Google Caitlin Stasey. Go on. I’ll wait. If you’re feeling particularly masochistic, go ahead and type her name into Google News. A string of headlines should pop up, each more headache-inducing than the last: Caitlin Stasey bares boobs for Free the Nipple – then posts a string of outrageous tweets! Caitlin Stasey launches bizarre sexual Twitter rant! Caitlin Stasey slams Bindi Irwin for her stance on modesty!
And those are just the tame ones.
Stasey, an Australian actress best known for her roles on Reign and in Tomorrow, When the War Began, recently found herself on the receiving end of a tidal wave of misogynistic online abuse after gently calling out Bindi Irwin – daughter of the late Steve Irwin – on what seemed to be thinly veiled slut-shaming.
“I’m a big advocate for young girls dressing their age,” said Irwin, in an interview with News Corp. “I look around at a lot of young girls that are my age, and they’re always trying to dress older. Whether it’s wearing revealing clothes or hardly wearing any clothes at all, I feel really bad for them.”
Stasey was quick to pen an open letter to Irwin in the form of several tweets. “In ten years,” she wrote, “you’ll wish you stood beside your shared sex rather than be proud you belittled their choices and agency.”
Tabloid onlookers were quick to label the disagreement a knock-down, drag-out feud, and to characterize Stasey as – well, you read the headlines.
Over pizza during Toronto’s Pride weekend last month, Stasey and I sat down together to chat about Bindigate and about her experiences as a young feminist working in an entertainment industry which, more often than not, is anything but.
Beth Lalonde: When you first read Bindi’s comments, what was your initial reaction?
Caitlin Stasey: I was just saddened, knowing that I was a young girl who was constantly shamed out of her body by peers–accidentally by family members making fun of my development, by some friends, by boys. It was this constant apologizing for having a female body and for dressing to that. And it’s only been in the past year or so that I’ve really developed a sense of self that isn’t apologetic, if that makes any sense. I’m justified in dressing however I want. I don’t wear a bra. I wear see-through t-shirts, today in particular.
BL: What would you say helped you come into that? Get over that initial shame? We can talk about Bindi’s quote more, but I just want to speak to what you said about how in the past year you’ve gotten over that insecurity.
CS: I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I was witnessing the conversation that was happening around me. What’s so great about the Internet is that you can tap into these incredible debates, these incredible ideas. What’s also really sort of disheartening is that they’ve been waging for so long and I’ve been so ignorant about it. So many women are. Women only get to really experience it through the lens of a male gaze. Pick up a women’s magazine, and it’s about how to please the men in your life. I definitely would credit some women’s magazines with giving women license to enjoy sex, but more so than that, it’s as though nothing you do is outside of your male counterpart’s judgment.
BL: So you can enjoy sex, but not for yourself.
CS: Yeah! Exactly. So I sort of have found a middle ground now of respecting myself, and that doesn’t mean by concealing myself, by chastising myself, by monitoring myself. I live by the powers of self-determination. I’ve witnessed this conversation and I’ve come to realize that rape apology happens in subtler ways than you can possibly imagine. And I’m tired of mitigating language. I’m tired of somebody being like, “I just want women to respect themselves and have an air of class about themselves.” I’m like – no! You’re basically saying that if a woman doesn’t dress the way you find respectable or modest, then she isn’t deserving of the respect that you would otherwise give her. And therefore, she isn’t deserving of the respect that other men would give her, and therefore, she is deserving of sexual assault. And I know that seems like a long leap to make, but it’s like… you’re a rape apologist. That’s what you are.
BL: Oh, the connection is so clear. People just don’t see it. I have to wonder, when a young woman like Bindi Irwin says something like this, how do you think it affects people who believe in that sort of rape apology?
CS: What drove me insane about the whole thing is that they’re like, “Bindi Irwin, this bastion of modesty, this beacon of truth” and then the second that someone disagreed with her, they’re like, “She’s just a child!” You can’t have it both ways. Either her opinion is gospel, or it’s discredited by her age. And that was what was so upsetting. It was the conservative media finding a spokesperson that couldn’t be disqualified by anything anyone said about her.
And I don’t think that Bindi Irwin is an idiot. I don’t think she’s a harmful human being, and I don’t think she intentionally wants to upset people. I just think that, truly, in years to come, she and the world around her will come to this understanding that that level of intolerance of women is unacceptable.
BL: It’s interesting, how Bindi’s comments were talked about versus how what you said was talked about. I looked up some headlines, which I’m gonna read to you here. I’m sorry.
CS: Go for it.
BL: “Caitlin Stasey lashed out at Bindi Irwin.” “Slams Bindi Irwin.” “Launches Twitter tirade.” “Bizarre sexual rant.” And then, “Remember sweet little orphan Rachel Kinski from Neighbours? Well, now she’s all grown up, and got her boobs out to prove it.”
CS: Oh, God.
BL: Yeah, that was a fun headline. So, first of all, how does that make you feel, and then what kind of message do you think that sends to the girls you and Bindi are talking about?
CS: Those statements really appeal to people who are already of a sexist mindset. It’s people in the middle ground that I’m really trying to appeal to, and they can be swayed either way. That’s the hardest thing. When somebody is a troll, when someone is like, “women don’t deserve respect, women should be kept in cages,” then you can discredit them as being lunatics. But when someone is quite middling, and very “I respect women, I do, but I still think there should be a level of modesty that one embraces,” I’m just like… go fuck yourself!
As for those headlines, I won’t pretend that I didn’t cry, that I didn’t get hurt by the constant barrage of personal insults that I suffered through. It just goes to discredit those who would discredit me – all they have against me is that I’m an actor with an opinion who has breasts, and she’s not ashamed of them. If those are my biggest flaws, if those are the things you can really call me out on, then you really have no argument at all.
BL: Have you gotten any encouraging responses to this whole thing? Anything that stuck out to you specifically?
CS: I’ve had women e-mail me and tell me about their horrific experiences. There was a woman who had been raped several times when she was a child. I’ve heard from various girls who suffered sexual abuse at school, girls who have eating disorders or severe emotional disorders just because of the way the world has treated them because of their sex. They’ve all been really kind and really considerate, really conscientious. More than anything, it’s a testament to the strength of these women that they’ve understood that the abuse they suffered wasn’t self-inflicted. None of them have come to me and said, “It was my fault that these men treated me this way.” And that, to me, is really encouraging. Because that’s not often the case.
BL: They’re really taught to blame themselves.
CS: It’s that “innocent until proven guilty” thing, which, of course, I understand and it’s important. But when it comes to a woman claiming that something awful happened, she’s guilty until proven innocent. Particularly if the woman in question is attacked by somebody of notoriety. There have been plenty of cases of women being raped by athletes, by TV personalities, and yet, people are so fixated on the idea that someone with a public platform, being so desired – why would they rape somebody? They can’t comprehend that they would ever do something like that.
BL: That literally happens all the time. Some famous male celebrity… allegations of sexual assault come out, his fans rush to his defense, say she’s a liar…
CS: Look at Dylan Farrow.
BL: Look at Dylan Farrow. Exactly.
CS: That’s disgusting. What reason does she have to lie? I know that there are all these mitigating circumstances. There’s this truth that Woody Allen and Mia Farrow had a horrible, spiteful divorce–because what he did was really fucked up. And everybody forgave him. Everybody forgave him then, everybody forgives him now, people will continue to work with him.
People forgive Woody Allen and Terry Richardson because they’re artists, because they’re talented. I won’t deny that either of those people are visionary. They make beautiful work. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. If Woody Allen were anybody else, if he were just a man in the world, nobody would stand for this. But he’s safeguarded by the people who stay silent around him because they don’t want to rock the boat. Lifetime achievement awards. You’ve earned a lifetime achievement award while making somebody else’s lifetime unbearable. It’s pretty sad.
BL: This whole culture of protecting predatory men really just keeps women silent. And every outspoken feminist woman deals with these parades of trolls who just want her to stop talking, sit down, get off the internet. How do you cope with that? How do you take care of yourself?
CS: Well, I interviewed this trans woman recently for this project that I’m doing. I was really enlightened. She just had a wealth of knowledge that was so concealed from me because I’d never had the opportunity to communicate with a trans woman before in such frank terms. She said, “Sometimes, you just get tired of talking about it. You get tired of defending it. You get tired of being the voice of your people or your sexuality or your gender. Sometimes you want to just be a woman.”
I take it upon myself to keep the conversation circulating as much as possible within the circles I have influence over, which are small. But sometimes, I am just tired. Sometimes, I just want to be a person. And sometimes, you’re denied that, because you feel like your point is more important than your personhood and your self-care.
I mean, those articles, everything that was said about me, they made me cry. They made me really sad. I wanted to go on Twitter, go on the Internet, shut down the whole argument, never talk about it again, never talk about myself again. But that’s exactly what they want. It would be such a defeat for me to back down at this point. Not that I am the sole carrier and the sole voice of this movement. But for one person to be silenced because of something they’re trying to fight against is just a tragedy. And I know a lot of women who have had to deal with that.
BL: You have a very healthy attitude about these things.
CS: Yeah, I do, but I get defeated by it. People feel like they can say whatever they want because they sit anonymously behind their keyboards. It is disappointing, but at the same time I’m also relieved that the majority of opposition I face comes from people that I feel are completely invalid in their opinions. Every single journalist that’s written against me has been wrong. That’s what it is. It’s not a case of me being right, it’s that the absolute truths that I have fixed myself to are truths. In ten years’ time, I’m going to be getting a lot of apologies, or a lot of people changing their tune and not ever acknowledging they were this way.
What’s so funny is that they have so much criticism for me, but at the end of the day, I literally live my life so, so freely and I’m so liberated by my choices and I’m such a self-determining human being. You might think that I’ve got a warped perception of the world and I’m trying to get attention, but in actuality, you’re doing that. By limiting yourself to this set of restrictions that has been forced on you by the patriarchy, you are the one that’s living by someone else’s rules. And they don’t get that. And it’s because – dare I say it – they’re all stupid. They’re all really stupid.
Photo of Stasey and Irwin, courtesy of Veooz.com