How Caitlin Stasey’s ‘Herself’ Feminist Site Is Reclaiming Women’s Bodies From The Objectified Media Portrayals

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The brewing conversation about modern day feminism has been brewing in the media over the past couple of years and has come to a tipping point where women and men have a pretty clear idea of what western feminism is fighting for today, as opposed to the 60s and 70s.

We’re fighting for greater access to autonomous reproductive rights (sadly, still), we are fighting against domestic violence and rape culture perpetuated by stereotypes in the media, we’re also trying to widen the scope of women’s representation in a range of careers that are unfortunately severely narrowed thanks to (once again) the media and entertainment. One of the most controversial aspects of western feminism today is the issue of sexuality.

The argument that we need to reclaim our identities away from the sexual objects women have been portrayed as in the media for so long is needed and important. But what does that look like? Does it mean we all cover up forever and never celebrate our bodies? Is it about going in the other extreme direction in order to feel powerful again.

The Free The Nipple documentary and subsequent movement has challenged the way women’s breasts are seen and thought of by society. Thanks to years and years of magazines such as Playboy and various TV shows, we have it ingrained into us that a woman’s body is only considered sexual and for a man’s desire, rather than functional, autonomous, powerful, and in control.

The issue of a woman’s sexuality and her body has divided even the most staunch feminists. Some claim people like Beyonce and Miley Cyrus, writhing around on stage in their skimpy costumes and singing questionable lyrics are giving feminism a bad name. One woman who you can firmly add to the list of controversial feminists is Australian actress Caitlin Stasey. You may know her from her role in CW’s ‘Reign’. She recently launched a website called Herself.com which is a series of portraits and interviews of women with one difference, all the women are completely naked.

Why is this empowering, you may be asking? Because Caitlin is on a mission to reclaim the power of women’s bodies away from the heavily sexualized and objectified commodities they have become in the media and in entertainment. We love that this young woman isn’t afraid to call out the media for perpetrating negative images of women.

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In an interview with Jezebel she explains why her website is at the forefront of changing the way we view nude women and how it is helping the cause of feminism today.

“It was born out of a dissatisfaction with the way women were being presented across all forms of media. In the past year or so, I’ve had my eyes opened to so many brands of feminism—the intersectionality of it, GamerGate, #YesAllWomen, #WhyIStayed—and I felt like I finally had words to truly articulate how I was feeling about the way I’m treated as a woman within the industry I was working in,” she said.

“I have so many female friends who don’t see themselves reflected back in the entertainment that they’re consuming. We’re always made to feel like we have to apologize for our physicality, whether it’s for having hair on our bodies or fat on our legs or hair on our faces.”

She said initially the idea for the website was to be a space for homeopathic remedies then changed it to become a space where women could talk openly about issues that weren’t being discussed in the mainstream. The way women are largely treated online was also a reason for making Herself into a feminist space.

“I think that the internet and social media has betrayed women in huge, immeasurable ways and I don’t see that slowing down anytime soon. But I also think that women are becoming more empowered to speak out against these injustices. Things like the Fappening targeted women. There are these “meninist” websites that are horrifying—they’re talking about what women owe them sexually and emotionally. It’s terrifying. It’s this open vast world of anonymity and people can say whatever the fuck they want to you and not care about the consequences.”

Her own personal dissatisfaction with the way she was treated for wanting to discuss feminism growing up also prompted her to create something that would change that for the next generation of girls. But be warned, Herself is not about having a two-way discussion, it is unashamedly a one-way portrayal where women can share their vulnerable selves without criticism.

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“I just wanted to create a one-way flow of information because, as you fully know and as I fully know, to be a woman talking about her experiences on the internet only leads to negation from many many people and so I didn’t need women to lend their stories and their images to a space dedicated to them to then have people tell them why they’re wrong,” she said.

“I can’t think of anything more horrific than a comment section on Herself because none of these points that these women are making are, you know—you can’t really contradict their experiences or their stories or their opinions. Of course, you may not agree with everybody, but I’m just so tired of going on Twitter and saying “This is how I feel when I get catcalled” and having people respond ‘No, you don’t.’ I don’t know why I don’t have the right to my own experiences and my own feelings.”

It may sound like a ridiculous concept that people are shutting down other people’s feeling, but it happens everyday. Women are disproportionately targeted online for harassment, stalking and threats. Like Caitlin mentioned earlier, Gamergate is a perfect example of how our culture just came to a tipping point when it comes to online harassment, and now mainstream society is aware of it more.

As for the polarizing topic of women’s nudity, Caitlin is very firm in her belief that we need to be able to reclaim this concept for ourselves, and not allow images of a naked female body be automatically associated with men’s sexual desires as we have been brainwashed to believe thanks to decades of marketing.

“Women are expected to be naked to appease our male counterparts. Whenever a woman is naked on film or television, she’s doing it to gratify somebody else—to gratify the audience or the man she’s sleeping with…The point is generally titillation, isn’t it? It’s never about a woman’s comfort, it’s never about a woman’s freedom. It’s always seen through the scope of how much she has to offer sexually, which I think is a very tired and obvious statement, but people always criticize the observation anyway. You say, ‘You notice in films that women are generally fuck objects.’ People tell you not to be sensitive. They tell you to get over it.”

Part of the problem is that it is cyclical, we ingest what we see in the media as normal, and repeat it and teach it to our kids.

“Male sexuality is always portrayed as very funny. They’ve made so many films about men discovering their sexuality and I can think of very few about women that mirror that same experience and almost none of them are comedies because the idea of—particularly in film or television, the act of sex is always a transaction of dignity for gratification. Whenever a woman sleeps with a man, in a show or whatever, she instantly relinquishes some power to him. And it might not be scripted that way, it might not be intentional, but it is this build up of ‘Look what I’m giving to you, I’m giving myself to you,’ instead of a woman being like, ‘I would like to have sex and that is it’.”

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“It’s the way people treat their teenage daughters as well—like their sexuality is this precious gift, that their virginity is this sacred thing that needs to be guarded from the world at large because it will be used against you. Nobody ever turns to young girls and says, ‘Your sex is yours and your body is yours and if you consent and feel safe and you want it and you want to partake in sexual activity, then that is your choice as a human being that I’ve given birth to and am sending off into the world’.”

Her own dilemma is being an actress in an industry where what she just described is the norm. And because he by self-admission is not at the level where she can pick and choose roles, it is still a challenge for her to stay true to herself.

“It’s hard to be an actress because you’re so often asked to take on roles that you feel betray your entire agenda. Whereas men very rarely have to do that. To play a woman in something—and I’ve been really lucky. I’ve played some empowered, incredible women, but I’ve also played some incredibly pathetic women who are at the mercy of the men in their lives or are at the mercy of the sex that’s wanted from them and are shamed out of their agency. It’s so subtle and so insidious that it just slides by people, but it sticks.”

Caitlin believes there should be more accountability in the media and entertainment especially when it comes to issues about sexual assault and crimes against women. It’s so accepted in our culture to make fun of rape stories that when a real issue is presented, we automatically question the victim, blame the victim and hold up the rapist as a superstar (especially if they are high-profile athletes or celebs) just by default. It is the biggest embarrassment and shame of our western civilization if you ask us.

“I’ve learned the hard way that you can very quickly and easily cement yourself as a total killjoy because if you care about something, you’re going to pull people up on it. If they reference trans women as “trannies” or refer to lesbians as being dykes, you’re going to be like ‘Don’t say that. You could say so many other words that are so much better and more fun to say’.”

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“These comedians are so fiercely defending their right to ridicule the victims of a horrific crime, but no one ever turns the spotlight onto those who are committing them. Like, “Why aren’t you making jokes about what fucking losers rapists are?” It’s a silly term to use for someone so heinous, but they are fucking losers.”

“We like to think of rape as an attack of a woman by a man she doesn’t know as she’s minding her own business on the street, but rape can happen in your home, in your marital bed, in broad daylight. It can happen anywhere, even in the middle of consensual sex. That’s something that we’re only just beginning to understand as a society. People are incredibly resistant to that truth because it makes a lot of men rapists,” she continues.

“And not to say that all men are—and I fucking hate that I have to specify that, but it’s a very sobering realization.”

What she ultimately wants to do with Herself is create representation of women and make all types of bodies acceptable.

“I can’t think of anything I’d love more than to have women ranging from age 18 all the way through to 118, women with disabilities, women of varying ethnicities, larger women, smaller women, masculine women, gender queer women, trans women—it’s just that those who are most needed are the ones who’ve generally been told that they’re not worthy of immortalization.”

So how does she respond to the people who criticize her for being just another girl “getting her tits out” and possibly doing it for attention? Oh she was definitely prepared for this kind of criticism.

“One article was like ‘Sorry, if you have your tits out and expect people to pay attention to anything other than them, you’re naive.’ I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a fucked up thing for someone to say.’ Are we supposed to apologize for having tits the rest of our lives? Whereas other women have to apologize for the fact that they don’t have tits? At what point do you draw the line? And what was really upsetting to me was that people refuse to see the link between rape culture, victim-blaming and what they do to women who are naked by choice. To say that anyone naked on the internet is asking for anything is tantamount to saying that they’re asking to get raped or be assaulted in some way,’ she said.

Her best piece of advice that she herself has learned is something we could all benefit from.

“The most important thing I’ve learned since starting Herself, is that you have to learn to defend your beliefs and not yourself. Because a lot of people are going to come at you in a way that’s very personal. They’re going to attack me—my intelligence, my body, my thoughts, basically any angle they can get at, They’re going to find a way to make me ugly, as ugly as they possibly can. But if I maintain a truth through all of that that pertains only to my message and not to myself, then they can’t hurt me.”

You can check out some of the beautiful photos and interviews on Herself.com, but most of all, we hope that Caitlin’s words and her passion behind this movement will challenge many people on how they view women in real life, women in the media, and actively choose to re-think the patterns of thought taught by the mainstream as “normal”.

Yes the subject matter is confrontational, but nothing throughout history has ever been changed without disrupting the status quo.

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