If you are a connoisseur of blogs (and if you are reading this you must be), you may have noticed that a young starlet named Caitlin Stasey (a Neighbours alumni no less – Ramsay St is a training ground for world domination) has caused a stir within our insular circle. Caitlin started up her own feminist blog with the grand aim of “reclaiming” the female body from “the burden of the male gaze”. Her means of reclaiming the female body… posting a series of artsy black and white nudey photos of herself. That the photos have not been retouched and she hasn’t subjected herself to a full Brazilian waxing is the cause for celebration here. Sadly all it says to me is that slender attractive 24 year olds don’t need airbrushing. Ironically I’d imagine the photos are generally pleasing to male gaze and the accompanying talk about “fluid” sexuality is exciting to the male imagination.
The thing ricocheted around social media causing some argy bargy between certain women’s websites, bloggers and the feminism lite of the mainstream press. Some lauded Stasey as a refreshing new feminist voice. Others retorted that more naked women on the internet was not needed, whilst many merely yawned. I might have made a comment somewhere about finding Clive Standen’s nudity more empowering than Caitlin’s ( which was in both enlightening and unexpected -not).
For me nude photos are just nude photos. They are neither shocking or shameful. It’s refreshing that Caitlin’s images are unphotoshopped and her youthful body is still completely natural. The vibe is completely different what you’d find in Playboy. Otherwise I don’t see how it helps women realize their full potential or participate equally in society – which is what the essence of empowerment is about.
Yes women are judged by their looks (at times to the exclusion of all else) but the continuous cycle of body image stuff in the media merely perpetuates this. Its up to us to shift the focus. Instead of reclaiming female bodies from the “burden of the male gaze” let’s thrust women’s achievements into the spotlight for everyone to gaze at. If nudey photos are not empowering here are three women whose stories truly are.
The late Stella Young never wanted to be thought of an as inspiration. In fact she railed against the patronizing cliche of the disabled person bravely beating all the odds. She viewed quotes like ” the only disability is a bad attitude” as an impediment to disabled people getting the practical assistance they need to participate in society.
That quote, ‘the only disability in life is a bad attitude’, the reason that’s bullshit is … No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp. No amount of standing in the middle of a bookshelf and radiating a positive attitude is going to turn all those books into braille.
Born with a condition called osteogenesis imperfecta (the same condition as Quentin) Stella wasn’t expected to live past her first birthday. But she gave the doctors the proverbial middle finger and began her career in advocacy at age 14. She went on to complete University degrees in Journalism and Education. Later she became something of a polymath as a journalist, editor, TV presenter and stand up (or in her case sit down) comedian. Sadly she slipped away last December at age 32 – way too soon. Yet in that short time she challenged Australians’ perceptions about disability, hopefully in a way that will bring about lasting change.
I want to live in a world where we don’t have such low expectations of disabled people that we are congratulated for getting out of bed and remembering our own names in the morning. I want to live in a world where we value genuine achievement for disabled people.
Advocacy that leads to disabled people participating on a more equal footing in society meets my definition of empowerment. And she did it with epic style.
Dr Fiona Wood
Dr Fiona Wood is a surgeon married to another surgeon with six kids. That should be enough achievement for anyone but Dr Wood has got a heap more to add to the pile. After qualifying as a plastic surgeon Dr Wood became deeply interested in helping burns victims. In the mid 1990s, working along side scientist Marie Stoner, she developed a revolutionary method of growing fresh skin from a patient’s own cells. Known as “Spray on Skin” or “Cell Spray” the technique involves using an aerosol to deliver specially cultured cells to large areas of damaged skin. The method helps wounds heal more quickly and leave less scarring than traditional skin grafts. The new technology gleaned world wide attention when it was used on some of the Bali bombing victims in 2002.
Dr Wood went on to win the Australian of the Year Award in 2005. Instead of resting on her laurels she has used her elevated profile to raise funds and draw attention to a cause which she continues to tirelessly work at. She continues to drive research into the complex impact burns have on the nervous and immune systems in order to achieve scar free healing.
Giving burns victims their lives back sounds like empowerment to me.
Dame Marie Bashir
When Marie Bashir stepped down from the position of Governor of NSW last year the tributes flowed like the Amazon. No one had a bad word to say about this lady. Ms Bashir has a list of accomplishments longer than Mitchell Johnson’s stride. First she studied at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music becoming a proficient violinist. She followed up with a Medical degree. After a stint as a GP she became passionate about helping people with mental illness and completed post graduate studies in Psychiatry eventually achieving the rank of Professor. During the 1990s she did much to drive improved mental health services for adolescents and the indigenous community as well as contributing to teaching programs in South East Asia.
Ms Bashir was awarded
the role of NSW Governor in 2001. She used the position to continue to advocate for indigenous and LGBT health. She managed to juggle this big job with the being Chancellor of Sydney University. At age 84 she has no plans to slide into quiet retirement. She is continuing with her many patronages and is still advocating fiercely for mental health.
A woman reaching the pinnacle of success in public life who is still driven by compassion well into her 80s – I can’t think of a better symbol for empowerment.
Whilst I was tossing this post about in my head it took me about three seconds to think of these ladies. Their achievements have been celebrated countless times so for a blogger they are the low hanging fruit. I use them rather clumsily to point out that we should turn our attention away from women’s bodies and instead talk about achievement, compassion, bravery and perseverance. Its up to us to change the conversation.
Tell me about the women you admire.