Celine and Kavanaugh: The Week That Failed Women and Ignited Rage

30.09.18

British GQ writer Lou Stoppard took to Twitter on Friday night to write, “What a day to present such a tone-deaf, ignorant, belligerent, narcissistic show.” Had that tweet been written a mere 24 hours earlier, you could be mistaken for thinking she was referring to the spectacle that gripped millions around the world, where Dr Christine Blasey Ford stood before the United States Senate to give sworn testimony that Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in 1982.

Instead Stoppard, of course, was talking about Hedi Slimane’s debut collection for Celine (yes, without the accent) at Paris Fashion Week. The male designer, who was last seen at Saint Laurent in 2016, sent 96 painfully thin, angry-looking models down a runway, 34 of which exited before a black model appeared, in sequins and pouf skirts and rigid dresses hiked high. It was the second event in the space of a week where women were publicly told by powerful men what kind of women they were and what should define them.

Fashion critic Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times, said of the show, “For those who feared that the days when Celine defined what it meant to be a smart, adult, self-sufficient, ambitious and elegantly neurotic woman were at an end – you were right.”  Business of Fashion’s Tim Blanks echoed her sentiment, “It was a horror movie.” For me, as I scrolled through images of these super short, 1980s, baby-doll prom dresses that barely covered the private parts that make us female, all I could think was: How is a woman supposed to curl her legs up on a sofa in a dress like that? How is she supposed to bend her left knee and pull it up to her chest affectionately? To wrap her hands around her calf and cradle it? How will she recline? Bend? In a Dress. Like. That?

I was reminded of the New York Times piece published after Phoebe Philo’s departure from the fashion house was announced, how it praised Philo for being “sensitively attuned to the ways in which women live their lives. It was like seeing yourself in mirror. One recognized oneself.” And now, from a visual assault in Paris to a physical assault in Washington, where Dr Christine Blasey Ford was questioned about the credibility of the way she lived, of the person she saw in the mirror, the timing and parallel’s were undeniable.

I know I wasn’t the only twenty-something who spent much of her Thursday glued to video footage and Twitter updates of the showdown between a Supreme Court Justice nominee and the accuser who stood in his way. Brett Kavanuagh and Dr Christine Blasey Ford gave conflicting testimonies of what occurred in 1982 to the same panel of people. Except where Ford saw a group of 11 white Republic men, Kavanaugh saw a group of his allies. Where Ford was brave and gentle, stoic and fragile, Kavanaugh was defensive, rude, arrogant and whiny. And when the Senate chose to look away, communities of woman around the world found solace in communal rage.

There are so many details etched in my mind; his face scrunching up in disgust, the endless sips of water he took when he needed to compose himself, the spitting, the interrupting. The unraveling. But it was the exchange Kavanaugh had with Senator Amy Klobuchar, when she questioned him about blackout drinking, that was a defining moment for me.  The Senator explained that she understood alcohol abuse because her father was a recovering alcoholic who still attends AA meetings at age 90. “Have you ever blacked out?” She asked. He sneered and smirked in response, “Hah. Have you?” It was a moment of singular cruelty and disrespect. It was a man telling a woman what type of woman she was.

This was a week that felt like a year.  A week that seemed to reaffirm that a woman’s dignity comes second to a man’s power. That a woman’s idea of who she is comes second to a man’s idea of who she is. We forget that it is not the job of men to decide if a woman is a muse or a victim or a promise or a punchline. Women are not symbols or boxes to tick or excuses or apologies. As we step into a new week, my hope for all of you (and for myself) is that you remember the kind of woman you are, and that you stand firm in that belief no matter what distasteful sequin dress or whiny, unraveling man stands in your path.


Header image by Holly Burgess for The Twenties Club