Herself, a new “feminist” photo project currently making the rounds online, features lots of naked women. Created by a TV actress, Herself purports to “highlight’s women’s sexuality on their own terms” and “help demystify the female form, to assist in the erasure of coveting it, and to help celebrate the ever changing face of it.”
Sounds legit! I don’t know what “the erasure of coveting it” means (“you guys, let’s stop being jealous of each other’s boobs”)? but I’m all for demystifying the female form. If we can do that, why, perhaps we can successfully address female genital mutilation, breast cancer, bad hetero sex, child marriage, maternal death, the practice of raping virgins to cure AIDS, and starvation dieting!
More background from the creator of Herself, who (offensively, to me) identifies as “a lesbian who has a male partner”:
My vagina has been an unending and constant source of turmoil for me – not that vaginas are intrinsically female, it’s just happened to be a big part of womanhood for me personally – UTI’s, PH imbalances, sexual dysfunction, pain, discomfort. Sexual education is no way near comprehensive enough as all of these things I’ve had to learn myself, treat myself and diagnose myself. I’m still struggling to gain control over my body, over my vagina.
Not that vaginas are intrinsically…okay, whatever; let’s just evaluate the project on its merits.
We consider a woman’s sexuality so linked to her physicality that for a woman to appear naked publicly is automatically an act of sex and not for herself.
Now we’re getting there, wherever the fuck “there” is. Why is appearing naked on the Internet something a woman does, or should do, “for herself”? What does she get, “for herself,” out of being viewed, naked, by strangers? What does she get that she can’t get by writing a song; throwing a pot; playing a sport? What is this special thing, and why does a woman need it so much, “for herself”?
Also: When was the last time you saw a man naked on the Internet “for himself”? Men love to get things for themselves, so you can bet that if the thing was something worth getting, there’d be naked men all over the Internet, cradling their ballsacks in their hands and calling it “agency.”
Men don’t appear naked online for reasons of personal empowerment. They don’t have to, they don’t want to, and they won’t because they know: Any empowerment you get from being looked at naked is false empowerment.
And men should know! That’s the false empowerment they hand out all the time!
Annnd more from the creator of Herself:
There’s also a very specific construct of woman we are all used to seeing, and while those women are no less women, I was so desperate to see different faces, different bodies.
But…but these photos look like anything you’d see in Playboy – coy three-quarter views; a woman holding her breasts aloft; lots of lifted arms, parted lips and non-threatening gazing into the middle distance. Oh, wait – I see two African-American women. One has a snake curling around her neck. Yowza! A snake! So transgressive!
More observations: All the shots here are portrait-style. None of the women is doing anything that a subject would do – no running, swimming, lifting or jumping. Just posing. Like an object does.
There are interviews to accompany the photos, but they don’t go very deep (“What is feminism?” “Feminism is a woman’s right to choose.”)
I’d have followed that question up with “Choose what, exactly? In which sociopolitical power structures do these choices present themselves? Do these power structures offer authentic choices, or just the least worst of a lot of bad options? Are these choices available to all women? Finally, do you have access to any websites or newspapers in which you might read about the actual state of women’s lives and rights in most of the world?”
I don’t see any truly obese or disabled women (although there is one woman with one breast two cup sizes larger than the other).
I don’t see visible muscle. Where are my bodybuilders?
I don’t see any short haircuts.
I don’t see any scars, burns, or prostheses.
I don’t see any old-fashioned pubic hair; the kind that makes your Area 51 look like an upside-down troll doll.
Most importantly, I don’t see any women over 35, the threshold of sexual invisibility. No gray hair here; no wrinkles. It has not yet occurred to the 24-year-old creator of this piece what aging-related invisibility feels like; what it does. The moments when you are made to understand that you don’t matter anymore because you’re a middle-aged woman? If your “empowerment” comes, historically, from being looked at naked – well, you will die a thousand times before they finally plant you.
The creator’s inspiration for the project?
It was really born out of hearing the incredible stories of the women around me, both socially and online. With #yesallwomen and #freethenipple I was opened up to a whole world of women struggling for equality, demanding to be heard and finding empowerment through honesty and solidarity.
How does posing naked on the Internet aid our struggle for equality? Is it going to affect the pay gap? Or domestic violence trends? Or does it just make us have powerful feelz, like when we listen to Sleater-Kinney whilst ironing?
And, as for “demanding to be heard” – does anyone really listen to what a naked woman says? Especially when you can see a naked woman online for free any time of day or night?
The creator of this piece thinks she’s reclaiming “ownership” of women’s bodies by showing them naked on the Internet. She thinks she’s being transgressive; she thinks she’s subverting a larger cultural narrative.
But that’s bullshit, because what does “ownership” mean? It means “something salable.” It’s the language of commodification. And again, no one talks about a man’s “ownership” of, or “agency” over his body, because that would be ridiculous, because those things are givens when you are male in this world.
Herself, while well-intended, is the same-as-it-ever-was narrative; the same male-gaze. But it’s a lot sadder than that. Herself is the male gaze filtered through a female lens. These women (like most women in the world) see themselves through men’s eyes. They close mirrored doors around themselves to see a reflection of a reflection of a reflection. We do this because we cannot help ourselves; because the messaging is so strong and so consistent and so deeply intentional that we cannot tell ourselves the truth: The call is coming from inside the house.