Too much cleavage? How Oscar gowns sabotage MeToo

Taraji P. Henson at Oscars 2018

Too much cleavage? How Oscar gowns sabotage MeToo

News and Politics

Too much cleavage? How Oscar gowns sabotage MeToo

Editor’s Note: This column originally ran on To read the opposing point of view, click here

The Oscars and the Olympics showed the bone-deep challenges facing the MeToo and Time’s Up movements.

It’s hard to say this without being accused of blaming the victims.

But if we want to change how women are treated in our society, we’d better dare to ask uncomfortable questions.

What are the kids seeing?

Credit: Dan Macmedan/ USA TODAY

Today’s children will either perpetuate an unbalanced status quo or grow up to demand lasting changes in the male-female dynamic.

They will make their choices based on what they see, not what we say.

These days, what little boys and girls see undermines the long-overdue demand from MeToo that women be treated like human beings, not sexual objects.

It’s the clothes, Mama. It’s all about the clothes.

What were they thinking?

It is a wrap on #oscars2018.

A post shared by Ashley Judd (@ashley_judd) on

On Oscar night, Ashley Judd, Salma Hayek and Annabelle Sciorra offered plenty of cleavage to distract from their message that – as Judd put it – “changes . . . are being driven by the powerful sound of new voices . . . joining together in a mighty chorus that is finally saying time’s up.”

Ostensibly, time’s up on the Harvey Weinstein approach to exploiting women – all three are among his accusers.

They spoke to a friendly audience of the Hollywood glitterati who offered a show-and-tell of where we are as a society.

What do clothes have to do with it?

Credit: Dan Macmedan/USA TODAY

The women of the evening wore plunging necklines, thigh-high skirt slits. They did their best to attract attention based on their looks and sex appeal.

The full-coverage dress Frances McDormand wore to accept her best actress award for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” was the exception, and her celebration of women’s achievements and her call for more inclusion in film making were more impressive because she dared to be different.

Meanwhile, the men of the Oscars dressed to be respected in tailored clothes designed to show personal power.

If you watched the figure skating competition during the recent Winter Olympics, you saw the same thing. Women: skimpy outfits that drew attention to their bodies. Men: costumes that allowed the focus to remain on their athleticism.

Take a walk across a high school or college campus in spring and you’ll what young people have learned from Hollywood movies, music videos, sports, etc.

The entertainment moguls weren’t the first to decree that women’s role is to attract and men’s role is to ogle and exploit.

The problems it creates for women on a day-to-day basis are not new.

What’s Eve got to do with it?

The MeToo movement gained popularity by shining a light on real-life impacts of this perverse tradition.

But the light reflecting off all that cleavage tells a part of the story that we can’t ignore.

Nor should we take the easy way out with some lecture about how women need to watch how they dress.

That just buys into another old lie: The image of Eve as temptress and ruination of mankind was used for millennia to blame women for any bad behavior by men.

When I was in Catholic school, for example, the girls were told not to dress in a manner that would become “an occasion of sin” for men or boys.

In other words, if a boy or a man looked at one of us and had a lustful thought, it was our fault.

It was on this basis that my father told me “there is no such thing as rape.” The woman was always asking for it.

We have (mostly) (thankfully) moved beyond that.

Why do you dress that way?

Credit: Getty Images

Yet women need to think about why they dress the way they do.

For the women attending the Academy Awards ceremony, sexy clothes were expected. McDormand was the outlier. The brave one.

For women in general, wearing suggestive clothes can be an act of rebellion against such preposterous ideas as my father and the nuns perpetuated. In a civilized society, women should not have to hide to be safe.

But provocative clothing is also compelling evidence that too many women remain captive to the male-generated stereotypes about what gives them value as human beings.

The male entitlement model is endemic in entertainment, sports, business and politics. It won’t disappear because of a good scolding from beautiful women in tight, low-cut gowns.

It won’t go away if children grow up watching powerful, accomplished women expose their bodies while men claim the dignity of covering theirs.

Reach Linda Valdez at


How #MeToo dumbs down sexual harassment and hurts women

Let’s defend good men

Why women need to reclaim their breasts now


More All The Moms