In the wake of Terry Richardson’s long overdue fall from grace this week, there’s a Daily Beast article that’s been doing the rounds online. Beneath a lurid image of Lady Gaga cuddling up to the once renowned – now infamous – fashion photographer, her glossed mouth seductively open, sandwiched between overlays of Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé like grinning, complicit bookends, the headline casts its net. “Terry Richardson’s A-List ‘Feminist’ Enablers: Lady Gaga, Beyonce and More” it reads.
“The renowned fashion photographer has long stood accused of sexual misconduct,” the article rightly points out before re-routing us down a well-worn road that leads only to depressingly familiar territory. The recipients of their moral outrage? “Yet scores of celebrity women in particular have continued to prop up his brand.”
I use the word “depressing” because we have been here before. We have been here so many times, in fact, that I could sing you the lines like a tired and outdated chorus. We were here last week when the Harvey Weinstein scandal twisted and turned at such breakneck speed that it mowed down female A-listers like inevitable road kill. “These women aren’t responsible for Harvey Weinstein’s actions,” my colleague Emily Baker wrote in a Pool news story that drew our attention to a double page Daily Mail spread that printed a dizzying array of “so many leading ladies” cuddling up to the Hollywoody mogul. So many, in fact, that one would be forgiven for concluding that an all-female conspiracy of collaborators had masterminded the decades of abuse that had plagued – not only countless of their female contemporaries’ lives – but their own careers, too. When it comes to the blame game, women are still being held accountable for a systemic problem that goes beyond which woman said what; why; and when.
Perhaps it’s easier to denounce the women who have visibly surrounded and professionally collaborated with Terry Richardson. It’s a much quicker, far simpler process to name and shame a woman like Kim Kardashian for posing for a Richardson photoshoot (published by The Sunday Times in 2010) than it is to question the industries that not only enabled this photoshoot to occur, but for its photographer to be handsomely paid to click his camera.
When it comes to the blame game, women are still being held accountable for a systemic problem that goes beyond which woman said what; why; and when
You don’t need me to point out that the fashion and media industries have played an active role in Richardson’s long reign. As Caryn Franklin underlined in her piece for The Pool this week, they’ve been complicit for years, despite repeated outside efforts by individuals (such as Franklin) to raise awareness and challenge his alleged abuse. To add insult to injury, despite the fact that Richardson has now been called out, the spotlight still seems to be focused on what The Daily Beast calls “so-called feminists” as opposed to flawed systems that have allowed “so-called professionals” to abuse their power for so long. But systems and structures don’t sell tabloids – or generate clicks. Scantily-clad women do.
Which isn’t to say that A-listers like Kim Kardashian aren’t innocent of accountability simply because they happen to be women. Their silence contributed to a collective impassivity that has indulged men like Richardson to act with impunity for decades. Am I disappointed that Lady Gaga – a vocal advocate against sexual violence – collaborated with both Terry Richardson and R. Kelly (who, lest we forget, has also been accused of abuse by numerous women) to make a 2014 music video that never saw the light of day? You betcha. Have I therefore concluded that “celebrity women in particular” propped up alleged abuse? I honestly don’t understand how anyone could make that leap. Forget my own personal opinion: if we’re going to demand that women take the largest portion of blame, where’s the proof? Your honour, show me the evidence. Give me facts.
The antidote to widespread, systemic misogyny and occupational sexism cannot be created at the expense of women themselves. I refuse to accept that women-shaming is an inevitable by-product of media analysis, in the same way that I refuse to accept that sexual harassment is an inevitable part of a working woman’s day. Over 5,000 miles away from Hollywood, this is the everyday reality we’re dealing with: a survey, published today, revealed that inappropriate “banter” and touching is experienced by half of women in the UK alone.
It’s time we called it out without implicating women as sole enablers. We cannot allow this rolling, multi-faceted story to be simplified this way.