We Talked to Actress Caitlin Stasey About Female Masturbation and Hollywood's Sexist Bullshit

Her new website is a radical examination of the female psyche through naked photos of women and frank discussions of puberty, religion, and abortion.

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Jan 29 2015, 7:30pm

Photo by Jennifer Toole

This post originally appeared on VICE UK.

Rachel from Neighbours is the only one of my teenage crushes who has stood the test of time. Aaron Carter is a fundamentally disturbing tribute to a lost childhood, Left Eye is dead (RIP), and Ben from A1 now does panto. Caitlin Stasey, however—who played Rachel's homeschool girl turned hot-teen-who-sleeps-with-her-teacher—is now 24, a feminist badass who gives no fucks and is more of a crush for me than ever.

This month, she launched a feminist website called Herself.com, where she publishes naked photos of women—including herself—and interviews them about their religion, masturbation habits, and deepest insecurities. The site, rather than simply presenting us with more porny pictures of naked ladies, is a beautiful, brutally truthful examination of the female form.

This is doubly impressive because Stasey's not your average arts graduate filling in some time breaking binaries before her masters in critical theory. She's an actor. Best known for playing "pretty-girl roles," since Neighbours Stasey has moved to LA to make it big in Hollywood—most recently in historical fingering fest Reign. Many in her position would steer clear of rocking the political boat, afraid of making casting agents think they're anything but basic. Stasey, on the other hand, is busy loudly calling the world out on its sexist bullshit. I phoned her up to ask how.

VICE: Why did you start the website?
Caitlin Stasey: I wanted women to be able to tell their own stories and talk about their own ideas rather than be subjected to other people's opinions and criticisms of them. I just wanted to make a place where we could say, "Fuck off, I'm doing what I want."

I also wanted to start a website where we could talk about women's medical problems, like yeast infections and UTIs and things like that. We've got a long way to go before we start treating women's sexual and reproductive functions as seriously as we treat men's. Viagra is covered by so many health plans in the US, but they don't cover Plan B or some contraceptives. There's a constant gender divide in all aspects of our community. It's fucking awful.

How did you come up with the format? Why was it important to have naked photos?
You never see pictures of naked women without them being sexualized. I've been used to seeing graphic depictions of violence all my life, but never of non-sexualized imagery of breasts or vaginas. Women are never just naked.


Photo by Jennifer Toole

What do the photos on Herself.com do differently?
They just show women existing. Everybody has a fear of appearing naked on the internet. It has betrayed women again and again. But putting up photos on your own terms is incredibly powerful. I wanted to have pictures of them naked because lots of women aren't reflected in the entertainment they consume: women of color, trans women, bigger women, disabled women. We're bombarded by imagery of sleek, hairless women as the faces of humanity.

But a few of the women on the site do conform to that image.
When the website launched, we received 3,000 emails in a week from people who wanted to take part. Of these, 500 were accessible for us because of financial and geographical restrictions. And because of the way society has established beauty, we have validated a specific type of beauty for centuries. The majority of these people looked like that. The hardest thing is convincing women that they deserve to be on the site. I want to get as wide of an array of women as possible.


Photo by Jennifer Toole for Herself.com

Do you think some people will just go there to look at pictures of naked women?
People will masturbate to anything. I was masturbated at when I was ten years old at the beach. I've had men say and do horrific things at me while I've been minding my own business. I get catcalled like a dozen times a day in summer. In the winter, it's thankfully too cold for them to stick their heads out of their windows. I will be sexualized regardless of what I do because I am a woman, no matter what I wear or where I am. That's why appearing on the site doesn't scare me.

If men are going to Herself.com to masturbate, there is something seriously wrong. If you divert your eyes for one second from jerking it, you'll read a story about how this woman was molested and how she has struggled with eating disorders.

Do you ever feel like you lose out on jobs because of your outspoken views?
I'm sure there are people in the industry who look at me and just think I'm this mouthy, opinionated individual. But I don't really give a fuck. I don't want to work for a company that would actively dismiss me because I was naked.

When I first moved to LA, I auditioned for a film, and I got a call from my agents saying that they didn't want to hire me because I'd worn high-waisted jeans. They said, "The director just saw you in these jeans and thought you were the mouthy bitch next door." My worth in this industry is based on how much people want to fuck me. That doesn't happen to men.

Every time a woman is naked on screen it's for the benefit of her male counterpart or to fill a deviant fantasy. I'm desperately veering from "manic pixie dream girl." What I would love is to just play a woman on screen who is not a woman by definition.

You really haven't done any roles like that?
Look, no one wants to hear about a young, pretty actress talk about how hard it is, but for women there's an assumption that you can't be more than one thing. You can't be beautiful and funny, for example. Guys don't have this problem; people like Seth Rogen are funny and still get the girl. All I'm asking is that they write roles for women that aren't total bullshit. It's such a basic principle to want to see women as living, breathing, human three dimensional beings.

Did being the "hot one" in Neighbours make you feel like this way? Or is it something you've always believed?
When I started I was this home-schooled dork with one eyebrow, and I felt really comfortable like that. But over time it became easier and easier to sexualize me. I started to develop in front of their eyes. By the time I was 18, I was one of very few girls on the show that age. I never felt sexualized but the audience began to sexualize me. If you grow up on screen you become fair game and the target of a lot of creepy advances.



Photo by Jennifer Toole for Herself.com

Did that make you feminist?
I always was, but I didn't have a name for it. I was like a lot of misled women in that I thought, Oh, maybe we needed feminism before, but we're all equal now. I knew there was a bias in place that applied to me and not to boys. In high school, when boys started to sleep with other girls, these girls' burgeoning sexuality wasn't an exciting thing to be explored. It was a shameful secret you lie to people about because people would make fun of you. They would verbally abuse you for it. The men you chose to share this thing with would tell all of their friends and then their friends would treat you like shit. It became a really toxic environment and I just didn't like the way it was heading. I wish I'd had the tools by then to equip myself against those insults and arguments. I didn't know what to do. It just really hurt.

So I became a feminist, really, out of a desire to not feel shitty about myself. Also because I've been sexually attracted to women for as long as I've known. Growing up in a Catholic education system and going to an all-girls Catholic school at one point, I felt like I was sick. Like there was something wrong with me. None of the girls in my circle reflected that back to me. It was always like, if someone came out as a lesbian, they became the object of ridicule. I hated it.

I wish something like this [site] had existed when I was younger. I had no point of reference... nothing I was watching looked like anything I recognized within myself. There were never any young women or young boys falling in love with each other or anything other than heteronormative relationships, really.

But do you think things have got any better since you were a teenager?
There have been lots of great movements this year about body positivity and self-love but they're generally not paired with an in-depth profile of the people who are partaking in it. It is imperative we give a face and voice to the women we're using as examples. Without that, they're just figures.

We need to teach young girls to love themselves and be proud of their bodies. Masturbation needs to be talked about in sex education, and rape needs to be talked about.

Follow Louise Callaghan on Twitter.

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