Women’s March 2018, Philadelphia. Photo: Rob Kall / flickr
So, Harvey Weinstein is heading to jail for 23 years. Bewilderment and “remorse” could not lighten, let alone cancel the gravity of his sexual sins against two women – representative of scores of others – who were beholden to him for jobs in Hollywood over several decades.
Like President Trump issuing his anti-coronavirus travel ban, Justice James A. Burke came down like a ton of bricks on the former Hollywood mogul to stop the plague of toxic masculinity. This is a sentence meant to appease the (female) public and warn “powerful men”.
Before entering an upstate New York prison, says the New York Times (on a page that includes two ads with women modelling bras), Weinstein will be sent to a correctional facility; then, shackled, brought to a processing centre where he will receive prison-issue clothing, may be required to shave his hair, and will get a shower and delousing treatment. How the mighty have fallen!
Meanwhile, in the chastened environment created by his trial and the #MeToo movement, women are donning sackcloth and anointing their heads with ashes to repel predatory men and show that their bodies are not for sale.
Well, not quite.
In another story The Times’s fashion director and chief fashion critic, Vanessa Friedman, describes a new ad campaign by a British Lingerie company that flaunts female sexuality in a style that seems designed to provoke lust in the male heart – and perhaps some female hearts as well.
Agent Provocateur (a carefully chosen name) launched its campaign, ironically, on International Women’s Day. Friedman writes:
“It features four high-achieving sportswomen, many of whom are also Olympians: the Canadian pole-vaulter Alysha Newman, the American climber Sasha DiGiulian, the British gymnast Georgia-Mae Fenton and the American hurdler and sprinter Queen Harrison Claye. And it features them in action — on the track, mid rock face, on the uneven bars — in underwear, though not perhaps the underwear you might expect.
“Instead of sports bras and leggings or briefs, they are wearing mostly push-up bras, lace and garter belts. Plus one filmy little robe, an elaborate gold chain and … it’s not exactly clear what. Looks kind of like a halter.”
“But wait — haven’t we moved past that?” she adds, as many of us would.
The creative director of Agent Provocateur, Sarah Shotton, has to explain to Friedman that this is, in fact, a leap forward for an industry that, as Friedman says elsewhere, has traded in “an old and objectifying idea of female beauty that is white, worked-out, boob-centric and essentially about naughty maid role play in the bedroom.” Think, Victoria’s Secret, with its pornographic ad stands confronting families in shopping malls.
According to Shotton, what her company is doing is truly woke. The goal of its ad campaign
“was ‘to hero’ a different kind of body. The sportswomen featured were given the choice of what they wanted to wear. And by wearing it in the context of their discipline, as opposed to the context of a runway show designed by men and largely attended by men, by doing it for a company run by women, in clothing designed by women, they are changing both the narrative and its authors.”
In other words, sprinting and hurdling in tiny pink undies that emphasize the power of your succulent haunches is perfectly fine if it’s women doing it to themselves and for themselves.
Queen Harrison Claye, the hurdler, tells Friedman that the brand celebrates both her strength and her femininity. Sasha DiGiulian, a climber who wears the halter thingy in the ad, says she takes into consideration how she might be “perceived” out in the world. “But I do not let it control my decision making. I felt very strongly about bringing to life my own power through these images.”
It’s a different “narrative”, you see. And if you don’t, it’s because of the weakness of your eyes, not because their narrative has lost the plot.
“We are all navigating what femininity means in a post-MeToo world,” Ms. Shotton said. “To define what it means to be a woman in the 2020s. It’s challenging for all of us.”
Friedman confirms that this is a theme across the fashion world this season.
Apparently, we are now witnessing third wave feminism embracing femininity. That would be welcome news except that, in the fashion world at least, it seems to boil down to shouting your bodily identity: your athletic body, your “plus-size” body, your coloured body, your pregnant body, (still) your emaciated body, and yes, your transsexual body. And all for your own sake, or perhaps to please the sisterhood, but certainly not for the “male gaze”.
Some of this may repel men. But ultimately what males see in fashion ads like those of Agent Provocateur (and advertising is indiscriminate regarding audience) is not female empowerment. They see women reducing themselves to sexually provocative strumpets. In other words, advertisers are whispering, “Really, guys, #MeToo never happened: women love objectifying themselves”.
Women have to reject this sort of tame pornography absolutely and emphatically.
It is delusional to think that flaunting yourself as a sexual object in a mirror is empowering, but flaunting yourself to the Harvey Weinsteins out there is not. Advertising like this will do nothing to increase respect for women or prevent sexual assault.
Harvey Weinstein is behind bars, girls. #MeToo is so yesterday. It’s time for #MeToo 2.0. Let’s change the narrative and send signals that we won’t ever be objectified, that we’re more than just a body.
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet