Hollywood has no answers to ending their culture of sexual violence
A display of solidarity from Hollywood's elite doesn't automatically mean a shift in attitude for the rest of us.
Time’s Up, screamed badges from every lapel, Time’s Up, said female actors as they accepted awards, Time’s Up said Oprah as she told a story of a black woman, Recy Taylor, who was raped by six white men in 1944 and spoke with a tenor of hope reminiscent of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign about a horizon free from sexual assault.
Although Oprah’s rousing call is as unlikely to end sexual violence as Barack Obama’s skin colour was capable of transforming race relations in America, few will begrudge these celebrities the victory of a powerful message successfully transmitted.
For women to speak about sexual violence, harassment and a culture that needed to change, while using their sartorial expression to do so, was a redistribution of power and an inversion of the traditional focus on fashion as a precursor to sexual violence.
But why does it matter what Hollywood does and should it?
Members of the film industry who achieve moderate levels of success and who attend awards ceremony are part of an elite group of people who by privilege or graft are often seen by society to be the pinnacle of success.
With our permission, these people become our moral and social authorities, they occupy a position of power and prestige which grants them licence to lead, whether it is with seemingly innocuous trends, political endorsements or instigating the first churnings of a tsunami of sexual assault allegations.
If these celebrities choose to do something on masse, if they make a statement of any kind it becomes a story in the news and a point of discussion. The position they occupy is authoritative. More than politicians, more than scientists, more than academics, celebrities shape our day-to-day perspectives and social interactions.
What begins in Hollywood, whether it is caterpillar eyebrows, lip fillers or public allegations of sexual assault, filters down to society in a myriad of ways. Some positive and some botched.
These celebrities are endorsed by popular culture, we consent to their perspectives being propagated and their normal being the standard but celebrities exist on a brittle pedestal one inch off the ground. They survive by commodifying themselves, by selling their image and trading their own selves for other people’s consumption.
In return, we the consuming public, accept what they do largely without challenge.
This is not to say that the actors who wore black are not committed to the idea of change through public exposure. But why haven't they done more? Black dresses are a common fashion occurrence, there is nothing revolutionary here, as colours go, black is a conservative choice.
Women spoke to mainstream media outlets about subjugation and an industry that prefers men to women. This is not a surprise to anyone and it predictably will not be enough to make any lasting impact.
For the women and men who risked societal rejection and shame and put themselves into the public spotlight by calling out their accusers, this was not an honouring, this was just about an up-nod of recognition.
What happened to the victims of sexual violence who were harassed, assaulted, bullied and raped was not normal, it wasn't inevitable but it was apparently quite common. The Golden Globes, the first large-scale public gathering of Hollywoods's upper echelons since the since reaction however doesn't recognise this, it doesn't shake an industry that nominates only men for the Best Director Award, it didn't boycott, it continued on in a relatively normal fashion save for the all-black dress code.
Not one man who won an award mentioned the MeToo movement or the ubiquitous culture of gender inequality in Hollywood. This is still a one gender debate and it is not the gender that needs to adapt its behaviour.
The women of Hollywood are doing little more than shading inside the lines that were drawn for them. It would have looked perplexingly insular if they did nothing, so they did a little something sartorial and left it at that.
Looking to this selection of women for role models will leave us normal people thirsty, quoting a mawkish Oprah we'll realise the substance that is missing from the chatter, and the headline feminism we're regurgitating from our celebrity leaders lacks rebellious vision.
How will the work of these celebrities filter down to the culture they say they helping to create and shape. Why should the work of actors, who profit out of deceit and pretence, matter to the women and men in Ireland who won’t go the Gardaí for fear they won’t be believed, or who can’t leave abusive relationships because there is nowhere for them to go, who read the news reports of convicted rapists in Ireland not being given jail time, and who work daily in environments where they feel under threat of sexual harassment from authority figures.
Hollywood’s greatest performance in this golden instance, is the old adage - there is strength in numbers - where one might falter, many will conquer.
But if we look to celebrity for the answers, for inspiration, we donate the power for change that exists in Ireland and in our own industries to the turning reel of Hollywood that will likely move on. And, in an appropriate amount of time, forget about its promises to change the world.
It is not enough to rely on authority figures in a transatlantic town who in the most creative of industries can't come up with something better than wearing black to an awards show. It is not enough to rely on our famous leaders to bring home equality and end the culture that allows for women and men to be violated by others through an abuse of power.