Golden Globes turn black in sex abuse protest

Dark times: Meryl Streep brought along women’s activist Ai-jen Poo. © Getty

Can fashion change the world? Dozens of film stars wore black to the Golden Globes last night to highlight sexual abuse in Hollywood. But some say their actions will achieve nothing.

The Golden Globes is normally a glitzy celebration of the year’s best films and TV. But last night the ceremony looked more like a funeral than a party, as many actresses (and actors) dressed in black to protest against the culture of sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood.

Stars who took part in the “blackout” included Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Steep and Eva Longoria, who called the initiative a “moment of solidarity”.

But not everyone agreed. Actress Rose McGowan was one of the first to expose serial abuser Harvey Weinstein. On Twitter she accused those taking part of “hypocrisy”, claiming that their actions will bring about “no real change”.

That remains to be seen: the black dress protest is just one part of a bigger campaign called Time’s Up. Launched on New Year’s Day, Time’s Up unites over a thousand women in the entertainment industry to fight against systemic sexual abuse across society.

Already it has raised over $14 million for a fund to help abuse victims unable to afford legal aid. Also, its 50/50 initiative is campaigning for all entertainment companies, like studios and agencies, to be have at least 50% female staff by 2020 — particularly in senior roles.

This new campaign follows the #MeToo movement in which millions of women across the world took to social media to share their experiences of sexual abuse.

And whilst it is uncertain how last night’s black dress protest will tackle the problem, the role played by fashion in campaigning and politics stretches back centuries.

In 1908, for example, the suffragettes adopted their official colours of white, green and purple. White symbolised purity; purple was for dignity; and green for hope. Suffragettes were encouraged to “wear the colours”, which soon appeared everywhere — incorporated into countless brooches, skirts and even underwear.

Some modern fashion houses have tried to continue this legacy with clothes sporting bold slogans, such as Dior’s “We should all be feminists” t-shirt.

But is fashion really an effective form of protest?

Style over substance

Of course not, say some. In fact, focusing on fashion could do more harm than good. What we need is real action like donations, boycotts and marches. Claiming that we can change the world by wearing certain clothes only discourages people from doing these practical things that really make a difference.

Symbolism can alter reality, others say. Fashion broadcasts ideas to millions of people — and when these ideas take hold, change happens. What is more, the Time's Up campaign has a deeply practical mission, and the publicity of last night's protest will advertise their services to the vulnerable women who just might need their help.

You Decide

  1. Will the black dress protest make a difference?
  2. Can clothes change the world?

Activities

  1. Now it is your turn to design a piece of clothing with a message. What sort of message do you want your item to communicate? How will it get that idea across? You could choose to use a slogan, a picture, or make the clothing speak the message through its form and appearance. Draw out your design and share with the class.
  2. Choose an item of clothing. It could be anything — from shoes to a hat. Do some research into the history of that item. How has it changed over time? Are there any distinctive types you can find? Have any examples of that item had political meanings in the past? Report your findings to the class.

Some People Say...

“Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas — the way we live.”

Coco Chanel

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
One aim of the Time’s Up campaign is to encourage laws that will penalise companies which tolerate persistent harassment in the workplace. According to figures cited by the campaign, one in three women between 18 and 34 have been sexually harassed at work. Of those women 71% did not report it.
What do we not know?
We cannot say for sure if the black dress protest will significantly reduce sexual abuse in Hollywood and elsewhere. While the campaign has pledged to spend millions of dollars on legal aid for sexual abuse victims, it is currently unclear exactly how the money will be distributed.

Word Watch

Golden Globes
The awards ceremony has been running since 1944 and is an important fixture in the film and television awards season. The awards are often a good indication of what films will be successful at the Oscars later in the year.
Harvey Weinstein
More than 50 women have made allegations against the film producer, ranging from rape to sexual assault and harassment.
Across society
In an open letter published in The New York Times, the campaign’s leaders expressed their desire to help working class women suffering from abuse — not just those working in Hollywood.
#MeToo
The hashtag was invented by activist Tarana Burke and popularised by actress Alyssa Milano. Milano is now directly involved in the Time’s Up campaign.
Suffragettes
Members of a British movement in the late 19th and early 20th century which campaigned for women to be given the right to vote. In 1918 women over the age of 30 were given that right. This was extended to women over 21 in 1928.