Illustration by Annie Hobson

Written by Annie Hobson

Two incredibly powerful words that have aided the current global reckoning of sexual harassment and encouraged cultural conversation. It’s evident the profound effect this movement has had on society, the number of those speaking up on the issue continues to rise and the declaration for change is formidable.

The fashion industry, a business that is a victim of its own success, often associated with insecurity, exploitation and profit margins, remains to neglect ethical practices. Is the fashion industry yet to have its #MeToo moment? 

Why now?

“I’m fed up with it… What shocks me the most is the starlets who have taken 20 years to remember what happened.” – Karl Lagerfeld

The classic discourse received to campaigns such as #MeToo. It’s not a matter of ‘remembering’ what happened, impossible to forget, victims have to suffer and endure the trauma that comes from such an act. In terms of why now? Simply, there is strength in numbers.

“If you feel like you’re the only person who has experienced sexual violence, that can be incredibly isolating. If other people start to speak out, then that gives people more confidence and strength to say ‘me too’,” says Katy Day, a professor in psychology at Leeds Beckett university, who specialises in gender, sexuality and identity. 

Fourth-wave feminism

Online feminist activity has become closely associated with fourth-wave feminism, a phenomenon commencing on social media. Digital media has significantly accelerated the magnitude of the #MeToo movement, creating a transparent culture that doesn’t enable anything to be concealed: “It’s opened up new spaces for activism and debate, it’s enabled groups of feminists and individuals to connect to one another,” says Katy.

‘Sex sells’

There is a common trait in the representation of women within the sphere of visual culture: subjection to the male gaze. The fashion industry has been living by the mantra ‘sex sells’ for many years.

For an industry that is strongly based on one’s looks, it’s clear that some brands are aiming to appeal to the ideal self, but to enable monetisation, women have been hyper-sexualised. “I think the campaign is an example of women trying to pull back some power,” Katy says. “I do think it’s an example of resistance but I also think it’s a bit of a drop in the ocean, the problem is so wide scale.”

Where does the fashion industry go from here?

“I think the industry is problematic for a lot of different reasons,” says Katy. “It’s hard to see how they would do such a thing that is really effective, beyond a tokenistic way.” 

#MeToo is only the beginning, we want widespread, sustainable change. We are not just raising awareness, we are demanding modifications in law enforcement. There is a need to change people’s perception of the fashion industries role in the working environment and, most importantly, the manner in which women are stereotyped in society, in an attempt to bring this issue to a close.