When I was doing that research on underage models at NYFW, I remember reading—maybe in one of Mears’ works?—that researchers are speculating that the sexual assault of male models in the fashion industry is more prevalent than that of female models. This is something that wouldn’t surprise me but it’s also something which immediately makes me roll my eyes. (The old, “men would never admit to being raped! Therefore underreporting means that men probably get raped way more than women!” which, plz.) But some of the arguments are fair: male models do more of their work in commercial outlets as opposed to couture or fashion week, a venue which is significantly more regulated and therefore more likely to permit male models to grieve these problems publicly. And, you know: less often are male models 15-year old Estonian girls who don’t have any family in the country and can’t speak English, you know? Plus, as Ashley Mears argues really well, modeling is conceptualized by models as bodily, emotional labor which is the professionalization of performed gender: essentially, women models expect that sexual assault is part of their job, so they aren’t likely to report it as assault. That isn’t coded into the professional gender performance of male models.
But then, the conversation naturally becomes “more male models are assaulted in the fashion industry because the industry is dominated by gay men [and women, but usually people just talk about gay men].” To an extent, this is fair. I mean, the industry is dominated by gay men and women—at least as far as statistics go. But if there’s one thing I know, it’s that people outside of the fashion industry and fashion discourses love to blame fashion’s problems on the gays and the women. Everyone’s like, “this is corrupt! Galliano is a racist fuck! SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE LET THEM TAKE OVER?!”
To say that men are extra-likely to get raped just because they have gay bosses is basically to pathologize gayness, to portray every gay man into a deviant sex predator. You want to know about what happens when you have one heterosexual gender almost completely control an industry in which the labor is largely of the opposite gender? LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT LAW, AND MEDICINE, AND SERVICE, AND EDUCATION, AND ACADEMIA, AND DENTAL HYGIENE, AND wait, we’re not having that conversation. It’s only a cesspool once you put teh gays in charge!
The world at large loves to make misogyny, as it is magnified in fashion, a problem of homosexual male deviance and gay mens’ hatred of women rather than, like, regular misogyny that straight people and accountants also practice. Like, Karl Lagerfeld degraded fat women? Obviously it’s because he doesn’t understand the lovely sexual man-pleasing qualities of a properly proportioned lady of size six to eight! Because he is a GAY WOMAN-HATER.
If I hear one more professed feminist, especially, tell me about how Olivier Theyskens is trying to punish women with those dangling heels. Punish them for what? Punish them because they don’t want to have sex with them. "What can a gay man know," people always say, "about dressing a woman’s body? They don’t find a woman sexy! How can you possibly ever think about clothes if you aren’t thinking about how they are going to achieve heteronormative sex for you??”
As an aside, and I’ve said this before, that is what I love about fashion. And our moms will never understand, and our sassy bodycon friends will never understand, and CNN will never understand, and Gloria Steinem will never understand, and bad boyfriends will never understand, people they won’t understand, your grandsons they won’t understand. There is no one I trust more to dress me than a person who doesn’t frame the world in terms of “who would like to have sex with me [object]” as opposed to “where I [subject] want to find myself in the world.” And can we have a moment for Lee McQueen, amirite? Can we talk about Rei?
But then I thought about where those Scary Predator Male Homosexuals are lurking in the fashion industry. And I thought about those places where those girls get touched and have to suck it up, and I think about those flashbulbs. Arguably the most unsafe place for a young model, male or female, is not in the showroom. It’s not on the runway in Armadillo heels. It might not even be on the streets of New York City all alone. It is, most likely, on set.
And (this is speculative, but), what is the most hetero-male dominated job in the fashion industry? (Outside of, you know, controlling the world and the corporations and things.) The photographers, natch. With those Scary Predator Straight Males.
I discussed this, I rattled off our token von Unwerths and considered the biggest names in fashion photography. Maybe I’m mistaken, maybe Uncle Terry straight male predator bulb is outshining everyone else’s, and frankly I’m not interested in speculating about the sexuality of Mario Testino. But I know Meisel is gay, and instinctively I was like, “and I think Juergen Teller is gay, too?” Which is a ridiculous thing to say, right? He’s married to a powerful art world woman. I’m sure my offhanded assumption was grounded mostly in Marc Jacobs Gayness Proximity, but I can’t ignore the fact that Juergen’s relationship to sexuality and his use of the male gaze (although not always unproblematic) is very, very different than, say the Terry Richardson Male Gaze®. Juergen Teller makes pictures of women where, when our moms see them on our wall, they say “that’s ugly! she doesn’t look like a girl! what is on her feet?? ” and that’s just fine with me. I don’t want to credit it to his sexuality (and hey! A straight dude who isn’t abusive and gross 100% of the time? WELL I NEVER), but I do want to say that there’s something to be said about carving out spaces wherein I’m not defined so strictly by who wants to have sex with my hotpants, you know? And, sors straighboys, but Mr. Richardson is not that.
But in the end, the world tells us we’ll only cure fashion’s misogyny if we kick out all those preying gay men. And see what happens when we let you guys have nice things, ladies and queer folks? You just get groped and have to walk around in heels all the time, and God knows that would never happen anywhere except the fashion world. That’ll learn ya!