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No, Who Are YOU Wearing?: How to Make Peace With The Sexism of Red Carpet Pre-Shows

No, Who Are YOU Wearing?: How to Make Peace With The Sexism of Red Carpet Pre-Shows

I’ve made my peace with pre-awards ceremony, red carpet arrival
shows.

It wasn’t that hard, really. As a film geek, TV junkie and pop culture consumer, I’ve been watching awards shows for years. Over the course of the last decade or so, I’ve tuned in a bit earlier every year to catch the pre-ceremony red carpet specials. But as a feminist I agreed with The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman, who said, “The red carpet is a strange zone in the western world, one utterly untouched by feminism. Somewhat less uniquely, it is a place where there is a tacit agreement that both celebrities and public are idiots and will be treated as such by entertainment journalists.”  

Now, having arrived at a point where I diligently switch back and forth between whatever host network’s official (more “classy”) red carpet show is airing and the E!’s loud, obnoxious fashion-fest, I feel wracked with guilt. How can I support a program that reduces talented women to pageant contestants? While both network and cable programs have their problems (sexism and lack of journalistic integrity, to name a few), the arrival shows, despite for the most part being mildly boring, usually end up providing some of most entertaining television of the night. I can’t help but love them. Where else could we watch Jennifer Lawrence express her intense desire for some McDonalds french fries, or exclaim, “Your ass is mine!” to Emma Stone? 

As Vox recently reported, red carpets aren’t a modern phenomenon, nor are they exclusive to the entertainment industry. Aeschylus’ tragic “Oresteia” series, originally performed in 458 B.C.E, features Clytemnestra laying a path of red tapestries to her door for the return of her husband, Agamemnon, from the Trojan War. Hollywood’s red carpet originated in 1922 at the Egyptian Theater’s premiere of “Robin Hood.” Throughout the years, the carpet has transformed into more of a fashion even that any runway show out there, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Fashion is just as valid an art form as filmmaking; as much creativity, ingenuity and skill go into making a gown worn on a single night as might go into a feature film. But let’s also be real, fashion isn’t permanent. What looked amazing in 1995 looks dated today. It’s sort of like watching “Man Men” over the years. Everyone “Oohed” and “Aahed” over the late ’50s/early ’60s style when the show began, but now that the series has hit the 1970s, everyone’s wincing at the mutton chops, plaid jackets and bell sleeves. Even red carpet looks that are considered timeless, like Audrey Hepburn in floral Givenchy or Grace Kelly in kelly green, will, in 100 years, be considered a period costume. Fashion is fun, fashion is creative, and as a creative person myself, I enjoy gushing at the fruits of someone else’s artistic labor.

Sure, we can’t ignore the sexism, but it’s a sexism that permeates the industry, not just red carpet shows. Women are the ones who are scrutinized for every detail and asked inane questions about diets and beauty regimens. They end up on worst dressed lists and get made fun of on the very network that asked them about their outfit. (Though, at this point having had Joan Rivers crack a joke about your dress is probably worn as a badge of honor.) As George Clooney said at the Golden Globes this year, “Guys just have it so much easier. It’s honestly not fair. Amal was looking at dresses last night, still trying to figure out what she was going to wear, and I was watching the football game. It was 2pm today and I was still watching a football game. It’s not fair to women at the awards shows. It’s nice—I’m wearing my wedding tux.”

At the 2014 Screen Actors Guild Awards, Cate Blanchett famously verbally challenged the cameraman, who scanned her from toe to top with his lens. “Do you do this to the guys?” she asked. While the camera guys shot back yes, everyone knows they don’t, yet as Blanchett went on to say, “Where else do you get the chance to dress up, except these things?” 

Honestly, the men should be jealous. No one cares what suits they’re wearing. Long gone are the
days when men wore high heels (sorry Tom Cruise) with calf-accentuating tights and were the fashion
icons of the day. And isn’t the red carpet a place where women can make up for a bit of the pay discrepancy in the industry? While men still make more than women in every field, A-List actresses who walk the red carpet are paid to wear what they do. Anne Hathaway was reportedly paid $75,000 to wear Tiffany & Co. when she hosted the Oscars. Gwyneth Paltrow got $500,000 from Louis Vuitton for sporting their jewels. Until the guys start sporting diamond baubles all over themselves (a proposal I’m kind of all for), this might be a fair way for these actresses to make up the loss of potentially being paid less than their male counterparts.

In fact, the complaints of sexism on the red carpet are beginning to flip the switch. A bit of a “Red Carpet Revolution” is underway, especially in the journalism industry (though one is accusing Ryan Seacrest or Giuliana Rancic of being credible journalists). Beginning at last year’s Golden Globes, co-host Amy Poehler suggested alternative questions for the usual “Who are you wearing?” nonsense and urged, through a Twitter hashtag, for red carpet journos to #AskHerMore. Elle Magazine has begun asking men the same inane questions that women get, and at last year’s Academy Awards, Buzzfeed asked Kevin Spacey about his mani-pedi. This kind of equality on the red carpet, as well as equality within the industry, is something to strive for, and until an actress can walk a red carpet without being asked about her diet, we have to keep fighting for it. Sure, ask her what she’s wearing, that designer and that seamstress (seamster?) worked hard too. But maybe save it for the end and #AskHerMore.

So we’re off to a good start, and as long as a balance is on the way to being found, I’m going to keep tuning in to these slightly mind-numbing pre-shows to see some great fashion, and maybe even catch some great moments like this one below: where Elisabeth Moss tells E! exactly how she feels about their asinine “Mani-Cam.” (Yeah that thing needs to go too.)

E!’s Red Carpet coverage probably begins at the crack of dawn on Sunday, February 22. ABC’s pre-show begins at 7pm ET/4pm PT, with the actual Academy Awards ceremony begins at 8:30 ET/5:30 PT.

READ MORE: 2015 Oscar Predictions

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