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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 July 2018

Maybe the sisterhood does exist after all

For me, one of the best things about living in Dubai is how secure I feel – wherever I am, whatever the time of day

Meryl Streep joined forces with American activist Ai-jen Poo at this week's Golden Globes. Frederick M Brown / Getty Images
Meryl Streep joined forces with American activist Ai-jen Poo at this week's Golden Globes. Frederick M Brown / Getty Images

First off, #MeToo. It is startling, when you get down to it, how few women don’t have a story to contribute to this current debate. The levels of abuse and harassment vary widely, of course, but it is still all-too common for women all around the world to feel intimidated or unsafe.

The naysayers (I’m looking at you, Catherine Deneuve) can protest all they like, but this is a simple truth. For me, one of the best things about living in Dubai is how secure I feel – wherever I am, whatever the time of day. I can walk my dog in the park next to my house at 11 o’clock at night and feel entirely at ease. People bringing up daughters in the UAE will confirm that you can’t put a price on that.

The debate surrounding female empowerment was amplified ad infinitum this week, courtesy of the Golden Globe Awards. In the run up to the awards, 300 of Hollywood’s leading ladies launched #TimesUp, a coordinated effort to counter sexual harassment across various industries. As part of the initiative, actresses pledged to wear black to Sunday’s awards ceremony.

“For years, we’ve sold these awards shows as women, with our gowns and colours and our beautiful faces and our glamour,” Eva Longoria told the New York Times. “This time the industry can’t expect us to go up and twirl around. That’s not what this moment is about.” You go girl.

The morning after the show, I trawled through the pictures with a mounting sense of delight. That sea of black suggested that, on some level, the sisterhood does exist. In an increasingly disconnected world, here was a highly visual, tangible sense of solidarity – a manifestation of the groundswell behind the #MeToo movement. It may have just been dresses, but it was a start.

To the cynics: the all-black dress code might have been obvious social-media fodder, but we live in an increasingly visual world, where a picture on Instagram can speak a thousand words. The all-black red carpet raised other important questions about the objectification of women, and how our worth is all too often linked with how we look and what we wear.

Of course, seeing women elegantly swathed in layers of black is nothing new for people living in this part of the world – and Sunday’s style statement presented an interesting exercise in perception.

To those watching on, Alicia Vikander’s demure, buttoned-up Louis Vuitton gown will have been seen as a sign of empowerment; those same people may well look at an abaya and see a symbol of repression. Those of us who have lived here long enough probably know that such value judgements are not so easily drawn. If we were all a little less quick to judge women based on how they were dressed, the sisterhood might truly be in ascendance.

There are many who believe celebrities have no place in political or social discourse; that musicians and actors are paid to perform, not preach. I understand that in the case of #Times Up, there is a level of hypocrisy – many of these powerful, successful, privileged women will have turned a blind eye to the transgressions of Harvey Weinstein (and others like him) for decades. But the truth is that we live in a culture that is unfathomably celebrity focused and Hollywood stars hold incredible sway. Most little girls want to grow up to be Kim Kardashian, not Angela Merkel.

So if these highly paid actresses can use their power to help sell products, why shouldn’t they also use it to raise awareness of weightier issues? If they can start a conversation that leads to discussions about equal pay, where’s the problem? If change has to come from Hollywood, let it come from Hollywood. Just as long as it comes.

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Read more:

Celebrities should take a stand and we should push them to do so

Golden Globes awards put solidarity on the red carpet

Najwa Zebian: The Lebanese poet speaking up about the #MeToo movement

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Oprah hit the nail on the head as she became the first black woman ever to win the Cecil B DeMille lifetime achievement award. In a speech so moving it stole the show – and led to calls that she run for president – she highlighted how single moments and gestures can shape a little girl’s perceptions. She recalled sitting on the linoleum floor watching Sydney Poitier receive the best actor award at the 36th Academy Awards, and how that moment reshaped her view of what a black person could be.

There will have been many young girls watching on Sunday and if #TimesUp positively impacted their view of what it is to be a woman, then surely it is churlish to snipe?

It would have been great to see more men wade in. As far as I’m aware, none of the male awards recipients made any real comment on the subject. Donning a suave black tuxedo is not enough – if systemic change is going to occur, it has to be driven by both sexes.

Whether they know it or not, my brother and father are both feminists, by virtue of their value systems and how they treat the women around them. Feminism is, after all, just a part of humanism. My personal beliefs align with those of commentator and author Caitlin Moran in How to Be A Woman. I’m a feminist, but “I’m neither ‘pro-women’ nor ‘anti-men’. I’m just ‘Thumbs up for the six billion’.”