A propos of the media’s ongoing épuration légale of sexual malefactors in their midst, thoughtful articles in the mainstream media themselves are beginning to appear, like crocuses opening up in spring while still half buried in snow, which propose, or at least imply, that—in the words of one of them for the Washington Post by Christine Emba, a former Hilton Kramer Fellow at The New Criterion—we “rethink sex.” What at first glance may seem to be one such has popped up in the “Fashion & Style” section of yesterday’s New York Times. In “Pinups in the Post-Weinstein World,” Vanessa Friedman wonders about the prospective TV and online viewing figures for the upcoming Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and what is apparently a similar event, from the British online magazine “Love,” billing itself as “a video Advent calendar” but replacing religious iconography with young women in various stages of undress. Last year’s figures, she writes,
are far and away the largest numbers of viewers who come to either brand, and among the largest numbers of viewers attached to a fashion event of any sort. There’s a clear business imperative for the undress-for-success concept. But in the current cultural climate, where powerful men are tumbling like bowling pins because of bad behavior that has its roots in the objectification of women, what about the moral imperative? What fantasy, exactly, is all this feeding?
Hm. It’s a puzzle, isn’t it? And yet, it seems “the issue of the pinup in a post-Weinstein world is more complicated than it may first appear.” Wouldn’t you just know it?
“In the wake of the Harvey fallout and women coming forward with incredible amounts of sexual harassment cases, I have been so disappointed to hear women talk about ‘modesty’ and ‘our responsibility,’ as if we need to, yet again, adjust to make it ‘easier’ for the rest of the world,” said Emily Ratajkowski, whose video—in which she drapes herself suggestively in spaghetti while wearing lacy lingerie and knit gloves—is scheduled for Day 3 of the Love calendar. “I’m tired of having to consider how I might be perceived by men if I wear the short skirt, or post a sexy Instagram,” she said. “I want to do what I want to do.”
Ms. Friedman sounds a brief note of skepticism further down in the article in response to another (but masculine) apologist for titillation-as-fashion who insists that “they are the most beautiful, physically fit women on the planet. You can’t get a supermodel to do anything they don’t want to do.” Note, by the way, the politically correct pronoun in a context where “she” would have been grammatically and existentially correct. “If you accept this argument,” writes Ms. Friedman, “it can just seem a bit odd that, judging by the show, what they want to do is play the part of a highly decorative soft-core siren for a day.”
Yet her final takeaway from all this rationalization about something which, outside of the media and entertainment industries, is not the least bit difficult to understand comes in response to another (male) comment to the effect that there is a “fine balance between exploitation and empowerment.” To this, she comments: “Debate as we might, we still don’t know exactly where it is.” You may be the judge as to the degree of disingenuousness to be attributed to this remark in light of the article’s illustration by (in the online version) seven large-format photos of very thin young women in even thinner raiment. The New York Times, at any rate, has a pretty good idea of where the balance between exploitation and empowerment is. It’s just beyond the point at which their articles become click-bait.