For those who are unfamiliar, The Met Gala, formally known as the Costume Institute Gala, is an annual fundraising event which benefits the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York City. The gala serves as a grand opening for the annual fashion exhibit curated by the institute. Basically, it is the fashion industry’s equivalent to The Oscars and is known for its extravagant themes, where high-profile Hollywood celebrities, models, and designers showcase themselves and grapple for media attention. In recent years, The Met Gala has served as a platform for social activism where celebrities are using fashion as the medium to send their message. So what does that mean exactly? These high-profile attendees are using their clothes, in conjunction with the vast press coverage of the event, to make a statement and spark conversation. The shift that can be seen in celebrities using The Met Gala for social justice can be attributed to the fact that in today’s society it is trendy to participate in activism and seem ‘woke’. Celebrities care less about “looking hot” on the red carpet but rather want to look like they care and are active participants in social change. But that’s just the thing. They want to “look” like they care, but do they actually care?
This year’s Met Gala theme was ‘America: A Lexicon of Fashion’, and given the country’s current political and social climate, there were many noteworthy and controversial outfits dawning on the red carpet. Among all of the looks, there is one in particular that I think missed the mark big time. And no, I’m surprisingly NOT talking about Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s ‘Tax the Rich’ gown. I am talking about British model Cara Delevingne’s bulletproof ‘Peg the Patriarchy’ vest designed by Dior. While her look was praised for it’s nods to female empowerment, both the model and designer fall short in their sentiment as they fail to recognize Luna Matatas, the queer woman of color who coined the phrase ‘Peg the Patriarchy’ in 2015 [and trademarked it in 2018].
In this red carpet interview with Delevingne and Keke Palmer, when asked about the statement written across her chest and how it ties into the theme of the event she states, “If anyone doesn’t know what this one is you’re gonna have to look it up because I’m not gonna explain it right now… but ‘Peg the Patriarchy’ is about women empowerment, women equality, gender equality, you know it’s a bit like ‘stick it to the man'”. Not once does she mention Matatas herself, or the origins and true meaning behind the phrase, but rather assigns her own meaning to it. As a white woman with the privilege and platform that Delevingne has, she should have taken this opportunity to educate people and speak on the feminist issues in which ‘Peg the Patriarchy’ encapsulates instead of minimizing the message and pinning it as just another way to say “stick it to the man” [which often connotes acts of violence or vandalism]. Since The Met Gala took place on September 13, neither Delevingne nor Dior have spoken out regarding their use of ‘Peg the Patriarchy’. The continued lack of accreditation to Luna Matatas for use of the phrase perpetuates the idea of ‘white feminism’ and ‘performative activism’ as she is acting in a way that not only does not support all women, but actually erases the identity of Matatas and her brand’s fight for queer, women of color to be included in conversations about feminism, equality, and sex education. Essentially her actions may have intended to ignite meaningful conversation about social change, but miss the mark as they are made directly at the expense of a marginalized individual.
Now, to give credit where credit is truly due, let me explain to you a bit more about Luna Matatas and how her ‘Peg the Patriarchy’ movement started. To begin, Matatas is a Toronto based sex educator who teaches sex and pleasure workshops aimed to help people build better relationships with their bodies. The movement was started around five years ago when Matatas began having conversations with individuals in her classes about how the patriarchy affects their sexuality and sexual well-being. Matatas states how it [these conversations and the phrase itself] became a way of connecting with people and combining the messages of equality and sex ed together. In a blog post written by Matatas herself responding to the use of her phrase without her permission she states
“‘Peg the Patriarchy’ is about subversion, not about an anal sex act and not about men. It’s a metaphor for subverting the system that requires subservience within a gender binary”.Luna Matatas
With the ‘Peg the Patriarchy’ movement, Matatas ultimately fights for the addition of intersectionality to feminism. By recognizing and understanding the intended meaning behind this phrase as well as its origins, in comparison to how Delevingne portrayed the message, it is easy to see how sentiments change meaning when they are appropriated by white women. And to sum it all up, Ms Luna Matatas says it best herself….
“Privilege matters in the ways we take up space, do activism, and are perceived. Cara coming in with a lot of social power, but using it to appropriate my work instead of lift it up, is nothing new from white feminism”.Luna Matatas