Should She Have Worn Red?

Should She Have Worn Red?

A feminist response to opting out of #TIMESUP at the Golden Globes.

There's recently been a debate about the Golden Globes over the Times Up Campaign, which sought to unite A-listers in Hollywood in wearing solidarity-black for sexual assault victims in the entertainment industry. One actress of note opted out completely, and wore red: Blanca Blanco.

The conundrum is, feminists tend to subscribe to two sometimes at-odds philosophies: women should wear whatever they want, whenever they want, free of criticism or shaming, and women should stand up for each other. Therefore, we're left with two questions: 1, should she have worn red? and 2, are we hypocrites if we talk about it?

If you're leaning towards no and no, you might point out that the entire point of the wear-black-campaign is that it is the bare minimum you can do. It's open to interpretation and was already in the red carpet aesthetic long before it meant anything specific on the public stage - almost to the point where the bar for solidarity is so low that you would have to go out of your way to avoid being a part of it. We can assume she was aware of it. To think the public will not draw the conclusion that there is a deliberate rejection of solidarity for this cause, in this very public forum for this very public symbol during a widely publicized event, would be naive. So, giving her the benefit of the doubt, if the choice was as innocent as wanting to be unique, then she shouldn’t be surprised at what it looks like.

We also know what it appears to be: the world has been telling us that people attending this event choose black to stand up for #TIMESUP. Not wearing black is a disagreement with that cause. Therefore, it appears to be a willful choice to defy an easy-to-make show of solidarity, and there’s yet to be a meaningful reason for doing so.

It’s like the Bechtdel test: the bar is set ridiculously low, but how rarely films are passing it is exactly why it is so shocking. Likewise, some are criticizing the black clothing as “too easy”, but that’s exactly why not doing it is controversial. And whether she meant it or not, it was an inherently political choice - even as she describes a disinterest in the dress code rather than a dissent with the cause.

Over fashion. Over a color. Yes, something as trivial as a color of a gown. It’s ridiculous, and that’s the point.

Is it really so hard to imagine that people are having a hard time accepting that it could mean anything else? “Because I can opt out, and that’s about empowerment too” is likely the wrong time and place to make that point, if only by taking away from the primary cause of the evening.

Perhaps it’s a protest of what Rose McGowen called “Hollywood fakery”: a low-stakes and trendy solidarity act that reads like a charade after a failure to speak up when it counted the most. Alternatively, perhaps it’s time to seize the day and finally have a unifying vision, embrace a comprehensive solidarity, take what has come to light, and wash out overarching systemic abuse once and for all.

In any case, we might note that going black makes the same case for the “wearing red” move every other night of the year. Opting out might be viewed as a redundancy to what the unification symbolism itself already defends in a much larger sense.

As a result, the conformity debate (largely from commentators declaring, “she doesn’t do what’s expected! She dares to be different! That’s feminism in action!”) is actually a moment of irony. Accepting it wholesale might require defamiliarization, shallow analysis, or at the very least, a tangle of overthought reverse psychology that didn’t land and instead appeared to be an act of poor taste.

As deeply as we can discuss it, and as little as some may like it, an outfit is a face-value visual metaphor.

The audience has been told for weeks that wearing black is the one way you’re saying “I stand up for women” and not doing so is very explicitly the choice not to do so. It’s not complex. It was a choice with a singular implication.

Some have been saying it was an cry for attention along the lines of ’Bad press is free publicity’. I’m deeply uncomfortable associating attention-seeking with women’s clothing for obvious reasons. I comment only on this: if it were the case, noted with hesitant theoreticism, seeking publicity on such an occasion would follow Thatcherian second-wave problematics in the same way accusations of attention seeking are contemporarily problematic: putting self interest ahead of collective progress. The kind that hides ruthless individualism behind the idea that any personal empowerment from a woman is the feminist empowerment of women as a whole, which may or may not be true on a micro level. We see this frequently throughout the A-list in other occasions (as Caryl Churchill warned us with Top Girls). Applying the accusation it to this moment, on this occasion, for this specific cause, falls back upon logic socialized by internalized misogyny.

With that said, bodily autonomy and freedom to exist without comment is a feminist keystone. Does taking on the professional suit of celebrity and walking into a public space, making a deliberately political statement in a public forum while being very aware of the implications of that choice, open you up for that debate? Does feminism extend into that space and still theoretically protect your right to do it without comment or criticizing? Or is it like freedom of speech - you have the right to do it and people respect your right to do it, but you aren’t free from consequences of backlash, once you use that freedom to enter the public forum with a deliberately controversial presentation?

Feminism isn’t an invisibility cloak. It’s a conversation about how women in society can become self-aware and change how we talk to each other and ourselves, live our lives, and most of all, how all people and institutions should be allowed to characterize, limit, or equalize the sexes. The argument is not what we can or can’t do. It’s what we should and shouldn’t do.

Does that mean a feminist approach is A) what she did was not feminists, B) criticizing it isn’t feminists, C) both, D) neither, or somehow, F) both and neither, and we are in the gray areas in between.

Perhaps what we realize is this: maybe she shouldn’t have, or even probably, but our efforts are better spent united against bigger fish to fry.

Critiquing her choice, even while respecting that she had a right to make one, isn’t a productive use of faculties better directed at perpetrators.

It goes without saying that I would strongly argue that shaming anything about it in aesthetic terms or implying anything about her personhood - that is using anger from a choice about the political statement to fuel comments that made towards belittling women in personal insults - becomes wildly hypocritical. So maybe we can settle for some centrism on both questions -- and resolve to put it away, stay angry at the larger issues at hand, and direct whatever's left productively.

As usual, activists fight for the rights of others whether they will fight for them or not, and she gets to benefit from the very activism she made a point not to support. Suffragettes died for the daughters of women who insisted they didn’t need to vote. Women of today march for the daughters of women who insist they don’t need feminism. And on it will go.

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