Activism is the New Black

Activism is the New Black

I’m not big on awards shows or red carpet frippery. I like a pretty dress as much as the next person, but I grow bored by long discussions of hemlines or necklines or jewelry. All of this is to say that I didn’t see much of the Golden Globes broadcast this weekend, though I later read Oprah’s speech and saw a clip of Natalie Portman delivering her dead perfect “all-male nominees” stab while presenting the Best Director category.

I don’t live in a cave, so I’d already heard about the black dress movement. I know some people were worried the red carpet would be too somber if everyone wore black, but I’ll bet it was as glamorous and fashionable as ever. Let’s face it, black is not exactly a radical choice for an evening gown. I get the symbolism, but plenty of women opt to wear black dresses at formal events without making a political statement. If the actresses wanted to show solidarity with ordinary working women, they should have worn off-the-rack department store dresses with no alterations. They should have done their own hair and makeup.

I’m not trying to diminish the people who participated in the red carpet black out. Symbolism matters and I respect the women of Hollywood for raising their voices by muting their fashion. It was a small gesture to raise awareness of a serious issue. The Time’s Up campaign is not about fashion. The crux of the campaign is a legal defense fund established to support low-income women who have been victims of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. It’s about changing the laws to punish companies that allow ongoing harassment. It’s about making sure women have an equal voice at the table where the decisions are made. I hope the campaign becomes a greater part of our national conversation, no matter what the women of Hollywood are wearing. With people like Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon and Shonda Rhimes amplifying the issue with their powerful (and badass) voices, we have a shot. But it doesn’t matter what these women wear; what matters is that they remember to listen.

We need to do a better job of listening to the woman who buys her lipstick (or chapstick) at the drugstore, who does her own manicure with a pair of nail clippers, and who buys her clothes at the discount store. We need to make sure that woman is free to speak up in her own workplace. We need to make sure that woman has the resources to fight back and take control. We need to make sure that woman has job security and a solid support system. I know that’s the point of this movement, but I’m hoping we don’t lose our way while wandering around the red carpet. Because when an actress wins an award, an actress wins an award. When that women wins power, we all win.

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Tiffany Quay Tyson

THE PAST IS NEVER is the winner of the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction, the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction, and the Mississippi Author Award for Adult Fiction (selected by the Mississippi Library Association). This southern gothic novel steeped in local lore was selected as an "Okra Pick" by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. Tyson's debut novel THREE RIVERS was a finalist for both the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction and the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction. She was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi and now lives, writes, and teaches in Denver, Colorado.
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