All of these women are telling a vivid and powerful story — both verbally and visually — about this milestone, about this denouement to a case that sent the #MeToo movement crashing through the culture like a tsunami. In their collective and their individual style, the women on both sides are decrying victim-blaming, spotlighting their empowerment and making an argument for a global sisterhood. And, in the case of Rotunno: using those messages to swim against the tide of public opinion by offering her client a vigorous defense.
Society is just getting used to their stories, just now figuring out how to respond to them. Weinstein is weaving a tale, too. But his is a familiar one, an exasperating cliche.
Long before Weinstein became a social pariah, back when he was an influential movie mogul, he was a supremely unimpressive dresser — a man whose style might have best been described as a simmering state of dishevelment. Weinstein ambled through life with the air of someone who didn’t have to be tailored and snazzy because his clout gave him a pass for everything. He wasn’t quite sloppy; he simply dressed with a generous amount of disregard.
Now, stripped of the shiny patina of power, with an electronic monitoring device strapped to one ankle and a brace wrapped around the other, he shambles from his SUV to the courthouse steps bent over his metal walker. What was once read as self-entitled schlubbiness now reads as a different kind of caricature, that of a desperate man mincing his way toward his comeuppance.
Defendants regularly try to influence a jury, as well as the public, with their courtroom attire and demeanor. But the Weinstein trial has multiple levels of showmanship. It’s not just the defendant whose costuming is notable. The style of the women who support him and confront him stands apart, as well. They’re reeling off a narrative about control and power — one that is nuanced and varied and bold.
Rotunno is a Chicago-based attorney who has established a reputation for defending men accused of sexual misconduct. She believes they have a right to a defense. She believes that being a woman helps her in these cases because it allows her to question accusers aggressively without coming across as vicious. And she dresses in a manner that declares traditional femininity an advantage. Does that means she’s exploiting her gender? No more than a man does.
Rotunno takes control of the social presumptions and prejudices about women and uses them to her advantage. She walks into the courthouse in her figure-flattering dresses, slim coats and her high, narrow heels. She looks pretty — in the standard sense, in the familiar sense.
Rotunno turns the old female power-dressing template upside-down. Instead of the neutral, floppy-bowed blouse that was part of the “Dress for Success” mantras of the late 1970s, when professional women had to dress like men to get ahead, Rotunno wears the 21st-century version of that shirt — a red pussybow blouse. It’s not dour. It’s bright. It’s feminine. It’s in control.
Her aesthetic is relevant, which is to say that it looks of-the-moment and paints her as someone who is cosmopolitan. She looks tough but not unyielding. Strong but not overbearing. Single-minded but not inhumane. Rotunno makes a visual argument that an unabashedly female aesthetic can be the default definition of bulldog ferocity. Rotunno dresses to convey power but also in a way that is bluntly female. Her style equates the two.
Rotunno has argued in interviews that women have agency and with that comes responsibility, that the women who have accused Weinstein were not powerless. The feminine is mighty. Her style is potent.
The protesters wear red, as well. Weinstein’s antagonists have said the color symbolizes how they are reclaiming their power, which is to say that they believe it was lost or stolen. Outside the courthouse, their red coats combined to create the impression of a roaring fire in a grim, gray canyon.
The lawyer Gloria Allred was in red, too. Allred works with multiple Weinstein accusers. She is the publicity-seeking advocate, the attorney who walks her clients by the hand, like a protective mother hen, in front of the media, who leans into a microphone to declare her legal intentions and who understands that sometimes the impact of a visual statement is far more memorable than a verbal one.
Rose McGowan, the accuser who often seemed dangerously close to being engulfed by her own rage, wore a pink trapper hat. Its plush fur framed her face. Not so long ago, a fuzzy pink hat might have been seen as a sweetly feminine aesthetic gesture. But this is the age of pink pussy hats. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reclaimed the speaker’s gavel wardrobed in fuchsia. Rotunno wore a hot pink coat to fight for her client. This is the era of power pink. The question is whether the color has suddenly been imbued with potent swagger or if women have only just recognized what has always been true.
Women in red and black — with strips of black netting, alluding to blindfolds, tied across their eyes — flash-mobbed the courthouse Friday. Inspired by a Chilean feminist art collective, they chanted at Weinstein, “The rapist is you.” Their clothes and their words linked the events unfolding in New York to the struggles of women in South America, India and elsewhere. Their blindfolds recalled the Chilean human rights protesters who have been partially blinded by rubber bullets fired by police and soldiers.
Women are using attire to declare their solidarity, to underscore their righteous outrage, to signify their personal agency. Weinstein is the washed-out man in black and shades of gray. He shuffles into the courthouse in the shadow of Rotunno. She waits for him. But she doesn’t usher him in. She’s a power player, not a helpmate. Not a coddler.
The protesters are a red-hot firestorm. Rotunno may shield Weinstein from being fully engulfed. But he is already the color of ash.
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