Hey, don’t call models floozies!
Oliver Heath looks at the culture of accepted sexism that was illustrated by his experiences at Fashion Week:
I love making fashion videos. Occasionally it’s avant garde, but mostly it’s like being at a pretty friend’s birthday; you’re happy it’s a party for one of your BFFs, but if it was your party there’d be more whisky and rock n’ roll and less chiffon and makeup samples. It reminds me of playing dress ups with my sister as a kid. Good for brownie points with Mum (if Mum’s the strange god that occasionally pays me to make music videos).
It’s fun. It’s girl fun, but that’s ok. I love girls, not just in a sexytimes way, but also in the ‘I’m happy they exist’ kind of way. So I’m happy to make them happy. Yes, I got called a fag a lot in high school. But imagine how smelly and crap the world would be if it was just dudes? Clearly I’m rose hued about women. My point is the most I expect from Fashion Week is a pretty great job, money, job satisfaction and an ice-cream for playing nice… not some backstage orgy.
In the aftermath of Fashion Week I came home to an unexpected party. Not a fashion party, those are very expected parties. This was a stoop party. Tired, but not wanting to be a grouch, I showed a young dude a backstage photo of photographer Sunny Vandevelde (below). It was from a camera meant to capture the girls as they came off stage but the best thing it caught was definitely the hirsute camera wizard making a face for my benefit. I told him I wasn’t ever really sure how to cut it with the front of house angles so it wasn’t really a loss. The young dude suggested I leave it stand alone as a single shot and call it, “backstage floozy cam”.
I wouldn’t describe this guy as misogynist or even sexist. I doubt anyone would. His statement reflects more of a general attitude where we feel entitled to comment on models because they put themselves in the spotlight and thus cease to be people. Is that any different to someone else being nice to their female friends, but screaming slut at other women from their car? Yes, sort of, but some of the similarities are important.
In an attempt to brush it off, I replied that “I don’t really think that’s a culturally relevant term.”
I said, “I’m not going to essentially call a bunch of really young girls I don’t know sluts,” (I reserve that for girls that I like, just tonight I complimented a friend on how slutty her top was).
He said, “Aren’t they?”
I said, “No they’re a bunch of young girls. Have you met many models?”
He said, “No”.
Slut: A slovenly or promiscuous woman.
It was no different to a million other mildly offensive drunk conversations, but it got me thinking. I can imagine the objection: “Dude, that’s not what I meant,” but it’s not like he back-peddled when I called him on it.
He’s hardly alone in this attitude. We say things that reveal prejudices we perhaps don’t realise we have. Hopefully we acknowledge them, grow, and move on. You stop calling your sister fat because she won’t let you eat all the cookies, stop using fag and gay as pejoratives, you become aware of context. Aim higher, raise the tone. It was recently pointed out to me that “Tranny” is often employed as a hate term, I hadn’t given it any thought before, so I was glad it was pointed out to me. Shit, some of the things that came out of my mouth at times that I thought were clever were just puerile and prejudiced. But it’s particularly rough when it’s aimed at young people. Like I said, I was called fag a lot in high school.
It’s not more sophisticated saying it about a model rather than yelling it out of a car at a girl in a fabulous outfit. Less physical threat, but they both contribute to a culture of acceptable sexism. Neither the floozy man nor the guy yelling from a car have any expectation that they are going to ingratiate themselves with girls. They are declaring that something they might otherwise find attractive is tainted and therefore beneath their respect. Perhaps in this case it was more directed at me and what was perceived as a brag, but I did show a photo of a beardy guy, not a bunch of girls in various states of undress.
A woman listening to this exchange said that modelling was way more predatory than that and asked if I would put an imagined daughter into the job?
I said, “It depends”.
She said I know what the industry is like, “So… depends on what?”
“On what my daughter was like.”
She said, “She’d be your daughter, I’m asking what you’d be like about it”.
I said, “No, it would depend on what her character was like, what her agency was like and what kind of work she was being offered”.
Besides, If my imagined daughter was anything like my sisters then she’ll find trouble whether or not I let her model anyway. I hope that I’d have a daughter perceptive enough to navigate the industry if that’s what she wanted. It’s not all about parties, it’s about the perception of parties happening, because that’s what’s profitable. Lots of people in the industry go to great lengths to make it an environment where people can make money, that is after all the point (oh and clothes).
Some of these models are still schoolgirls. The modelling unfortunately makes that invisible to some people. Yes they model adult clothing, yes the context is adult, but so are we, and they are still girls. They have stars in their eyes. It’s up to us to raise the tone.
I was talking at the Fashion Week VIP bar with one of the more established, well-known models. She managed to describe herself as “unconventional looking” and thus having to work harder. I though it was a good humble brag, but conventional or not, she’s drop-dead gorgeous. So I’m at the VIP bar talking to the most beautiful woman at Fashion Week (not so humble brag) and the subject moves onto young girls and how they get caught up in the nonsense. I said that I remembered being at a casting where I would have preferred if the girls had been older. You know you’re in trouble when 19 seems older. The question came up from the art director, “Is it going to be a problem showing nipples if the girl is underage? You know, in an arty way?”
I recounted this, and she aptly put it that we’re sexualising girls before they’ve been sexual. That they should have had sex before they do that kind of stuff because otherwise in a strange way that becomes an early sexual experience. Nudity isn’t sexual per se. I’d be the first to defend Bill Henson’s art as a comment on the sexual gaze, rather than something sexual in itself. Who knows? Who cares? None of our business. It was just the backstage model cam.
Calling all models ‘floozies’ is the same as calling a bunch of girls in short skirts ‘sluts‘. At its extreme, this kind of behaviour winds up with places where women feel compelled to cover up. Call me a perv, but I really don’t want that.
So what’s my lingering hypocricy? Well, clearly I tend to imagine women as maidens, and disguise sexism as gallantry. I acknowledge your objection if you find this to be all a sexist position in itself – boring hetero-normative paternalistic fantasy – I do wear a lot of cowboy hats. So it’s hardly surprising. But that’s another discussion. Today we’re defending their honour. Tomorrow they can slap me and tell me they can do it themselves. Then I’d get to sit back and I’d get smacks from beautiful girls, while they Take Care of Business. I don’t see any way that this isn’t a win.