I saw a link to a new woman-friendly website called herself.com and my first thought was “sigh”. My second thought was “shit, am I the only woman under 40 who still has a hairy muff?” (No need to answer that, by the way. It’s rhetorical).
The subject of much internet chatter, here is the website’s mission statement from its founder Caitlin Stasey:
TL DR; version. Nude chicks talk about stuff. Mostly sex.
It made me uneasy and I feel ambivalent about it.
Because nude women on the internet is not the groundbreaking act of empowerment we are meant to believe it is.
First things first: I’m not a prude. I appreciate a good set of boobs just as much as the next man. Or woman. But this relentless scrutiny of women’s bodies is just so tiring – even the well-meaning stuff – because we are bombarded with images of naked or near-naked women on a daily basis. Sometimes it feels like everywhere I look I have some random chick’s boobs in my face. Breasts are great, but I don’t need them all up in my grill when I’m noshing on my breakfast burrito at 6am.
Caitilin Stasey is one of the good gals; an out-loud and proud feminist, she is outspoken, thought-provoking, articulate and passionate. We need more like her and less like those who thumb their noses at the hard-won victories of women who came before them with attitudes like: “I’ve totes never experienced gender discrimination so y’all UGLY FEMINISTS can go FUCK YOURSELVES and the MAN-HATING HARPIES you rode in on”.
As I browsed though the website I desperately wanted to get on-board with the rah-rah empowerment feminism of nuding up and reclaiming our bodies from the male gaze or whatever, but all I could think with my weary and somewhat jaded mind was that despite all the honourable intentions, we were just looking at more of the same.
Women’s bodies as public property; up for display, up for scrutiny, up for comparison and up for comment.
Up for the public gaze.
The so-called “empowering” act of a woman taking her clothes off in public is not subverting anything. It doesn’t challenge anything and it does nothing to change the patriarchal status quo, because in our culture women are all-too-frequently rewarded for taking their clothes off – they are rewarded with money, fame, attention, business opportunities, news stories, social media followers, clicks, faps and Hugzilla blog posts (the latter two being arguably the same thing).
It’s a familiar trope: entire careers have been built on sex tapes and nude photo leaks. Entire magazines are built on dissecting bikini bodies and spreading rumours about eating disorders and gleefully fat-shaming any woman who looks vaguely well-nourished. And entire news websites seem to be built on which celebrities returned to their pre-baby weight the fastest and pseudo-intellectual articles about which emerging pop star J-Lo is rubbing booty with in her new film clip.
In a voyeuristic society obsessed with youth and sexual appeal, there is nothing subversive about able-bodied young women taking their clothes off, even if those women don’t strictly meet the faux-ideal of the skinny size 10 stereotypes we are sold by the media.
This is not a criticism of the women who are featured on the website. Good for them. They are clearly intelligent and accomplished young women who are proud of themselves and their bodies, and aren’t at all concerned about the human resources professionals who might want to google them one day. As someone who pathologically shies away from the spotlight, I envy that kind of chutzpah.
But let’s not pretend this is a subversive act of empowerment. All it does is reinforce the prevailing status quo that women’s bodies are up for public consumption and scrutiny. The truly subversive act would be keeping your clothes on and insisting on your right to be heard anyway. Because what you say has worth, even when it is not accompanied by artfully-posed photographs of your shaven labia.
We will know that the true revolution has happened when the conversation shifts away from women’s bodies entirely; that heartfelt discussions about our achievements, our thoughts, our hopes and our dreams can take place without us having to get our boobs out first before anyone takes notice.
Have you seen it? What do you think about the website?
Do I need a big cup of STFU?
Genuinely curious to hear people’s thoughts because I think I’m in the minority here.