Empty Is As Empty Does
After reading THE ‘BLACK GOWN' GOLDEN GLOBES ‘INSPIRED' NOONE BUT THE EMPTY HEADED STARS IN THEM on Daily Review, I found that a few of Helen Razer's arguments had burned themselves into the back of my brain. The kind of burn that motivated me to take my laptop in hand and type out against dismissive words. I barely know anything about Hollywood, politics or activism, but as a 30-year-old freelance art director, I still feel my words could add more shape to the #metoo conversations the 2018 Golden Globes started and that other award shows have added momentum to over the last few months.
"Effing spare me. Spare us all from the delusional white liberal feminist who takes a woman of
colour to the red carpet as though she were a Swarovski clutch."
I was shocked by Helen's argument that Tarana Burke, Ai-jen Poo, Monica Ramirez, Saru Jayaraman, Rosa Clemente, Calina Lawrence, Billie-Jean King and Marai Larasi were promotional props for female celebrities. Among her many achievements, Ai-jen Poo was awarded The MacArthur Fellowship (or Genius Grant) in 2014. Tarana Burke is Senior Director at Girls for Gender Equity and founder of the #metoo movement. Billie-Jean King has too many sporting accolades to name and her grueling fight to crush gender inequality in the professional tennis industry was chronicled in the film "Battle of the Sexes" this year. All of these ‘Swarovski clutches' are incredibly accomplished leaders in their respective fields. The suggestion that they were lesser, and therefore mere accessories to sparkly celebrities who were outshining them is offensive and upsetting. Instead of glitzy film stars toting underdogs behind them as they strolled down the red carpet, I saw leaders in the film industry and leaders in activism side by side at the golden globes. (Also, doesn't labeling these activists as props while not using any of their names in the article actually make them props?)
As a woman of colour, I cannot begin to explain how elated I was to see the cultural diversity of the activists invited to such a highly publicised event too. As a white, blonde woman, it might be difficult for Helen to understand the magnitude of this gesture as the majority of advertisements, films, digital content, and print are still made in her image. You really don't see many minorities accurately represented on Western screens. Our stories just aren't told as often, so seeing these names and faces all over the internet after the Golden Globes feels like a win for all of us.
There weren't any Sri Lankan activists at the event (I can't remember if I've ever seen a Sri Lankan on popular media unless it's been a cricket match), so I wasn't directly represented. One moment made me feel like we might be winning anyway: Seth Meyers introduced Saru Jayaraman in the freaking opening monologue of the Globes (and pronounced her name correctly—which never happens). I felt palpable hope that maybe one day, more South Asians might be recognised more widely for our achievements, and maybe, I'll see more Sri Lankans represent people like me on global platforms about issues I care deeply about.
The worst bit about this "clutch" part of the article was the fact that Helen perpetuated one of the most frustrating gender stereotypes of all: that women are what they wear. Not only did her article reduce these brilliant activists to a fashion accessory, she spent a generous portion of the article talking about what celebrities like Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon were wearing. She also complained we weren't talking about what the celebrities were wearing enough. While I think she is under no obligation to use her article's real estate to bring awareness to the causes these activists fight for, couldn't she have at least mentioned their names as hyperlinks to their work in the same way she had provided citations for Reese Witherspoon's Jimmy Choo's? A small gesture like this could have been quite beneficial for these gender issues while still allowing Helen to share her viewpoint.
"There is no more room for compassion in profit than there is for basic economic logic in Meryl Streep's head."
Helen slammed the Time's Up initiative that inspired the Black Gown gesture at the Golden Globes. She presented the women of Hollywood's open letter as an oblivious and uneducated response that was also a PR opportunity before the Golden Globes. While I can see why Helen might have thought this about the letter, it also says "we also recognize our privilege and the fact that we have access to enormous platforms to amplify our voices. Both of which have drawn and driven widespread attention to the existence of this problem in our industry that farmworker women and countless individuals employed in other industries have not been afforded," which sounds like empathy to me. These actresses, with their lofty paychecks, directly address the struggles of women like us and acknowledge the gap their wealth has created at the same time.
As someone who is neither white nor wealthy but is often surrounded by one, the other and sometimes both, many aren't aware of their privilege nearly as much as they could be. It's incredibly reassuring that the letter starts like this as it shows an awareness of the gaps that need to be bridged before effective changes can really take place. The letter then goes on to list important, unrecognised jobs and specific abuses each of these roles could bring with them. I read the letter as one that was compassionate and considerate of women outside of celebrity circles. Not to mention that the awareness this letter generated has raised about $21,708,100 of their $22M goal to date.
"US farmworkers of the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas wrote to the ‘me too’ superstars that although they did ‘not work under bright stage lights or on the big screen,’ they too experienced harassment and violence at work. As 70,000 workers had signed the letter, it became impossible for the women of the entertainment and media sectors to continue examining only their own plight."
This was upsetting to read too. Is Helen suggesting that successful, wealthy women deserve less time to heal their trauma? Or that we should support wealthier friends who have experienced abuse less than a poorer friend who has gone through the same thing? I have nothing but a month's rent and a few spare 100s in my bank account at the moment, so while successful and wealthy is certainly not my demographic, I couldn't help but put myself in their shoes. If I had worked my ass off from the time I signed up to design school and scraped my way past grimy share houses, dishonest studios, egomaniacal bosses and male-dominated creative departments to become an executive creative director at the top agency in the world, and one day decided to talk about the time a strategy director forced me to massage him on a business trip in my 20s (thank god this never happened, but I put that down only to luck), would I be expected to get over it quick so I could help other people that had a smaller paycheck than I did? What if I was one of the top neurosurgeons in the world who chose to speak up about a doctor putting his hand up my scrubs at medical school? Would I get more time to recover because I've saved lives?
It's wild that these actresses are being condemned for taking time to move forward from their trauma because of their current privileges and their career choices. I'm also surprised how quickly their bravery to speak out at all has been forgotten. They told billions of people. For anyone who has ever had to utter these words out loud to another human, you will know that talking about an experience of abuse or harassment is terrifying and humiliating at best.
I am sure that there are many delighted that a few really famous white woman actors got an "activist" date to bolster their own brand.
Helen could be right about this one.
Many of these actresses had to process the trauma of #metoo experiences while working their asses off in a high-pressure, high-risk, exhausting, unstable, sexist profession. They gave their well-deserved awards evening away as a platform that could serve other industries (as well as their own) by using the majority of their airtime to talk about harassment and abuse instead of their own achievements. Let's forget all of this. Their actions at the Golden Globes largely would have made them look impressive to the world's press, increasing the equity of their personal brands.
I'm not sure what the argument is here. Our resumes, the headlines of our articles, our LinkedIn photos, our clothes, what we order at after-work drinks in front of colleagues—they're all part of our own brands too. More importantly, when you don't have a stable 9 to 5 job, it's crucial you invest in effective self-promotion because what people think of you often does make the difference between being hired for your next contract or not. In the age of social media, it would be fantastically unprofessional to dismiss how others perceive you. If this was indeed a branding exercise, it was clever. Given how topical #metoo still is, the actresses are sure to receive a massive ROI. No wonder they're all at the top of their game.
It's also important to note that this branding worked both ways. In the few days after the Golden Globes, Tarana Burke, Ai-jen Poo, Monica Ramirez, Saru Jayaraman, Rosa Clemente, Calina Lawrence, Billie-Jean King and Marai Larasi (and their organizations) have been mentioned across countless blogs, digital magazines, news websites and content platforms. I had never heard of most of these women until the Globes and now I know who they are, what they do, I've donated to the TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund and I'm up at 3:34 am passionately plonking away on an article about them. It's hard to conclude that the ‘Black Gown' Golden Globes inspired no one but the empty-headed stars in them.
Helen Razer writes a weekly column for Daily Review
I encourage you to check Helen's article out because it is an entertaining, well-written piece, which brings me to my next point—Isn't it hard enough being a woman? There's so much working against us already without vitriolically picking each other apart for trying to help each other out. Helen definitely had great intentions, and while she didn't have to agree with the Golden Globes or the Times Up initiative, she could have used her skills to outline her ideas on how these actresses could have aided the cause more effectively. With her more than impressive work history, her strong readership, clever writing style, and humour, Helen would most likely have been very successful at drawing further attention to an important issue she seems to care about, at a time when the scales look like they might be tipping.
In fact, Helen, Hollywood and I are in the same boat in many ways. The arts and communication industries have been talking about sexual harassment and abuse forever. If we look at the magnitude (and history) of this issue, they are actresses. The women of Hollywood have as much power as writers and art directors do. The truth is, we can't easily access key decision makers, change policies or implement systematic solutions outside of our own industries by ourselves. What we can do is unite as storytellers across our disciplines to lead government officials, board members, and management to create the real change that we can't reach. That, to me, is inspiring indeed.