existing; new families often need more support than the American health care system and nuclear family-oriented social structure are able to provide. Everyone will be better off if people don’t feel isolated in their first few months of parenthood. But Loom is no drab community centre with an open-door policy and overworked outreach workers. Loom will be a beautiful, tastefully appointed space. It will be a self-described “dynamic brand.”
Like The Wing, the New York City-based social club for women, Loom will soon make available retro-styled pins and stickers touting their brand. Membership to Loom is relatively affordable at $200 per year, but its actual classes, to which members receive a discount, usually hover around $50 an hour. In a recent write-up in The New Yorker, one of Loom’s co-founders says that “socially conscious capitalism is where feminism should exist now.”
Is it really? Last I checked, which was actually last month while I was donating money to a friend’s YouCaring campaign for her husband’s bone marrow transplant, capitalism was good at making sure the merch looks perfect and the Yelp reviews stay positive, but it sucks at providing essential services for people who need them. “Socially conscious capitalism” is lipstick on a pig. “Socially conscious capitalism” is spiritual materialism. There are really only two types of “socially responsible capitalism” that are even vaguely socially responsible: Microlending to economically marginalized communities, and philanthropy. Creating a private space to offer something that should be free (a “community,” and “support”), and charging money for it—this is fun, this is business, this is probably going to be wildly successful, but this is not social responsibility.
What’s the big deal though, right? These are just labels, can I chill? Sorry, I can’t. When I’m in a hopeful mood, I think that during the coming century the Western world will realize that capitalism works great for some things (fun stuff mostly) but not for everything. But in the meantime we’re stuck in these ideological horse latitudes, where all you have to do is apply a patina of social responsibility to your brand and all the cool people will line up to Instagram themselves in your lobby.
Clubs reflect the values of the societies that organize them. In the early 19th century, when Alexis de Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America, he famously marveled at all of the country’s “voluntary organizations,” which he argued were essential to the success of the democratic project. Social capital is essential for successful social movements, and it was built up and maintained through civic associations that advocated for local interests. Of course, these organizations were only open to white men, so it would be ludicrous to call them inclusive just because membership was free of charge. That being said, 19th century civic organizations functioned as levers of social mobility for their members. A poor white man could join a civic organization and, through connections made through its membership, mobilize upward. The American Dream dictates that everyone is now entitled to this kind of social mobility, but if it’s happening anywhere, it’s not at places like these modern clubs.
I’m sure more people would belong to free civic organizations if they came with more… perks. What we seek in our clubs is an attractive space where we can feel good, and who can blame us for this? Who doesn’t want to feel a sensation of burnished selfhood when entering into a space that accepts us? But by cocooning ourselves into a series of private spaces tailor-made to our ideological and aesthetic preferences, we are chipping away at social solidarity. And by raising our kids in these spaces we’re teaching them to take these cocoons for granted.
If only we could conceivably have it both ways: chic clubs that provide much-needed services, and services that are accessible to everyone that needs them. Unfortunately, the former undermines the viability of the latter. I would have loved to join something like Loom when I had my first son and all I wanted was someone to tell me that my perineum was going to be okay, but I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. I live in Quebec, North America’s only social democracy, and I pay a lot of taxes for my free health care, year-long paid maternity leave, and subsidized daycare. My discretionary income suffers, but this is a tradeoff I can live with.
I will gladly pay my club membership to the provincial government. When my family and I are accessing public services, we are often joined in line by people from different backgrounds than ours. Everyone has to wait in line; there is no Platinum membership. This is a better lesson in social equality than anyone could teach my children in some curated offering of children’s “programming.” You might say that my ideals are unrealistic, and that coming from Quebec I am out of touch with the reality of American civic life in all its painful complexity. To which I would say: bullshit. The means of “socially conscious capitalism” do not lead to the ends of social democracy. That is not how we got here, in Quebec.
Accessing public services is not “fun” and it does not make me feel cool, but it sure as shit keeps a lot of people safe and healthy. I bet Loom’s founders would agree that support for new families of all kinds is an essential public service. But what they are providing is not a public service, it is a very lovely private experience open to like-minded “folks,” to use a word that seems to resonate with this crowd. It is not socially conscious capitalism. It’s a business. If you want to fight for families, you have to get into politics. The merch is not very interesting, the snacks are never vegan, and a lot of the other people involved are obnoxious and never shut up. But that’s civic life—forever in need of a new paint job, forever in need of someone in charge of marketing who actually knows what they’re doing—and its demographic is everyone.
Kathryn Jezer-Morton lives in Montreal with her husband and two sons. Find her on Twitter @KJezerMorton.