A few years ago, I attended a party at a nightclub in the meatpacking district of Manhattan with about 10 young women, most of them models, and two club promoters, men whose job was to bring beautiful women to exclusive parties. Beyoncé’s hit single “Run the World (Girls)” boomed, and the girls danced to the beat, singing, “Who run the world? Girls! Girls!” One promoter joined in, with his own twist on the chorus: “Who run the girls? Boys! Boys!” The men high-fived, and everyone laughed.
Many of the models who walked the Fashion Week runways this month in New York, London, Milan and, starting this week, Paris, are the same women who pass through these clubs. The fashion shows and the international circuit of V.I.P. parties — Miami in March, Cannes and St.-Tropez in May and July, August weekends in the Hamptons — serve as case studies in an old debate. Does the celebrated display of female beauty and sexuality empower or exploit women?
V.I.P. night life is an industry run by men, for men, and on women, who are ubiquitously called “girls.” The girls are brought in to attract big-spending clients from among the young global elite, willing to spend thousands of dollars on alcohol. Hence the V.I.P. party is sometimes half-jokingly described as “models and bottles.” The girls are seen as interchangeable; one club owner calls them “buffers” because rows of them frame his Instagram party pictures. They are recruited through friends of friends, scouted on the streets of SoHo, with its clusters of fashion agencies, or tracked down at model castings.
During the week I was a sociology professor. But during my weekends and summer vacations, I became one of these girls. In exchange for showing up at their parties, the promoters let me study them. I was what they call a “good civilian” — close enough in physique but not as valuable as a fashion model.
Girls rarely pay to be in V.I.P. nightclubs, but neither are they typically paid to be there, accepting instead gifts and perks like free drinks and even housing — no small thing for fashion’s underpaid work force. Clubs and promoters will pay to fly girls from New York to Miami, or from Prague to Cannes. Most girls don’t see promoters as exploitative, but as friends, something the promoters foster by treating them to lunch or games of bowling.
As anthropologists remind us, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Gifts are given with expectations of reciprocity. Friendships mask what would otherwise look ugly: the exchange of women’s bodies for money.
The promoters are handsomely paid, upward of $1,000 per night for those who regularly recruit high-fashion models. Girls also give the promoters access to powerful men, whom they often see as potential investors in their entrepreneurial dreams, which range from opening their own nightclubs to brokering business deals.
This is a system of trafficking in women. It is, of course, consensual, and a far cry from anything like sexual slavery. But, in an anthropological sense, it is not so different from the tribal kinship systems studied by Claude Lévi-Strauss, in which men exchanged women in order to forge alliances with other men, while women were cut out from the value that their own circulation generated.
Consider a contemporary example: Greek life on college campuses, where women circulate among fraternity parties. The best frat houses are those with the best-looking girls at their parties. In exchange, the girls get free beer. This system is not without risks. In a five-year study, the sociologists Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton found that working-class women who joined the frat scene faced greater risks of sexual assault and academic derailment. The more popular they were at frat parties, the worse their financial and professional futures looked.
Why do women consent to their own exploitation? Flattered egos, of course, play a role. When I interviewed a 21-year-old fashion merchandising student, she explained: “I love the whole aura in New York. I love the vibes. I love like, the exclusivity.” She was keenly aware of her value to her male friends in the night-life scene: “But I always wonder, if I wasn’t, you know, skinny, if I wasn’t attractive, would they really be friends with me? Probably not.”
Beneath the glamour is an unbalanced economy in which girls generate far greater profit for men than their free drinks are worth. A successful nightclub in New York City might make $15 million to $20 million a year.
In 2013, I spent a weekend in the Hamptons at a nine-bedroom mansion shared by a few Manhattan businessmen who aimed to host at least 20 models each weekend during the summer season. They called it “model camp.” That weekend, I attended a nightclub, a pool party and a house party hosted by the chief executive of a private equity firm. One of the men explained to me that girls were “currency,” assuring him a steady stream of invitations to exclusive parties and visits from important businesspeople.
I did meet some exceptional women who joined the party in search of opportunities, such as a 24-year-old model who was looking for an internship in finance through the connections she made in nightclubs. “If you have a head on your shoulders,” she told me, “it’s a great way to meet people who work a lot and have money.” Similarly, a 28-year-old marketing professional with an Ivy League education loved having the “most interesting, amazing conversations in the world” with politicians and venture capitalists at V.I.P. dinners. But while girls can certainly meet important people at these events, they are generally in a weaker position to leverage these connections.
The unequal ability of one person to capitalize on another is a classic case of exploitation. Imagine that the Hamptons businessmen hold meetings with the private equity C.E.O., in part because I softened their introduction. In two years, perhaps their investment fund will be cranking out profits, while I’ll be turning 36, and no longer welcome at the party. What may seem like an agreeable quid pro quo looks different in the long run, when women age out of the system without any returns on the time they invested. What’s really troubling is that no one even sees it as a lost investment, in part because it feels so good.
When it comes to women, popular culture confuses pleasure and power. Sure, girls may run the world, but men run the girls. And the girls don’t seem to mind all that much.
Why Alysia Montano wears a flower in her hair during every race.
Even though she grew up playing football, shooting hoops and running races against all the boys in her neighborhood, U.S. 800-meter champion Alysia Montano never wanted to be thought of as one of them.
As a result, she started wearing a flower behind her right ear to remind the boys they were getting beat by a girl.
The flower remains Montano’s trademark even though her opponents are now world-class female middle-distance runners.
"The flower to me means strength with femininity," Montano said in June after winning the 800 at the U.S. Olympic trials. "I think that a lot of people say things like you run like a girl. That doesn’t mean you have to run soft or you have to run dainty. It means that you’re strong."
this gives me life and inspires me to step up my lipstick game
Kerry Washington wants to keep the conversation about domestic violence going.
On Monday, the Emmy-nominated actress spoke out about an often-overlooked reason why women stay in abusive relationships: financial abuse.
"It’s the reason why so many people stay," she said in an interview with The Huffington Post. "That whole hashtag #WhyIStayed that happened last week, you saw how many of those responses were about feeling trapped financially.”
The “Scandal” star appeared at an event in New York as an ambassador for The Allstate Foundation, which runs an initiative called “Purple Purse” to raise awareness of domestic abuse. As the campaign’s spokeswoman, Washington designed a limited-edition purple purse to draw attention to the role of money in abusive relationships.
Financial abuse is a tactic often used by abusers to control and isolate their partners. It takes many forms: Abusers may drastically limit their victims’ access to cash so they have no money of their own if they want to flee. They may sabotage their victims’ ability to work, or pile up debt under their victims’ names. Experts cite financial abuse as one of the top reasons why many victims are unable to escape abusive relationships.
"I think people just aren’t as aware of financial abuse," Washington told HuffPost. "If a woman isn’t even aware of the dynamics of financial abuse — what it looks like, what it is — she may not even know that that’s part of the tools being used to control her and manipulate her and keep her trapped. When there is more information around it, people can begin to identify it and then get the help they need."
Washington said she loved designing the bag and hoped it would spur more conversations about domestic violence. "A purse is a powerful symbol," she said. "It’s where a woman’s economic power lives."
On “Scandal,” Washington plays Olivia Pope, a firebrand D.C. crisis handler with a team of “gladiators in suits.”
One of those gladiators, Abby Whelan, is a domestic violence survivor whom Pope helped rescue from her abusive husband in a subplot on the show. Washington said fans often approach actress Darby Stanchfield and thank her for not shying away from such a tough issue.
"We’ve actually been told that this season is going to be a really strong season for Abby’s character. I wonder if we’ll get to see more of how that dynamic played between them as friends, as Olivia stepped in to help get her out of that relationship," she said. "I’m very curious to see how that plays out."
Washington also released a PSA on financial abuse.
"Finances are almost always a weapon of choice," she says in the video. "Taking away access to cash, destroying credit, jeopardizing jobs — financial abuse leaves invisible bruises that can take decades to heal."
All proceeds from the initiative will go to domestic violence organizations nationwide to support their efforts helping survivors rebuild financial security.
*Visit purplepurse.com to donate and help survivors of domestic violence. By joining the challenge, you’ll also get the chance to win a purse designed by Kerry!
My brother sent me a picture of a few young girls protesting outside of Party City in Harlem, today. They want Princess Tiana back.
Amazing! “Kids don’t see racial differences.” “Tiana is available online only” You go girls!!!
"Representation doesn’t matter."
"Kids don’t see race."
These girls just proved you all wrong.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve been more or less glued to your computer or tablet device over the last nine days, trying to keep on top of what’s going down in Ferguson, Missouri. Since the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9, the city has descended into a cycle of upheaval. So what can you do to support Ferguson?
The unfolding situation has led to a deep sense of helplessness for many people — sympathetic observers of the plight of the Ferguson protesters, unsure what they can do to help. And indeed, it’s hard to know exactly how to lend your support — is there some place to donate? Some cause to get behind? A hashtag to Tweet?
At the end of the day, if the St. Louis-area forces descending on Ferguson aren’t proactive in addressing the outcry for justice, tensions are likely to remain high. Luckily, there are some things you can lend your name to, or some ways to contribute a little cash that can make a difference. Here are a handful of examples.
This has been swirling around since pretty early in the Ferguson fracas, launched by Los Angeles-based Shaun King, who’s been a tireless presence on social media throughout the protests. It currently has over 200,000 signatures, which is a healthy total, but far short of its goal of one million.
While it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether the petition’s call is worth supporting, I’ll say this much: The ideas contained make a lot of sense to me, and I think it’s worth the consideration of anyone concerned with police violence and misconduct, especially against minority populations. Its provisions are stated as follows:
1. The shooting and killing of an unarmed citizen who does not have an outstanding warrant for a violent crime should be a federal offense.
2. Choke holds and chest compressions by police (what the coroner lists as the official cause of death for Eric Garner) should be federally banned.
3. All police officers must wear forward-facing body cameras while on duty. They cost just $99 and are having a significant, positive impact in several cities around the United States and the world.
4. Suspensions for violations of any of the above offenses should be UNPAID.
5. Convictions for the above offenses should have their own set of mandatory minimum penalties. The men who killed Diallo, Bell, Grant, Carter, Garner, and others all walk free while over 1,000,000 non violent offenders are currently incarcerated in American prisons.
Not too bad, huh?
The children of Ferguson haven’t been shielded from the destabilizing impacts of the protests and police response. That was laid especially bare on Sunday, by images of a teargas-stricken child that lit up social media — in his post-curfew press conference, Capt. Ron Johnson wholly sidestepped a question on underage teargas victims.
While you may not be able to help as much as you’d like, there’s one easy way to make your dollars felt — donate to help keep the kids fed. As the effort’s creator Julianna Mendelsohn explains, the upheaval has resulted in public school cancellations, which leaves those kids who rely on their school lunches high and dry.
When I found out school had been canceled for several days as a result of the civil unrest, I immediately became worried for the students in households with food instability. Many children in the US eat their only meals of the day, breakfast and lunch, at school. With school out, kids are undoubtedly going hungry. ALL OF THIS MONEY WILL GO TO FEED KIDS IN FERGUSON. … Regardless of your opinion on the civil unrest in Ferguson, there is no need for innocent children to go hungry because of it.
The campaign has generated greater than $50,000 in donations to the Greater St. Louis Area Food Bank so far.
You can also decide to give some dollars directly to the grieving family that Michael Brown left behind. A GoFundMe page has been launched by the family’s legal representation, from the office of attorney Benjamin Crump, whose name you may recognize — he also represented the family of slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin last year. What will the money go towards?
The funds collected here will be used by the Brown family to cover funeral and burial expenses, travel and living expenses of the parents as they seek justice for their son, Michael Brown, Jr.
Becoming embroiled in a full-time, high-profile controversial incident like this isn’t easy on its own, much less when you’ve also had your son taken from you. The page has already netted greater than $67,000 for the Brown family in just four days, rapidly approaching its total goal of $80,000.
The folks with the National Lawyer’s Guild (NLG) have been maintaining a presence on the ground, offering legal support and oversight, but such a job is neither safe nor free — they’re accepting donations to keep a presence in Ferguson.
Having legal observers on the ground is pretty important in the interests of justice, as chaotic as the nights in Ferguson have routinely become. Any violations of protesters’ rights could easily go overlooked if there aren’t dedicated people following the action.
Some news junkies across the country have been dubious, to say the least, of some of the reporting coming out of the Ferguson area. This is understandable, given the tack the police have taken with journalists and protesters, and the manner in which they released troubling surveillance footage of Brown while withholding almost all information about his actual shooting.
Supporting independent media is a worthy cause in this regard, if you have any concerns about establishment bias in reporting from major outlets. You may not, to be fair, but many people (myself included, in the interests of full disclosure) do.
Berkeley-based independent black media outlet This Week in Blackness is a prominent example — founder Elon James White and company reported from Ferguson late last week, and the situation has remained so severe that they’re headed back out there Monday.
*This article was published last month. Please reblog with tips and updates.
WHEN PEOPLE SAY YOU HAVE PRIVILEGE THEY ARE NOT SAYING THAT YOU DON’T HAVE ANY PROBLEMS
THEY ARE SAYING YOU DO NOT HAVE THE SPECIFIC PROBLEMS THAT COME FROM OPPRESSION
THIS IS NOT A DIFFICULT CONCEPT
While feminists rushed to Jennifer Lawrence’s defense after this week’s leak of naked celebrity photos, an African American singer and actress went undefended because of her race. So goes the charge being leveled against “white feminists” and “mainstream feminism” on Twitter after naked selfies allegedly taken by Jill Scott went into circulation.
all the white feminists writing about jennifer lawrence, kate upton, m.e. winstead who haven’t said anything about jill scott… what’s up?
— Chareth Cutestory (@OTSWST) September 4, 2014
Sooooo Jennifer Lawrence nudes were leaked yesterday? But no one saw them…. Yet, Twitter still let “Twitter” circulate Jill Scott’s?
— Carrie Bradshaw (@Trap_Bunny) September 4, 2014
Scott said one of the photos was of her — and one was not — and offered an eloquent response on Twitter:
3) you are not a part of my village therefore making your attempt to harm me null. I’m not even delayed. Shame for spreading. Shame 4 adding
— Jill Scott (✔ @missjillscott) September 4, 2014
4) I love and appreciate my body. My style has always been graceful. Love Village I see you & feel you too. Thank you for being beautifully
— Jill Scott (✔ @missjillscott) September 4, 2014
But as Scott took the high road, the despicable comments her appearance elicited from Internet trolls were hard to ignore. Scott, after all, doesn’t look much like Lawrence, Kirsten Dunst and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Did her race and physique provoke a different reaction? “Unlike the seedy but flattering (if you can call perverse come-ons and sexual innuendo such) responses being tossed out in response to Jennifer Lawrence’s nude photos, Jill Scott’s photos were met with a barrage of cruel, body-shaming tweets,” Julie Sprankles wrote on She Knows. “Both women are talented. Both women are stunning. So what’s with the wildly dissimilar responses to these women’s photos? Is it due to their inherently different body types?”
More worrying than white feminism not riding for Jill Scott like they did for J-Law is the body-shaming comments from black men *and* women.
—HRH Gugu Mhlungu (@GugsM) September 4, 2014
Feminism’s racial divide is as old as the Combahee River Collective Statement — and perhaps dates back to Sojourner Truth. It’s a minefield.
“Black feminism is championing a more nuanced understanding of how oppression and privilege operate,” Lola Okolosie wrote in the Guardian earlier this year. “We, all of us, must understand that at the level of the individual, we can at differing points occupy positions of privilege.”
Whether one agrees with Okolosie or not, outrage over the purported lack of outrage on Scott’s behalf seems to have opened an old wound. “Although we as Black women have integrated into feminism, there does exist this fine invisible line made up of white privilege and the double-edged sword that still makes Black women somewhat of the secondary party,” Ariel Leconte wrote on Revolutionary in Pink Pumps. She added: “The Black woman’s body has never had any protection in society.”
I’m so in luv
The mothers of trayvon martin & sean bell meet mike brown’s mom for the first time. Totally touched my heart…
they need each other
Where are the notes.
I need to adopt this outlook
The Simpsons was the most honest show out there