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.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.