In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"

Naked Bodies on Herself.com: Pornography or Powerful?

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So, is this pornography or a good idea? Herself.com, copyright dated 2015, claims to be dedicated to women, about women for women, according to their manifesto:

“Herself is a gesture to women for women by women; a chance to witness the female form in all its honesty without the burden of the male gaze, without the burden of appealing to anyone. These women are simply & courageously existing, immortalized within these photos. Within their words, their experiences and stories are offered on Herself in the hopes of encouraging solidarity – that maybe we as women will take comfort in the triumphs of others rather than revelling in each other’s defeats. Let us reclaim our bodies. Let us take them back from those who seek to profit from our insecurity.” -Caitlin Stasey

At first glance (lots of bodies to glance at, that being what hits the viewer first), the idea struck me as disingenuous, maybe a marketing ploy. After all, there are seven or so women featured naked with their stories interspersed between nude photos–on the Internet. The metaphor is supposed to be something like the naked truth, but how exactly are these women avoiding the male gaze and pornographic objectification on this public space?

However, after reading the interview questions that each woman responds to, I changed my mind a little, thought more about it. Women respond to many questions ranging on topics from first time sexual experiences, body image, marriage, monogamy, and polyamory, to name just a smattering of the content. The questions are rather blunt and aim for honesty. Few touched on the political such as those about reproductive rights and contraception. The rest are personal.

So what makes this anything more than a sociology graduate school project/case study? Well, the attempt to disseminate ordinary, non-Photoshopped, random, high quality, well-photographed bodies that are not merely categorized in the usual culturally accepted genres of naked or partially clad female bodies, i.e., models, actresses, erotica, pornography, or cadavers, is to challenge culturally acceptable notions of female nudity imposed on the public with other versions of the story of the naked female body. Potentially, it is a direct challenge to the media by ordinary women maintaining control of the deployed-into-society imagery that undergirds bias and affinity, dictates social norms and relegates some bodies to lesser or more valuable against usual criteria, i.e., commercial, aesthetic or familial.

If Herself.com’s game is to infuse media with naked bodies owned and thereby controlled by those throwing their bodies out to the public and not an advertising agency or other commercial enterprise, then I think it is a good idea. However, they will need a great many more bodies to display spanning all demographics: age, race, ethnicity, shape, identity. I will be curious to see where this site goes.

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