At this year’s Golden Globes, the red carpet was largely a sea of black. Many celebrities in attendance used fashion to protest the widespread sexual misconduct not only in Hollywood, but also other industries. Throughout the night, actresses dressed in black and donning pins — some with social justice activists by their sides — spoke out in solidarity with the #MeToo movement and the recently created Time’s Up initiative, which is providing legal support to victims of sexual abuse or harassment.
Though it’s not yet clear if the fashion protest will continue throughout awards season, it is picking up steam outside of Hollywood: This week, the Democratic Women’s Working Group (DWWG), which is made up of Democratic women in the U.S. House of Representatives, announced plans to wear black at the upcoming State of the Union on January 30, when Donald Trump will address all members of Congress. Representative Lois Frankel (D-FL), the chair of the DWWG, tells Teen Vogue that she expects all Democratic women (and some men) in Congress will wear black to the president’s address.
“When we saw the impact of the black that the activists, as well as the actresses, were wearing at the Golden Globes, we thought what we would do is...show solidarity with this movement across the country to try to end sexual harassment in the workplace, to promote equal opportunity in the workplace, [and] leadership for women,” Frankel says. “That is the movement that we support, and that’s why we picked black.”
Government, like Hollywood, has been experiencing its own reckoning, with an increasing number of victims coming forward and accusing politicians of sexual misconduct. “There’s no question that we have offenders on Capitol Hill, like in every industry,” Frankel says. “It’s sort of been like a dirty little secret.”
Of course, when it comes to one particular person in Washington, the allegations against him have been out in the open for quite some time: President Trump has been accused of sexual assault and harassment by at least 16 women. Frankel herself has been a part of the efforts to hold the president accountable, leading the DWWG in formally requesting a Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigation into the allegations. But while Frankel says she’s not giving up on those efforts, she also stresses that the State of the Union fashion decision is “not all about Trump” — or all about politicians, for that matter. After all, the issue of sexual harassment and abuse exists across all fields.
“I want to emphasize this: Wearing black is not about Donald Trump,” she says. “He’s about himself. We are about showing solidarity with a movement that’s much bigger than the president, and obviously he’s not the poster child for it.” She continues: “What we are concerned about…[are] ordinary folks, from waitresses who are being pinched and they need their tips so they don’t say anything, or hotel maids who are being attacked by guests. We’ve heard stories in the tech industry [and] from coal miners. There are so many stories out there of mistreatment in the workplace.... We want to hear from ordinary people in these industries. We want to hear from experts who can give us recommendations [on] how we can improve the law, and we want to try to do that on a bipartisan basis.”
This isn’t the first time female lawmakers have made a statement with their clothing choices. Last year, Democratic women wore white to Trump’s Congressional Address in a nod to the women’s suffrage movement of the 1920s. “The women, and also many of the men, wanted to be able to...make a respectful statement when the president spoke last year,” Frankel says. “There was so much agitation and worry, especially among women and women’s health issues. And we wore white sort of as a throwback to the suffragettes, as a statement to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to be here fighting and not allow any administration to take women backwards with all these hard-earned rights that we have fought for.’”
While these messages can be powerful, many people — including actress Rose McGowan, a leader of the #MeToo movement — have pointed out that fashion alone can’t (and won’t) fix the problems we’re facing. Frankel, for one, seems to understand that. She notes that they intend to hold hearings this year on “many of these issues,” which she hopes will be bipartisan. Addressing the problem in the government, specifically, Frankel says, “there will be legislation brought to the floor to improve the way we in the House...treat sexual harassment,” she says. That legislation was introduced on Thursday, January 18. The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act is a result of bipartisan efforts in the House of Representatives and aims to simplify the process of reporting sexual harassment on Capitol Hill, provide victims with more resources and rights, and provide more public transparency, according to NBC News. The bill is expected to easily pass the House, according to the report.
In the meantime, Frankel says she hopes that wearing black does send an important message to women everywhere. “I want [young women] to know that this is a new day,” she says. “We see so many courageous women coming forward today, and so our wearing black is...saying, ‘We’re with you. We’re not only with you; we want you to know that those of us who are in Congress and have the ability to try to do something about it, in terms of the law, that we’re going to try to do something about this. And our message to young women...is to let them know that when they have the courage to come forward, or the courage to resist, or the courage to persist, that we’re with them.”
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