herself.com, the image and the battle to contain desire

21 Jan



Female nudity continues to exercise the minds of media feminists, with the latest source of controversy being actor Caitlin Stasey’s new website herself.com The site features nude portraits of women of diverse shape, colour and size, along with interviews with the subjects. Caitlin’s aim is to reclaim the female body from the objectification of the male gaze, and the demands of the film and beauty industries for a particular female look that is unrealistic, and excludes the majority of us.

Reaction has been swift, analytical, condemnatory, celebratory.

What is most interesting in these responses is the ongoing battle to define, own, and control human desire through the analysis, condemnation and celebration of images of the female body.

There are feminists who experience female nudity as unnecessary and distracting, it’s our brains we should be flaunting, not our breasts, they maintain. There are feminists who defiantly expose their bodies with a big “fuck you” to the patriarchy. There are feminists who rightly point out that the problem is perhaps not the exposure of the female form, but the industries that exploit and commodify us. There is ample food for thought in all these perspectives, however, nobody seems to be tackling the tricky question of desire.

There is arguably no stronger force than desire, be it for sex, intimacy, power, money, control, freedom, equality.  There is no human activity that is not driven by desire. As feminists have argued since the seventies our desires are constructed, that is, we are taught what we should desire and how we should desire it. While the energy we know as desire is inherent in us, how we experience and express it, or indeed deny it, is learned from birth, and the learning is gendered.

So much of the public turmoil centred on images of the female body is driven by an unexamined  need to contain desire that simply will not be contained. Whether this need to control takes the form of a puritanism that is based on notions of immodesty and the ‘wrongness’ of nudity, or whether it takes the form of pole dancers paying their way through their PhD (look! I have brains as well as tits and a shapely arse!) the basic struggle is to own and control desire, and its expression.

Whether herself.com will do anything to reclaim our bodies from the desiring and objectifying gaze of males who want us, females who want us, and industries who want us, I can’t predict. It is fairly obvious that the one-dimensional photographic image of a desirable body is hardly going to encourage anyone to focus attention on any other aspect of that human being, and why should it? “I can’t stop looking at her tits,” moaned one woman when asked if she was interested in the narrative accompanying the image.

Perhaps the struggle to make an image of a human body anything more than an image is a waste of time. The whole project of making women “real” through images of us seems contradictory. An image might not make me a sexual object, but it will inevitably objectify me, because that is what images do, and it is all images can do. Perhaps what is needed is a more realistic understanding of the limitations of the image, rather than the likely pointless attempt to make the image “real.”

Apart from those quibbles, I quite like Caitlin’s herself.com I like the challenge it presents to repressed bourgeois prudes. If I met any of those women, I’d be very interested to talk to them about their participation in the project. I like the “fuck you” attitude to patriarchal objectification, though I concede there will still be patriarchal objectifiers who get on the website and ogle and wank. They will always be among us, no matter what we do.

Desire takes a billion forms. The battle to own and control desire will likely be unending, because it is the battle to control human beings. In the meantime, herself.com and like-minded women continue to give the finger to those who would own and control desire, and for taking this small step, they are to be commended.

42 Responses to “herself.com, the image and the battle to contain desire”

  1. Stewart Hase January 21, 2015 at 9:11 am #

    Slightly off track but related to the herself web site. Where do exhibitionism and voyeurism come into this as they are part of the normal human psyche, as far as I understand it and would, dimly at least, be part of this political discourse. Perhaps some people want others to masturbate using their image, others would cringe that their unconscious might have this desire, and, of course, there are those who are looking for things to stimulate their masturbation.


    • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2015 at 9:27 am #

      Exhibitionism and voyeurism are terms that imply deviance, yes? They are always used pejoratively.

      How are they determined as deviant, and by whom, and at what point?

      I’d see them as “normal” aspects of the human psyche, with the possibility of becoming problematic, as are most “normal” aspects, I think!


      • stewarthase January 21, 2015 at 8:41 pm #

        On the contrary, mainstream psychology suggests that these are not deviant behaviours at all but part of the normal psyche-see reality TV.


        • doug quixote January 22, 2015 at 9:54 am #

          What is accepted as normal by mainstream psychology and what the normal people of this world have to put up with at the hands of the banning and censoring wowsers of this world are two different things.

          Education on these matters may slowly be spreading to the population at large; when I remember what were considered the norms when I was a child in the 60s and 70s we have indeed come a long way.

          Thank you for your continuing input, Stewart.


        • paul walter January 22, 2015 at 10:25 am #

          Just as long as they dont start feeling that way about axe-murderers.’.


  2. paul walter January 21, 2015 at 10:59 am #

    Yes, sorry, am back to Stewart Hase at the mo..just have the feeling Jennifer was a little evasive as to that reply. Although, it was an infinitely better reply than I could have managed.

    Btw, The thread seems to follow on a little from the link put up yesterday by Elisabeth, that had me returning to the old determinism/free will thing…how much of what people say, do, react over is predetermined or decided in ways that elude the consciousness. The processes seem to have more a life of their own than I’ve imagined.

    I understand the concept leads to a concept of “wiggle room” that stresses the action of assertion/resistance itself is a virtue for actualisation outside of whatever “failures” for want of a better word, come in trying to consciously trying to change a script, perhaps to dicker with some thing that isn’t broken. It’s as much about how a person responds to pressure?


    • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2015 at 3:00 pm #

      I was in a hurry getting out the door, PW, didn’t mean to be evasive. What Stewart raised is a topic for a post all by itself.

      As is what you raise, the ways in which a person responds to pressure…


  3. paul walter January 21, 2015 at 11:27 am #

    Just a thought..any sort of sex is “distracting”.

    It certainly takes people’s minds off their troubles for a bit, strenuous, a little later the endorphins kick in, but then there is an eventual adrenaline rush, post coitum, that is the body warning us through anxiety we may have become existentially vulnerable and we confuse this for shame?


  4. paul walter January 21, 2015 at 12:04 pm #

    I can say, after going to the site, that those women look a bit “healthier” than the sort of women featured in p*rn mags, who seem to be resentful or edgy teenagers probably baffled at the odd poses expected of them.


  5. samjandwich January 21, 2015 at 1:11 pm #

    I just thought I’d register that the notion that men “objectify” women when they look at them in a lustful way is not something I’ve ever been able to relate to – for the simple reason that healthy people don’t objectify anybody; only sociopaths do that.

    Men ogle women all the time… in fact just this morning I was standing at the bus stop with an attractive young women, and was disappointed to note that while just about all the blokes driving past gave her a lingering once-over, they didn’t so much as indicate any awareness of my existence whatsoever!

    But I don’t think that’s sufficient to suggest that in looking at her and enjoying it they were denying her humanity… and while I dare say they might have been overlooking the fact that it might have made her feel uncomfortable to be stared at, I don’t think that extends to their not simultaneously seeing her as an independent person with her own life and subjective sphere of experience. And naturally, yes I find it pleasurable to look at this person too… and she’s my neighbour and we chat whenever we run into each other at the bus stop, and we know a little bit about each others’ lives as a consequence. Would having some personal connection prevent some people from wanting to argue that I’m still objectifying her because I think she’s attractive?

    I must confess I’m not really clear on the origins and theoretical basis of this claim that looking objectifies – however I rather suspect it’s probably an under-examined assumption made in the early stages of the discourse on this issue, which managed to work its way into mainstream understandings simply because there was nobody around with the inclination to question it when it first emerged. It probably also serves a useful purpose in some feminist circles, as it could be taken as an example of men exercising their male privilege. But I think it’s just plain wrong in about 98% of cases, is a little bit misanthropic, and in that sense probably says more about the people who believe it than it does about the people it’s applied to.


    • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2015 at 3:01 pm #

      This is an excellent comment and I have always wondered similar things. In fact I think I wrote about it somewhere on Sheep. Will have a look.

      As well, I don’t think there’s much wrong with ogling and wanking.


    • sexhysteria January 21, 2015 at 6:15 pm #

      Images serve as models and have an educational influence on children. When the breasts and genitals are always covered up, children learn body shame. The textile industry and infant bottle formula industry make billions every year thanks to body shame.

      Naturists (nudists) know that staring and other forms of obsession are the result of deprivation, not satisfaction. Or some clothing styles are deliberately provocative. High heels, bras, and make-up are not intended to draw attention?


      • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2015 at 8:06 pm #

        Is there anything wrong with drawing attention, though? I’ve often wondered why enjoying attention is seen as a negative thing. It seems pretty normal to me.


        • doug quixote January 21, 2015 at 8:19 pm #

          It is normal enough, but it often draws the attention of those one would rather not attract. “Uncovered meat”, anyone?


        • sexhysteria January 22, 2015 at 5:57 pm #

          There’s nothing wrong with drawing attention, but it contadicts the claim that we need to cover the gentials and other “privates” to avoid drawing attention.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Jennifer Wilson January 22, 2015 at 6:00 pm #

            there are so many contradictory claims about female sexuality it’s a miracle any of us ever get to enjoy any of the experience.

            Liked by 1 person

  6. doug quixote January 21, 2015 at 8:27 pm #

    Male human beings are visual creatures, as contrasted with female human beings who tend to be more sound and touch oriented. Men therefore react far more readily and positively to the sight of naked women than women do confronted with men.

    In brief, “Show us your tits!” is far more likely than “Show us your cock!” 🙂


    • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2015 at 10:29 pm #

      You see, I would argue with you about that because I discovered a capacity for visual pleasure that I simply didn’t know I had, because people always think women don’t have it and so it’s not recognised or encouraged.


      • doug quixote January 21, 2015 at 10:31 pm #

        Did something vanish just now?


        • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2015 at 10:33 pm #

          Yes a post just vanished, I have no idea why. I can’t find it anywhere or any of the comments.

          Wait till Forrest hears about this.


          • doug quixote January 21, 2015 at 10:36 pm #



          • Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) January 22, 2015 at 7:49 am #

            I haven’t got it. What was it about? Did someone able to remove a post nod off at the keyboard and click something? Or does said someone have a touch-screen upon which an insect landed, triggering a removal without any conscious intervention?


            • Jennifer Wilson January 22, 2015 at 9:06 am #

              I don’t know, there was a storm and power lost and post went as well. No matter will rewrite.


              • Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) January 22, 2015 at 10:08 am #

                That is all very well, but the point is that the post had gone up on the web, and had been seen by others. Indeed, it seems it had already attracted some comments before its disappearance. That makes me question whether posts, your own as well as others’, to ‘Sheep’ are routinely directed to a sort of (clandestine?) ‘pending tray’ for potential censorship.

                Imagine, if some capability such as that was to be invoked during an election count as recorded by updates posted to the Virtual Tally Room!

                I think it is important to determine if the missing post and comments are cached by Pandora. I don’t know how to do that presently. If they didn’t make it into the record then there may exist a serious problem. I get the sense that attempts, not necessarily governmental, are being surreptitiously made to cripple the blogosphere and social media as distinct from the MSM, with influential bloggers the most likely targets.


            • paul walter January 22, 2015 at 9:43 am #

              Perhaps God did it?


              • Jennifer Wilson January 22, 2015 at 9:44 am #

                I know he did, He hates me.


                • paul walter January 22, 2015 at 10:28 am #

                  Only when you don’t wipe your shoes coming indoors on a wet day.

                  Liked by 1 person

      • doug quixote January 21, 2015 at 10:35 pm #

        You are entitled to your opinion, of course; but the people who make millions out of pornography prove otherwise.


        • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2015 at 10:38 pm #

          I’m suggesting that perhaps it’s yet another self-fulfilling gender-based assumption that women do this and men do that, only from my own experience, but I could be an oddity.


          • doug quixote January 21, 2015 at 10:46 pm #

            I’d be shocked if you were not an oddity! (In the nicest way, of course.)


            • Jennifer Wilson January 21, 2015 at 10:54 pm #


              You’re likely something of an oddity yourself, but that I will never know.


              • doug quixote January 21, 2015 at 11:04 pm #

                Me? Definitely an oddity. And you never know what twists and turns life may take. I met Bob Ellis for the first time just a little over a year ago, after inhabiting (if that is the word) his blog for several years. It seemed like meeting an old friend, one I’d known for many years. In a way it was.

                Liked by 1 person

                • paul walter January 22, 2015 at 12:05 am #

                  You are both oddities.

                  I am one, too.

                  Doug, women ARE affected by visuals.
                  Watch where their eyes travel if you have tight
                  jeans on.
                  Also, observe those clumps of woman footy fans at a game, listen closely and you will find they here for the tight shorts as much as the game itself, often enough..

                  Jennifer, It is true that women like to display and flirt, but then comes the passive aggresive thing, when, in a flash they turn on you with a foul look and maybe a harsh remark and you end up wondering what you did to invite such a response.


                  • Jennifer Wilson January 22, 2015 at 6:13 am #

                    You know, PW, I just had that experience with a man who turned in a matter of hours with cruel words & left me not knowing what on earth had happened and why.

                    Passive/aggressive thing isn’t gendered IMHO.


                    • paul walter January 22, 2015 at 7:03 am #

                      Well, so much for that line..

                      My goodness you are combative, like a Tiger Quoll sometimes.

                      All right, I’ll shut up- for now.

                      Liked by 1 person

  7. Jennifer Wilson January 22, 2015 at 9:08 am #

    I know, PW, I’m in a combative phase just now. All things must pass, please don’t leave!!


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