Finally, it seems like we are making progress.
When the #MeToo movement first started, it had the potential to fade into oblivion: another casualty of lazy social media activism. However, with the first month of 2018 over, the movement has proven to be the very opposite. The brave women behind #MeToo are not going away. They are persisting.
As a movement both driven and embraced by prominent women in the media, specifically those in Hollywood, the success of #MeToo derives largely from their actions. This is not to say that what every other woman is doing for the movement is insignificant–on the contrary every single woman telling her stories, lobbying for change, and trying to make a real political and societal difference in her community is necessary. Our strength stems from our numbers. Still, it would be wrong to ignore the way in which women in the media, several of them major celebrities, have been crucial to the perpetuation of the movement. For their actions visibly mark the ways in which we are achieving progress. Our society is obsessed with spectacle; what these women, constantly on display, do matters so much because we are all watching, and learning, from them.
Social progress is not straightforward. In order to affect such change, there must be a dramatic rupture in cultural norms. This of course has always been the goal of #MeToo, and now with Time’s Up. But, change does not just happen with a simple phrase or one isolated incident of protest. There must be both ongoing symbolic and physical forms of resistance. Perhaps the hesitation of the #MeToo movement at first was that it was only statement: that there would be no ensuing action pushing our society towards a new era. That the hashtag would be hollow, our actions ineffective.
January 2018 has proven that theory wrong, starting the year off on a pleasantly optimistic note. In the past month women have engaged in significant symbolic and physical actions either for or alongside the #MeToo movement. With prominent women in the media, for example, such actions occurred symbolically on the red carpet at the Golden Globes and the Grammys and physically in cities around the country with the second annual Women’s March.
A black dress for #MeToo, a white rose for Time’s Up: these symbols matter immensely. There is great power in fashion, for the clothes and accessories that we put on our bodies at once have layered societal and cultural meaning. When actively choose garments that have direct political meaning, we show our support and determination in the pursuit of change. At both the Golden Globes and the Grammys, famous actresses and singers alike wore symbolic objects that stood for the end of an era in which women were cyclically abused sexually and emotionally, often in professional settings. That these women made these fashion statements is significant to the movement in that it continually puts the movement on display. Of course, it would be wrong to assume that everyone wearing these symbols did so wholeheartedly. Chances are, there were celebrities, actors, and singers who showed their support so that they would not be called out for not doing so in the first place. Still, the black dresses and the white roses act as visual reminders of all that we are striving for: as symbols they are necessary to affect change.
There are important differences between these two symbols. Arguably the black dress is a more effective statement. As the entirety of one’s outfit, it is all that is on display. There is no other symbolic significance to these celebrities’ outfits. Together the women and men were united in black; it was a powerful thing to see. On the other hand, the white rose as a single accessory seems a little bit more like an afterthought. The singers’ outfits at the Grammys were their own statement: the white roses were just held, sometimes inconspicuously.
At the same time, the tone of the events themselves were very different. From Oprah to Natalie Portman, the Golden Globes was saturated with #MeToo moments. Celebrities such as Michelle Williams and Meryl Streep brought activists with them to the awards as their dates, walking together down the carpet in black. The 2018 Golden Globes as a cultural event seemed rooted the movement: change was on the actresses’ minds, and they did everything they could to emphasize that. On the other hand, at the Grammys, #MeToo and Time’s Up were not as front-and-center. For example, Kesha’s raw and emotional performance of “Praying” felt oddly juxtaposed with that of Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito.” A publicly known victim of sexual assault, Kesha singing with other female singers all in white was empowering and on par with the #MeToo movement. Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee singing their hit surrounded by half naked women whose dancing was the equivalent of simulating sex on stage felt disgustingly tone deaf. Granted, the music industry is behind Hollywood in the #MeToo movement. Therefore it does not seem surprising that both the symbolic statements and the events themselves were so different from each other.
Sandwiched in the middle of these two events, the second annual Women’s March was an impressive physical act of protest. On its own the Women’s March in theory had the potential to be an isolated and therefore somewhat ineffective, one-time response to President Trump’s election. Yet that the following year brought out the same group of passionate, determined women to march across America proves that women are not backing down. Our fight is just beginning. Of course, the Women’s March is about all women, famous or not. Yet the presence of prominent actresses and singers at the marches is significant in further proving the significance of their visible contribution to the movement. The speeches they made, the poems they read, and their participation in general is crucial, for at the Women’s March, these women are not just appealing to the movement–they are committed to it.
Coupled with their red carpet outfits, their presence at the Women’s March proves the importance of protesting on a symbolic and physical level. These female celebrities therefore act as crucial role models within the movement: their actions clearly have helped perpetuate the success of #MeToo. With them we are taking real, productive steps.