In the weeks leading up to NYFW, fashion industry insiders — and both its avid and quasi-invested followers — wondered what the week would look like in the midst of the #MeToo movement. Would it even be acknowledged? In short, yes. But to what degree? That answer is still to be wholly determined, but one thing's for certain: #MeToo isn't being swept under the runway rug.
This season, there's been even more focus on the treatment of models in regard to sexual harassment and their general health and wellbeing backstage and at shoots. This, of course, has been a hot-button issue for numerous years. In the wake of #MeToo, though, models have grown increasingly vocal about which brands, and people, are guilty.
There's also been a lot of buzz regarding Marchesa's co-founder, Georgina Chapmen, who was married to Harvey Weinstein for a decade and is currently going through a divorce. Chapmen has been radio-silent since the late 2017 allegations. Marchesa was scheduled to present a collection on February 14, but at the end of January — not even two weeks before NYFW — the designers hit the cancel button. According to the NY Post, a source said, “Georgina couldn't go through with it. She was too scared."
The #MeToo Fashion Show
While all this pre-NYFW chatter was happening, Myriam Chalek — the creative director for American Wardrobe —was busy putting together a first-of-its-kind #MeToo fashion show. Though it was not a formal part of the NYFW agenda, the February 9 event was on people's lips in the days and weeks leading up to the show. It was attended by a wide range of media, and guests flooded the room, inside NYC's Yotel, with standing room only.
Mixing fashion with #MeToo still seems a foreign idea, and naturally, nobody really knew what to expect. The full event title was, “The #METOO Fashion Show: Slap the Pig Outta Him!!!" which might have led people to believe it'd be a highly aggressive event. That was not the case.
Eight women, only a few professional models, walked the runway wearing American Wardrobe clothing. The collection itself was strong and feminine with armor-like jackets and an assortment of sturdy wings. But pretty clothes weren't the focus here, and Chalek made that clear. This was about each woman's story and the #MeToo movement at large.
After their first walk down the runway, all eight women re-entered the room to Austra's song, “Hurt Me Now," this time standing next to men wearing pig masks and a pair of handcuffs in hand. Within seconds you could feel a heaviness settle over the emotionally charged room, and the audience was remarkably silent. The music stopped, the women all stood still, and one by one they told their stories with chins held high.
“When I was younger, about 11, I was sexually abused. So, I was working my way around, trying to accept that as a person and to live with it. For a while, I actually thought that it went away," said Melissa Davis.
The 22-year-old model and actress continued, sharing a recent story about a director in Florida who tried to use his power to “get into a relationship" with Davis while she was casting for an acting role in a show positioned to be sold to Netflix. She did not get the role.
“In that situation, I stood up for myself and was very bold and up front and vocal about what type of work I'm doing," she said. “I'm an actress, and I hate the fact that in the modeling industry and entertainment industry, women, we get overlooked for our talent, for our beauty. It's something that happens all the time."
Alicia Kozakiewicz — who was abducted at age 13 by a 38-year-old man and held chained and captive in his basement for four days — also spoke.
“He shared this abuse, this torture, online. He livestreamed it. And there were those out there, who watched it and drew pleasure from my pain. I knew he was going to murder me, and my time was almost up. Thankfully, miraculously, I was rescued. Those chains from around my neck were cut, and I was given a second chance at life," she said.
Male and female models walked the runway handcuffed together
Kozakiewicz's story received international attention in 2002 after the FBI rescued her from Scott Tyree's basement. She's since become a motivational speaker and an internet safety educator and advocate.
She continued, “The nightmare didn't end there. I suffered from PTSD, nightmares, flashbacks, as so many survivors do. And I suffered at the minds of a public who quite literally blamed the victim — certainly something that runs rampant today. And with that, my voice became silenced… but not for long. At the age of 14, I began sharing my story…Here I stand today, on a New York Fashion Week runway, no less, and I declare that I am no longer just a victim."
The event concluded with Sabrina Piper sharing her story of a consensual interaction that digressed into violent rape by the person she was seeing.
“We started getting intimate … it was consent both ways at first," she recalled. “About two or three minutes into it, he stuck his fingers into my vagina. I was like, 'I'm not ready,' to which he said to me, 'you feel ready.' Which is stuck in my mind to this day. He didn't care that I wasn't."
He then physically forced himself onto her and penetrated her, and she repeated that she was not ready to have sex. He apologized and held her, but shortly after penetrated her again from behind.
Pig-masked male models accompanied women on the catwalk
“I guess he thought it was rough sex. That's what I was thinking, and I was just trying to blank out of anything in my mind for a couple of minutes. Then he pulled out and he finished," she said. “It didn't set in until I get into the car and look down and see just a trickle of blood going down my thigh and my skirt."
When she got home, she saw blood everywhere — on her underwear, her clothing, her thighs, her vulva and vagina. Her vulva was swollen to “four times" its normal size, she said. Sitting at home in blood-covered clothing, swollen and in pain, was when she realized it wasn't just rough sex in his mind — she was assaulted.
“I'm not the first girl to go through this whatsoever, and I wish I could say I'll be the last, but unless we all band together — and we do something about it, like seriously, seriously do something about it — it'll just keep happening."
That's exactly what the #MeToo movement is about. It's not a phase and it's not a trend — it's a movement that requires constant discussion until the issue's eradicated. To some, the runway may seem an awkward or unlikely place to convey such a powerful message, but the #MeToo fashion show demonstrated that every voice, every story, and every event that furthers the mission is helping to put an end to all forms of sexual abuse and inequality.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."