The actress Caitlin Stasey—who has become more famous in recent months for posting pictures of herself naked on her own radical feminist website, herself.com, than her acting – is angry.
We’ve spent 30 minutes discussing her website, feminism, sexism, discrimination and the tonal pitch of our conversation has steadily heightened. I can’t help feeling she has decided in the course of our call that I—white, British, and representative of the male gaze in general—am the enemy.
Her website features not just pictures of Stasey, but also of other women and interviews with them, announced by nude pictures and short quotes, like “Milly: I Ain’t Gonna Limit Myself,” “Melinda: I’m Not Willing To Settle For Less,” and “Serenity: Embrace Your Nakedness.”
Why is Stasey so angry, I ask.
“Why is anybody angry about injustice?” she says in clipped, precise British-Australian tones, well suited to her starring role in the CW show Reign, in which she plays Princess Kenna.
“That’s the thing that bothers me the most; to be upset, or to be aware of injustices, you are just constantly having to apologize for being emotional about it. When you are emotional you are a different person, if you are angry, horny, hungry, you are set aside from your actual self, but nothing changes without passion, nothing changes without anger, and things happen on a daily basis that make me pretty angry. I think if you are a human being thriving in this particular world and you are not angry, then you’ve got no fucking idea what’s happening.”
Her passion and anger are certainly clear.
“People constantly tell me to calm down, to stop being angry, but you have no idea how I am in my day-to-day life,” says Stasey. “You are engaging me in a conversation that does upset me and cause me to have an emotional response, but that’s like anybody else. And because I am only engaging with people publicly on this particular kind of issue, of course it’s all I think about.
“If I had to do an interview about puppies I’d be a fucking different person. If I was talking about my favorite food I’d be a different person. But I’m being asked these questions, and I am responding to these issues, which makes me angry, and if you care about social justice, you should be angry too.”
I assure her I am.
Stasey’s anger goes back at least as far as her schooldays; she was sent to a Catholic church school but “abandoned the notion of God in the Christian sense” as she became aware of her sexuality and began to have “vivid dreams about other women.”
She writes on her website, “Every night I’d drift off into this utopia of women being available to me and knowing nothing other than my desire for them.” She became “incredibly hateful of religion” as a result of its teachings on sex, and says that she is now “resolute” that it is “one of the greatest tragedies to befall mankind.”
All this doesn’t really explain, however, why she decided to jeopardize a career about to blossom (following a character-building stint in the Aussie soap, Neighbours, she landed a part in Reign) by posting a series of photographs of herself naked on the Web.
Her overall reasoning seems to be that she believes women should control the representation of their own naked bodies, and her website—to which all women are invited to contribute their own imagery and a surprising number already have done so—is simply a case of putting her money where her mouth is.
“I posted photos of myself for the same reason I’ve asked other women to,” she writes in a follow-up email I request for the sake of clarity after our interview. “If I’m to state that nudity doesn’t equate to sexuality or shame and vice versa, that you needn’t be embarrassed by or afraid of your own body, how could I stand aside and allow others to make my point for me?
"It’d be so utterly hypocritical and cowardly of me to expect women to offer themselves in that way and then deem it inappropriate for me. I run the risk of seeming self-indulgent, but if that’s the only complaint against me, I prefer it to being considered a coward.”
On the other hand, is it possible she is just an attention seeker, looking to build fame, notoriety and twitter followers at the speed of light?
“I don’t really give a fuck if people think I am seeking attention because I have thousands of emails from women who have gained something from this website,” she says. “If anything, I have cut my earning potential in half. I have a site I am proud of, a connection to thousands of women, I am having an incredible experience but none of it is going to translate into monetary gain or fame.
“I have not been offered any films. I have to struggle against it every day to prove to people that I can act despite it. I am not complaining. I am more than happy to miss out on things because of something I love and am proud of, but it isn’t translating the way people expect it to.”
Stasey is obviously extremely intelligent and well-versed in the vernacular of gender politics. She also understands exactly why the website may damage her career—and how unfair that is.
“I don’t have the allure any more of the unknown. I have spent a lot of time playing ingenues and manic pixie dream girls—but I wonder if my innocence, for lack of a better term, has now been completely eradicated. I don’t think anyone would believe me now as a sweet high school student.
“But the fact is that a woman who appears naked on her own terms, as a gesture, as a statement, in a project she has choreographed is alienating, polarizing and unsettling. But if a woman is naked in a series of films to satisfy a male audience or a male counterpart on film, then it’s completely excusable.”
Stasey does confess to being “mildly devastated” when her representation called her to tell her the website—which she put together and activated without informing them—would be likely to damage her career.
“They said, ‘We support you, but we can’t pretend there won’t be overlap into your professional life. You appearing in this way, we can’t say that won’t affect you negatively.’”
She also laughs that people will now know she doesn’t wax, which prompts the question: Is coming out as a non-waxer a political statement?
“I guess in a way,” Stasey says, “I feel very ashamed when I remove hair from my body, but I don’t necessarily feel proud when I keep it. I still do hair removal on my legs in the summer, and under my arms. So it’s a political statement for the people who will see me in that way—which is now the entire Internet—but also the people that I bring into my vagina, they will see it.”
The realist would have to say that with such unwillingness to play by the rules, Stasey’s sojourn in Hollywood may not be a lifelong one.
At one point she tells me that, although there are exceptions, “the women they want on screen are women they can admire because they resemble them, or women they want to fuck.”
I can’t see it working out in movies long-term. Can she?
“I worry I am too principled to really enjoy working in those roles. I don’t gain much satisfaction from playing the dream girl.”
So, what does she want to do?
“Ultimately what I would love to do is have a female-run production company. That’s a pipe dream, far down the line,” she says.
But for now? “Acting sustains a lifestyle that allows me to do what I want to do,” she says. “I fully funded herself.com by myself, I hope to continue doing projects like that and support the work of young women I believe in.”