Title: “The History of Change is Filled with Clothes”
“A woman must not accept; she must challenge. She must not be awed by that which has been built up around her; she must reverence that woman in her which struggles for expression.” – Margaret Sanger
Equality is more than the right to vote, and last year’s protests on the red carpet were the start of a new revolution. From the Suffragettes to Nasty Woman, over the centuries, people have banded together to demand change and show solidarity through clothing. Whether it is a movement, protest, initiative or collaboration, clothing can help tell a story. In this case, shine a light on harassment, abuse and oppressive behavior in the workplace.
Women are fed up! The criminal acts and sadly, well known sexual misconduct of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer, Louis CK, Al Franken, and countless others prompted a call for justice. Several A-list actresses leveraged their celebrity and raised their collective “voice” to demand change through their Time’s Up initiative, sending a powerful message that abuse of power would no longer be tolerated. Following “the honorable tradition set over a century ago by the suffragettes, who harnessed fashion, and the meaning of color as a method of communication,” Golden Globes attendees wore black as a message of hope and solidarity to victims. (Mower, 2018) In this instance, they chose the color black to symbolize unity and serve as a color of collaboration rather than one of mourning.
It’s interesting, an article of clothing on the surface seems innocuous but paired with a message, it is seen as hope, unity and cause for change. Choosing an easily accessible color brought the protest to the mainstream and it became a movement that extended beyond the awards shows. Whether individuals marched, watched from home or followed along on social media, they could join the cause. And they did! Women around the world donned black as a symbol of solidarity and a call for action. Seeing that they were not alone, individuals – both men and women – were inspired to come forward.
Protest clothing shows numbers and has proven successful in becoming a symbol of strength and resistance. Most important, it introduces a new perspective which has the power to unify and energize the masses. When Amelia Bloomer challenged the ideas of what a woman should be and wore pants, people “worried that the lack of hoop skirts would lead to the usurpation of the rights of man”. Pants then became a symbol of the women’s rights movement. The suffragette colors of purple, green and white were worn by women to identify themselves as supporters of the cause outside of rallies. (Komar, 2018) More than visually identifying supporters, protest clothing sparks conversations while also allowing people to support it even if they don’t want to talk about it.
The protests were a reminder of the many strong women before us who had the courage to stand up visually and fight for justice. Suffrage leaders, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott would have embraced Time’s Up show of strength and resistance. We are now in the second phase of the suffrage movement. Hillary Clinton said it best with her statement that “the rights of women and girls is the unfinished business of the 21st Century.” In this instance, wearing black helped spread a message of hope and showed resistance. It worked. The show of support gave women courage to come forward and tell their stories. “Shining a light on harassment has forged a community where women feel authorized to raise their voices in ways they never have before,” said Rachel Simmons a leading expert on girls’ empowerment. (Wallace, 2018)
Whether a person agrees with the movement or not, it is important for people to see. Most important is that conversations are occurring. The message was received and ordinary people ran with it. Sanyin Siang, a coach and adviser to chief executive officers recently said that “one of the wonderful upshots of the sexual harassment allegations is a greater sense of psychological security in the workplace.” (Wallace, 2018)
The movement and protests have also highlighted the work that still needs to be done. The unifying factor of the protest served as a wake-up call to our leaders in government, industry and business that “time’s up for pay inequality, time’s up for discrimination, time’s up for harassment of any kind, and time’s up for the abuse of power.” (Monae, 2018)