Boycotting D&G is simply like batting a fly off a rotten industry. Photo: Getty
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Boycott Dolce & Gabbana? Since when did we look to fashion for any kind of moral integrity?

To those boycotting Dolce & Gabbana: are we really looking to an industry that uses child labour, torments women and ignores ethnic minorities to lead the fight for moral justice?

In a way, I’ve been boycotting Dolce & Gabbana my whole life. That’s to say, I’ve been boycotting that particular label, which flogs coats for upwards of £2,000, in the same way that I’ve been boycotting yachts, leopards and Fabergé eggs.

So this week’s call to arms for The Gays to boycott D&G, over Mr Dolce and Mr Gabbana’s curiously conservative stance on IVF and same-sex parents, wasn’t a big ask (for me, at least). My knowledge of high fashion extends as far as quite fancying Cara Delevingne, so I doubt I’d even know a D&G dress if it flapped me in the face with its exquisite satin hem.

But, for the likes of Elton John, who happens to have two children born via a surrogate mother and isn’t exactly un-fashiony, this boycott is something to be taken seriously. Well, depending on whether or not you believe those photos of him toting a Dolce & Gabbana bag a day after he inspired the #boycottDolceAndGabbana Twitter trend were, as his publicist has said, Photoshopped.

But back to the D&G design duo themselves. In an interview with an Italian magazine, the pair slated same-sex couples who adopt and called IVF children “synthetic”. There’s nothing quite like gay-bashing gays. Especially ones who work in an industry that’s, in spite of all other ethical foibles, pretty damn gay friendly (to men, at least).

The designers’ comments were heinous; about that I have no doubt. Like it or not, famous LGBT people have something of a duty to support their community, and backing the rights of same-sex parents is a huge part of that. And I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone for wanting to jump straight on the #boycottDolceAndGabbana bandwagon. At the same time, it strikes me as odd that we look to brands for any kind of moral integrity in the first place.

Fashion designers are good at clothes. That’s their job. Making the world a better place for women and ethnic minorities? Not so much. From Tommy Hilfiger allegedly saying that he didn’t want black or Asian people to buy his clothes, to John Galliano’s infamous antisemitic rant in 2011, making a list entitled “stupid shit fashionistas have said” would be piss easy.

Let’s just step back and take a look at the fashion industry as a whole. You can barely buy a pair of knickers on the high street without being safe in the knowledge that they were toiled over by an eleven-year-old in some distant corner of the developing world. You can’t open a fashion magazine without having female models’ unattainable figures thrust down your pupils. Several labels have been accused of failing to hire models from ethnic minorities. Are we really looking to an industry that uses child labour, torments women and ignores people of colour to lead the fight for social justice?

I’m not sure what those boycotting Dolce & Gabbana aim to achieve. Sure, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana could release some utterly disingenuous press release saying that they had “over-firmly denied”, to use Grant Shapps’s peculiar phrasing, the rights of same-sex parents. And that by “We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one”, they actually meant, “We are 100 per cent in favour of non-traditional families. Babies for everyone. Rainbows! Yay!” In which case, would it suddenly be OK to buy their clothes again? Would it not be more productive overall to use this whopper of a foot-in-mouth moment to open up a dialogue about why these guys are just a pair of thick, self-loathing dicks?

Well-off supporters of gay rights, by all means boycott Dolce & Gabbana. Just remember though that all you’re really doing is batting a fly off an industry that’s rotten to its core. 

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.