Caitlin Stasey is a name you need to know. More than the fact that she’s starring in two successful television shows on opposite ends of the world—The CW’s Reign and ABC2’s (Australia) Please Like Me—she’s best known for pioneering a movement against social injustice.As the founder of Herself.com, an uncensored collection of beautiful nude portraits and interviews with women all over the world, the 24-year-old actress is joining the conversation about feminism and making sure other women’s voices aren’t ignored.
We got a chance to speak to Stasey about the inspiration for Herself, overcoming her insecurities, the backlash she’s faced since speaking out, and yet the hope she has for society.
What inspired you to start Herself.com?
Caitlin Stasey: I noticed that there was a lack of commentary from women about these types of issues, and every time there was it would just be responded to with negation and contradiction and abuse. I wanted to create a forum that was a one-way flow of information from women to the world about themselves.
2014 was a great year for feminism online. A lot of incredible women coming to the forefront of this conversation and making themselves heard and I just knew that I wanted to be part of it in a significant way.
What have you learned from the women you’ve been speaking to?
Mostly just the dissatisfaction they have with how the world views them, and also with how the media portrays them. Almost across the board every woman expresses upset at the way women are played throughout entertainment. Also it’s incredible to me how many women have been sexually assaulted. They say it’s one in four, but having read through these interviews and emails I receive daily, it seems to me that it’s almost four of four.
As someone in the entertainment industry, do you constantly face judgement on your physical appearance?
Yeah, sometimes directly, where people tell me I don’t look how I should or I need to dress a certain way or act a certain way. Or just the responses from people online, telling me that they want to do terrible things to me or I’m unattractive. It oscillates between people incredibly objectifying me or slandering me.
You seem incredibly strong, but I assume that has to hurt sometimes.
I’m human like everyone else and nobody wants to give any weight to the criticism hurled at them. I don’t want to justify anything that’s said about me that’s unwarranted, but it’s impossible to travel through your life being at the receiving end of these statements and not feel scared for your safety and the safety of women who are in the same position as you.
Outside of the Internet, have you experienced any danger at all since speaking out more?
No, but I’ve had several women off the street walk up to me and tell me they love the website, which was so unexpected. If I ever run into somebody and they recognize me, I expect it’s because of a TV show I’ve done or a film they’ve seen. Being approached because of the website is hugely satisfying and incredibly encouraging. I’ve been in Toronto at the moment because of work, but I imagine when I travel back to Melbourne, I’m going to be at the receiving end of a lot of abuse. That’s unfortunately the climate there. But I don’t really care. [Laughs.] I’ll get through it.
How did you overcome your insecurity and embrace yourself and the female form?
I realized that all my insecurities were birthed out of the narrative that wasn’t written by me. My tastes vary widely from the tastes of everyone else in my life. I started to dissect the fact that I thought I should look this way, be this way, and I definitely suffered body woes. I’m not immune to it. There are definitely things I can feel from the world. I go through more home bleaching kits than you can possibly imagine. [Laughs.] But at the end of day, I realized I was living up to standards I didn’t set for myself. Therefore, if these standards are not important to me, then how can failing them hurt me?
What was it like for your growing up?
Australia is an incredibly homophobic and sexist society, though it’s definitely getting better. It’s so far-removed from the rest of the world and quality of life there is so good that there tends to be the lax attitude towards basic rights of women and also the rights of the indigenous people in the country. I struggled because of the lack of conversations that were happening about female empowerment and female sexuality. I’ve been abused by men in the street. I’ve been attacked by people. There’ve been many occasions where being a woman has worked against me publicly.
Do you think every female in the spotlight has a responsibility to a role model?
No, because role model is a term given to somebody without ever having requested it. People should be free to exist as they would like. People can say all the problematic things as they want, but they have to understand that there are repercussions that follow. You can be a hateful, bigoted person. That’s totally within your right. But it’s also within everyone else’s right to disagree with you and shut you down. I don’t think that any young woman should be forced into the role of role model, but they should always be aware that they have the capacity to affect real change.
Has your outspokenness affected your job at all? Has anyone tried to silence you?
No, what’s been really incredible is that everybody I work with or for has been supportive of my choices. It was conveniently timed with the fact that I was already employed, and Herself developed over a period of time where people were having these conversations and it was more acceptable.
Has this affected the way you choose roles as well?
Definitely. It has me reassessing the character descriptions and the conversations the character has and the ideals the character has. Obviously I’m still working for Reign and Please Like Me, so I don’t have to worry about that at the moment. But I know that once I get back into auditioning I’m going to be incredibly critical of what comes my way. More often than not, roles written for women are particularly two-dimensional, sexist, and objectifying.
[Photo Credit: The CW]How have your Reign co-stars responded to Herself?
They’ve been so supportive and lovely. They all came to my launch party and bought a copy of the magazine. They’re all incredibly progressive and intelligent individuals.
And also Reign is such a female-driven show.
It’s set at a time when women were granted almost no power and weaponized sex was their only method of getting ahead, but despite that, it manages to showcase some truly incredible women.
In your Herself interview, you mentioned wanting to see more LGBTQIA characters in children’s entertainment. Do you have any plans on writing your own?
There’s a lot of stuff that already exists that I would love to champion. There’s a book about two young boys called The Princes and the Treasure that I love. Of course, I would love to write my own or empower people in my life to write that sort of material, but it is there. We just have to find it.
Why do you think there’s hesitation to bring these characters into the mainstream?
Because when you discuss somebody’s sexuality and it’s not heteronormative, it immediately becomes about the physical expression of their sexuality. Like if a young boy and girl fall in love and it’s innocent enough, it’s not hypersexualized. The idea of a man and woman being together essentially leads to procreation. Whereas two young men fall in love or two young women, they can’t procreate together in the traditional sense. Even though it’s totally incorrect, it becomes a sexualized statement. We have to move away from that. There are members of the LGBTQIA community who have sexual appetites that mirror those of the heteronormative community. Once we learn to stop fetishizing it, then we’ll be able to absorb it in mainstream media.
You identify as a lesbian, but you also have a male partner. Does that confuse people and is that a conversation you constantly have?
It confuses people. It angers people. The fact of the matter is that world spoke to me when I was young. I grew up in an incredibly heterosexual community and heavily testosterone-fueled community and there was no one in the entertainment I consumed, nobody in the world around me, that represented any of these feelings that I was having about other women. There was no one I could talk to about it because I was made to feel like it was a strange compulsion that was wrong. Then I heard that word, I learned the definition, I learned that aspect of sexuality, and it resonated with me.
As I say, and I’ve said to many people, I wake up some days and I feel completely gay. And some days I wake up and I feel completely asexual. My interest in men is limited only to my current partner and platonically to others. I have very little interest in people telling me what words I can and can’t use because when people try to make that word exclusive, it’s detrimental to the entire movement itself.
Do you think we should move away from labels entirely?
Yeah! I try to not refer to myself as being anything. The only reason I do at all is that people like to compartmentalize. What’s great is that people are developing almost a new language to identify with. People call themselves gender-queer, bi-poly—there’s so many combinations of words now that we use to describe ourselves. But these binaries don’t suit every one.
Yeah, it’s a way, however limiting, of people attempting to understand another person.
Yeah, the reason why we like to pigeonhole people is that it informs our actions and thoughts towards them. This a given, but you shouldn’t have to treat somebody differently because of their sexual preferences.
Do you think have long way to go before we can just refer to people as people?
This climate of being politically correct is aiding that progression. I don’t know if we’ll get there in our lifetime. Honestly, I don’t know if we’ll get there before the sun has used up all its hydrogen. But I definitely think we’re on the right path. It’s just a matter if we survive long enough to see the end result.
Speaking of what’s going on right now, what do you think about all the backlash Kim Kardashian is getting for nude photo shoots?
Feminism is nothing less than freedom and a woman’s right to be free in her own body and to do whatever she wishes. I don’t begrudge any woman using their body for any kind of purpose. Any backlash against exercising agency and complete autonomy is misguided.
Besides Herself.com, do you have any other plans?
In the immediate future, I’m trying to hire more photographers to photograph in more remote parts of the world. I’m currently trying to set up communication between myself and female photographer in Somalia, in Istanbul, in Egypt, and in Ethiopia because Herself is primarily on empowering its subjects and what I would love to do is now also empower young female professionals in parts of the world where they’re otherwise dismissed or don’t have access to western opportunities, and an opportunity that paid to do something they love.
From what you’ve noticed and what you’ve been discussing, what’s been the hardest thing for people to grasp?
Their own privilege. Those that are currently at the top of this power structure don’t want to have to recognize that they are privileged. It means that any of their failings are their own. It means that they are in charge now of shifting that power structure. That’s incredibly threatening, but it’s also incredibly sobering to have to look at the world and be like, “I succeeded this far without too much pushback because of a birthright, basically.”
Does it surprise people how compassionate you actually are?
That’s the thing. I met a woman today who was like, “I didn’t think you’d be this nice. I thought you would be really prickly.” I’m actually the most deferential person in a room any time. The reason I feel these things and I am so impassioned is because I’m full of so much love. I’m a feminist and I’m a vegan and both of those words are conflated with a sense of anger and antagonism. But it’s all born from a place of loving.
When women are outspoken, there’s this immediate apprehension to them.
To be dissatisfied is to alienate yourself. To express your dissatisfaction is to anger other people. And it’s just not fair. Men are entitled to their upset and anger because people think they are able to remain emotionally devoid, which isn’t true. The angriest people I’ve ever met have been men. But women catch a lot of flack for being outspoken. It’s also our language that we use to describe women. We call them sassy, feisty, opinionated. We use language to defeat them constantly. I’ve never heard a man being called hysterical. A woman is opinionated, a man has opinions, as the old adage goes.