TW: Sexual harassment/assault, victim shaming
In the weeks following The New York Times' investigation into decades of sexual misconduct allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, there has been an outpouring of victims of assault and harassment bravely coming forward with their own stories, online and IRL. The #metoo movement has seen women share their experiences in unprecedented numbers, and many of these whistleblowers even earned a spot in TIME's Person of the Year issue, honouring, "the silence breakers."
The fashion industry has had its fair share of shake-up's in the fallout from Weinstein as well; former model Cara Delevingne came forward with her incendiary stories of harassment and homophobia, Cameron Russell teamed up with whistleblowers on Instagram, and Condé Nast announced an end to all future work with fashion photographer and notorious creep Terry Richardson.
Like any social movement, however, there are many stories that have been overlooked, often due to the caliber and influence of the accused. 71 year old American photographer Bruce Weber was accused this week of sexual harassment by models Mark Ricketson and Jason Boyce (the latter has filed a lawsuit).
Boyce alleges that Weber forcibly made him get naked, masturbate, and touch both himself and the photographer during a shoot in 2014. Ricketson's story is similar.
Commenters on an Instagram post by Boyce corroborate the stories of Weber's unethical behaviour, with one commenter suggesting that another major photographer - "MT" (likely indicating Mario Testino) - may also have a reputation for the same kind of abusive behaviour.
What is particularly interesting is how notably silent the fashion industry has been in the wake of these allegations. Many blogs and independent publications have covered the story, but it remains unmentioned by several of the leading magazines that have worked with Weber in addition to platforms that have been vocal participants in the #metoo movement. The fashion industry's propensity for nepotism and protecting it's own is part of a long history in which abuse, discrimination, and unethical behaviour has been tolerated, ranging from the harassment of models, to the exploitation of unpaid interns, to poor labour conditions, and well-documented racism from executives, designers, and casting directors. Before Condé Nast banned him this fall, Terry Richardson had been accused of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen women for over a decade; even after the allegations went viral many years ago, celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé, and Lady Gaga continued to work with the controversial imagemaker. Likewise, despite being fined for racist, anti-Semitic comments in 2011, designer John Galliano continues to have a cult following, now the creative director at Maison Margiela.
More broadly, there is still a stigma affecting men who come forward with stories of sexual assault, despite the fact that 1 in 6 men will experience sexual violence in their lifetime (SACHA). Edie Campbell penned an open letter for WWD drawing attention to the complex sufferings of male models in particular, writing:
"The abuse can be perceived as emasculating, and then there is the delicate subject of homophobia. The global conversation about sexual abuse has been (possibly rightly) focused on female victims. The statistics add up. But when you zoom in on the fashion industry, I would assume that the numbers are much more evenly split between male and female victims. Within fashion, the discussion then becomes less about toxic masculinity and patriarchy, and more about abuse of power."
Campbell also makes a point of addressing how the industry's inaugurated "artist-geniuses" are allowed to act as they see fit, resulting in exploitation that goes unreported and unchecked. Terry Richardson may likely not have a career in fashion photography going forward, but as Campbell contends, along with the allegations against Weber and possibly Testino, the buck doesn't stop with him.
In our support for victims, we cannot be selective in who faces the consequences for their actions and who is allowed to continue unscathed and protected by talent or status; we should not - ever, ever, ever - try to rationalise sexual assault. Even as the entertainment industry has purged many of its top producers, hosts, and actors in the past month, "artist-geniuses" like Woody Allen have not faced significant fallout from the #metoo movement, as pointed out by his daughter Dylan Farrow in an open letter for the LA Times, in which she again accuses the director of molesting her as a child. Farrow points out that her story has been corroborated by eyewitnesses and has been known quite publicly for over 20 years, yet self-proclaimed feminist actresses and actors continue to work with Allen, regardless.
It is hypocritical to operate in a system that benefits from the empowering, believe-the-victim narrative of the #metoo wave, but also benefits from staying silent when that suits us instead. Bruce Weber was one of my favourite photographers.... was. Rumours have been circulating that Condé Nast is trying to quash a Weinstein follow-up piece in The New York Times about sexual abuse in the fashion industry, despite the magazines under its domain (Vogue, W, GQ) devoting dozens of articles and probably hundreds of click-bait tweets to victims' stories over the last month. The #metoo movement isn't really about "me" or "you" - it is about "us" and coalescing around the need to support victims of assault and better yet, prevent future abuse of power. And that requires holding each other accountable, all the way to the top.