It’s been labelled a ‘furore’ but a supposed controversy about Jennifer Lawrence in a skimpy dress on a cold day is the very definition of a storm in a B cup. J Law, who’s got more attitude in her little finger than most Hollywood starlets put together, was snapped at an event promoting her new film Red Sparrow along with four of her male co-stars.
The problem, according to writer Helen Lewis, who tweeted about the “quietly depressing” photo, was Jennifer’s attire – a full length black Versace number with a plunging front and strappy sandals. The men, it hardly needs to be said, were rather more suitably dressed for the cold weather in scarves, overcoats and chunky jumpers.
The “furore” caused by one tweet from a well-known left-wing feminist is something that could only happen in the days of Twitter. Lewis is a writer for the left-wing publication The New Statesman, which pre-social media would not have been on most people’s radar. It certainly wouldn’t have been on the radar of a Hollywood actress, nor would a column in it have merited acres of press coverage and a personal response from said actress. But that’s the world we live in now.
“Feminists” screamed the headlines “furious at J Law’s dress”.
I’m a feminist and I have no strong feelings on Jennifer’s dress, except that I don’t particularly like it. Is it worth freezing for? To me, no, but a nicer one might have been. And, while it may be a bit depressing, this is how publicity photos and photocall culture work. It’s not very imaginative, or progressive, and in that Lewis is spot on.
In Ireland, photocall culture tends to consist of a group of ‘Very Important Men’ and an inexplicable scantily clad model thrown in to make editors print the picture. All sorts of schemes from charity fundraisers to public service initiatives have been launched in this manner since time immemorial. And these, I do have a problem with, usually because the warmly dressed men are the ones with all the power, with long term salaries and pensionable jobs for whatever Very Important job has lead them to this photocall. The model, on the other hand, has been standing on Stephen’s Green for half the day in her knickers in close to sub zero temperatures for the sake of 200 quid and her ‘profile’. Now that’s what I call depressing.
It’s depressing, because power inequalities are depressing. In an era where we are talking about MeToo and TimesUp and working on equality for women in a meaningful way, examining the power dynamic is really important.
And in most photocalls featuring a group of men, fully clothed, and a scantily clad woman, there is a power imbalance.
In this one? I think Helen Lewis is calling it wrong. Yes, we are culturally conditioned to expect to see women wearing less, braving the cold, risking pneumonia, see it how you will. Yes, women’s fashion is impractical and often ridiculous, and if Lawrence was planning on walking across London in that dress and those shoes she’d have had a problem.
But she wasn’t. As she said herself in her response, she chose the dress. She loved the dress. She wanted to look good in the picture and she sure as hell wasn’t covering up a dress like that with a coat and scarf. And we all want to look good in pictures. For five minutes.
I think Lawrence is probably the kind of woman who went inside, threw on a hoodie on top of the dress and a pair of runners, and went about whatever business was going on once the boring business of taking photos was done.
We all do it. I despise high heels but I wear them when I’m on TV because they make an outfit look nicer. I put them on in the green room and take them off when I’m leaving the building in favour of my scruffy Chelsea boots, which actually allow me to walk around not looking like a just-born foal.
Lawrence is no wilting violet, and she’s no pushover. If she didn’t want to wear it, she was in the position to say no, and she is well able to do so. Suggesting otherwise is not just rather dismissive of her abilities, but rather insulting. As she said herself, this dress and everything you see her wear, is her own choice. Her body, her choice, as most feminists would agree.
From The Herald 22.02.18