Is This What Post-MeToo Looks Like?

Just in time for International Women’s Day final Sunday, Agent Provocateur, the British lingerie firm based as a type of hipper, kinkier Victoria’s Secret, launched a brand new advert marketing campaign.

It options 4 high-achieving sportswomen, a lot of whom are additionally 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 options them in motion — on the observe, mid rock face, on the uneven bars — in underwear, although not maybe the underwear you may anticipate.

Instead of sports activities bras and leggings or briefs, they’re sporting largely push-up bras, lace and garter belts. Plus one filmy little gown, an elaborate gold chain and … it’s not precisely clear what. Looks type of like a halter.

According to Sarah Shotton, the inventive director of Agent Provocateur, the aim of the marketing campaign was “to hero” a distinct type of physique. The sportswomen featured got the selection of what they wished to put on. And by sporting it within the context of their self-discipline, versus the context of a runway present designed by males and largely attended by males, by doing it for an organization run by ladies, in clothes designed by ladies, they’re altering each the narrative and its authors.

This is just about the identical argument utilized by Rihanna in her Savage x Fenty line, and expressed in her Amazon-streamed lingerie spectacular last September, which featured dancers, models and celebrities of all sizes and skin tones gyrating in a variety of ever tinier underthings and high heels — by their own choice. And it is the position of the Agent Provocateur athletes.

“A lot of times, as an elite athlete I feel we are told we are powerful but not feminine,” Ms. Harrison Claye, the hurdler, said. “So to have a brand celebrate a physique like mine spoke volumes to me. Because to me, my strength is my femininity. They don’t exist on either side of a divide.”

Yet it is impossible to view the images and not wonder if it is really women taking charge of their own sexuality that people will see or, rather, very strong women being reduced to their sexuality. (Victoria’s Secret also tried to suggest that the women in its shows felt empowered, only for some of them to announce later that they didn’t actually feel that way at all). Or not to wonder: Am I really meant to take this — and by association, her — seriously?

Though femininity and feminism have often been seen as mutually exclusive in the history of the women’s movement, they are increasingly shifting toward each other, at least when it comes to their expression in clothes. The suggestion is that it is a feminist act to flaunt your own femininity. According to data from Tagwalk, the fashion search engine, “boudoir” was the trend keyword with the single biggest percentage growth over fall 2019 (up 140 percent).

As Amy Richards, a third-wave feminist leader and the author of “Manifesta,” said: “The messages were so mixed. You’re empowered and strong — don’t throw like a girl, don’t wear a dress. Why shouldn’t we be reclaiming that?”

Elaine Showalter, the feminist literary critic, added: “I don’t know if there will be a dominant line. How you dress is meaningful, and fashion has finally emerged as something really of interest to feminists.” Both the clothes you see and the clothes beneath those clothes, and the subconscious assumptions that accessorize them.

It can be uncomfortable. But then, as Ms. Richards said: “Feminism comes with discomfort. It requires challenging convention.”

Of posing for Agent Provocateur, Ms. Harrison Claye said: “I was outside my comfort zone. I’ve never done hurdling in a bra like that, obviously.”

But, she continued, “it was also really liberating.”

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