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Why I Can’t Praise Blake Lively For Her Fashion Question Criticism

Okay, let me establish a few things before we begin. I completely support the #AskHerMore campaign, which demands that reporters ask female celebrities about more than how long it took them to get ready and what they’re wearing. It’s a simple, pro-active way to put pressure on the media to be more engaged and creative when reporting from the red carpet and should be applauded.

And secondly, I love Blake Lively – she’s got a wicked sense of humour, her Instagram is quality, and I desperately want her hair.

This week, Lively was honoured at Variety’s Power of Women event for her work combatting child pornography. Wearing a dark green jumpsuit and blazer by Brandon Maxwell on the red carpet, Blake was seen in a 7-second video (recorded by USA Today reporter Meave McDermott) responding to what McDermott says was a question “about fashion”.

According to McDermott, Blake retaliated, saying “Really? At this event, you’re asking me about my outfit? Seriously…Would you ask a man that? I’m here so we…become more aware, and that we change, and that we build (women up)”. As she began to move away, she follows it up with “So, you can ask me another question but…”.

Since then, my newsfeed has been littered with articles praising Blake for clapping back against this “ignorant and sexist question”. Marie Claire Vanity FairThe Independent, Refinery 29 and Stylist were just the first few that came up when I scrolled down.

However, this doesn’t sit quite right with me, partly because there is absolutely no context. We don’t even hear the original question, McDermott only said it was something about Blake’s “go-to power outfit”. We have no idea how long they spoke for, how many questions the reporter got in before getting to the “sexist” one. And this context matters because if the reporter dove straight in with that, then yes, he or she fully deserved to be femi-slapped for such an awkward, uncouth question. However, if they had a chat beforehand about Blake’s battle against child pornography and the other strong, powerful women also being honoured at the event, and then segwayed into her go-to power outfit? Well then I have no problem with that. I want to know what clothes make her feel like she can conquer the world.

What you wear and your style is so much more than simply ‘fashion’. Many women, myself included, will spend extra time in the morning choosing something they feel powerful in when they have a particularly stressful day ahead. It strengthens our own self-identity and gives us confidence and a sense of authority. Look at Hillary Clinton’s range of pant suits during the Presidential election last year – she wore one to both of the debates and for her concession speech on election night. And come on, that white pant suit for Trump’s inauguration? Fashion can transcend its functional purpose, it can be a statement, political or otherwise.

When discussing it last night, a friend (style blogger Cathy Carey, of The Well Loved Wardrobe) pointed to how Emma Watson has approached fashion on the red carpet. She selects eco-friendly brands like Stella McCartney and requests design houses to custom make dresses using certified organic, sustainably-sourced materials. Watson understands that clothing is not purely functional, it’s a representation of you as an individual and she uses it to further her environmental cause. Would it be considered inappropriate to ask her about what she chose to wear?

This isn’t to detract from the great work Lively has done. She was recognised on the night for her work against the sexual exploitation of children and gave a hard-hitting and sometimes graphic eight-minute speech on the topic, which you can, and should, watch here.

But as Emily Ratajkowski frequently argues, you can be sexy and still be a feminist. In the same vein, you can be a card-carrying feminist who supports #AskHerMore and still have an interest in fashion. And without any context to the video, it seems unfair to reach any kind of comprehensive conclusion, particularly if that conclusion is to vilify someone as “sexist” and “ignorant”.

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