I’m a Rape Survivor and I’m Against Hollywood's All-Black Golden Globes Dress Code (Guest Column)
A sexual assault survivor and Hollywood Reporter social media editor speaks out as women prepare to change their red carpet looks in solidarity with the #MeToo movement.
Julia Roberts in Valentino, Drew Barrymore in Atelier Versace, Penelope Cruz in Chanel — some of the most memorable fashion moments in awards history have involved actresses in black gowns. But it is quite a different thing to call for all actresses to wear black in solidarity with victims of sexual harassment and abuse.
I am a sexual assault survivor who once exclusively wore black. I'm one of the lucky ones — my rapist is in jail. (It took blood, sweat and tears to get him there — and I never gave up.) Black was my color of choice for years. I was mourning the person I once was, hiding my body from men. Black sunglasses, black leather jackets, black eyeliner. It sent people a message: "Stay away." Black goes perfectly with shame. I simply matched the darkest period of my life. Part of my own therapy included learning how to wear color again.
A short time after the assault, I created the Instagram account @pornforwomen, a tiny curation for the female gaze. Deep down I just didn't want to hate men forever, and photos of Paul Newman, Idris Elba and Tom Hardy helped build a community of women that is one of my biggest support systems to this day. The followers of the account are a tight-knit, fierce community of men and women all over the world who believe in feminist values. From fashion models and editors to Hollywood stylists, my audience is razor-sharp, and if they're not, they unfollow me.
I find "solidarity" an interesting word choice when it comes to assault, because nothing is more isolating than being raped. I haven't observed any tangible change in this fact in the last five years. When Rose McGowan called out actresses planning to wear black to the Globes, I agreed with her. "YOUR SILENCE is the problem," McGowan tweeted, "you'll accept a fake award breathlessly & affect no real change." Meryl Streep, who "worked for The Pig Monster [Harvey Weinstein]" was targeted by McGowan. Streep maintains she did not know about his behavior. After open apologies between the two, the matter was settled. No real change indeed.
I wonder how many of these actresses who are wearing black have ever spoken to anyone who has experienced abuse and assault. Jane Fonda, who is a patron of UCLA's Rape Treatment Center in Santa Monica, where I was taken after my rape, says she knew about Harvey Weinstein for a year and stayed silent on the subject. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around that fact. I wonder if these celebrities know about the all-consuming darkness a rape survivor has to learn to see through, or why some of the actresses participating have depicted some of the most triggering scenes in film and television for abuse victims? Is this red carpet blackout a meaningful moment that will truly make a profound statement, or just a Hollywood stunt?
It's nearly impossible to pinpoint the exact person who spearheaded this fashion moment for actresses. Rumblings began, and then off at a secret Hollywood location, the decision was made. "It's not a funeral," one stylist told The Hollywood Reporter, but a way that many can participate. THR reported Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey's stylist, Law Roach, has been fighting with other stylists for black dresses. Red-carpet favorite Christian Siriano has remade looks in black for the actresses he's dressing. Cristina Ehrlich looks like she got her hands on plenty of options for her roster of clients.
Yet, when I think of the wonderful acting performances I saw this year that moved me — Saoirse Ronan’s magic in Lady Bird, Meryl Streep as the fearless Katharine Graham in The Post, and Nicole Kidman's unforgettable performance as a domestic abuse victim in Big Little Lies — black is the last color that comes to mind. I think of bright shades. Green, the color of growth. Red, to celebrate walking through the fire. Yellow, to celebrate the joyous revolution. And how about Pantone's color of the year, purple, which symbolizes power? Lest we forget it was pink that united so much of us worldwide during the Women's Marches of 2017.
While wearing all-black sends a message that Hollywood can work together, for me, it says nothing else. I fear the actresses who are expected to have huge smiles plastered on their faces as they walk the carpet will look like deer caught in headlights. Critics say asking an actress "who are you wearing" is over — and this may be true. "What were you wearing," ironically, is one of the many questions assault victims are asked repeatedly when recounting their trauma.
While there is no doubt all the black will be visually striking, for me as a rape survivor, it seems suffocating and controlling, like women being shoved back into a closet, back into the darkness.
Still, no matter what Sunday's red carpet looks like, we can't forget it was brave women of Hollywood like Rose McGowan, Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow who got the world to listen. There was no guarantee that the public would accept them, or even worse, believe them. That is what I'm celebrating on Sunday as I watch along with the rest of the world. I think I'll wear pink.