DuJour Navigation

Actress Caitlin Stasey on Feminism in Hollywood

The Reign star is fearless on screen and off

The CW might not be the first place you’d expect to find a self-described “militant” feminist, but Caitlin Stasey, the 24-year-old Australian actress who stars on the series Reign, is making a name for herself as just that. The founder of the Herself.com has been getting a lot of attention lately for her audacious Twitter presence, and let’s just say she’s no shrinking violet. Addressing the idea that some women are still reticent to call themselves feminists for fear of being labeled as “shrill,” she says, “I’m as shrill as they come, but I don’t understand why the tenor of my voice has anything to do with the substance of my argument.”

The “substance” of her argument can be found at Herself.com. The site is something of a forum that posts one new profile of a woman eachWednesday, chosen from the over 4,000 women who have applied to be featured. The profiles feature an in-depth interview with each, touching on subjects such as her upbringing and religious perspectives, her sexual identity and general thoughts on being a female. Most notably, the scroll-down profiles are punctuated with nude portraits of each woman, taken by a professional photographer. The beauty of the site is really in the simplicity of its concept and presentation.

Caitlin says that she was disturbed by the realities of being a woman at an early age. “Australia is an incredibly heteronormative, patriarchal society. It’s one of the more sexist Western countries I’ve ever set foot in, and I just remember looking around at parties and seeing the way these guys were treating these girls, and the way they would treat me—it was repulsive. And I just remember not understanding what it was.”

As she grew older and pursued acting, however, it didn’t take long for her to put her finger on what “it” was. “I’ve not booked jobs because people have said explicitly I wasn’t attractive enough, or that I didn’t look like the right ethnicity—meaning white—which is insane because I am white. My entire life is spent making sure I’m attractive enough to get work because that’s where my value lies… Being a feminist in this industry is more offensive than being a child molester or sex offender.”

When asked if she would take a role she felt was anti-feminist, she says, “I would like to avoid taking roles that are a betrayal of my entire gender as much as possible, but obviously I need to maintain a lifestyle and a living, and I feel as long as I am able to have a sense of honesty about the work that I am doing, I’ll be okay. It says enough about the industry that someone who’s militantly feminist like I am has to at times completely undermine her own principles to stay gainfully employed.”

While her intentions are undeniably good, it’s true that Caitlin’s beliefs are somewhat at odds with her chosen career. As an everywoman, it’s hard to rally behind an archetypally gorgeous actress raging against the Hollywood standard for beauty, even if it does suck—since it most certainly sucks less for her than everyone else. The self-conducted interview on her profile can seem aggressive toward anyone who is remotely religious, or believes in monogamy (“Pointless, painful and archaic”), much less marriage. She’s just earnestly rhetoric-y enough to remind you how old she is. And admittedly, you may experience a sensation of un-sisterly dissonance as you scroll over the bare-all pictures of her wholly flawless 24-year-old body while reading her darkest experiences of womanly self-loathing, which seem to sort of climax at getting catcalled and having UTI’s.  It’s not fair, but it may be impossible not to think—what exactly is at stake for you here? And then of course, you will give yourself a good feminist smack because that’s not the right attitude, and she actually is doing something worthy of applause. She’s hosting a very honest and inclusive discussion on the experience of living in the female body, and that’s a condition in need of a support group for half the human population. 

Plus, she was the star of that scandalous masturbation scene in the pilot of Reign, and she has some thoroughly on-point thoughts about that.

“This is the thing: I don’t care about being naked on screen. I don’t care about masturbating on screen; I don’t care about sex scenes on screen. The aftermath is fine; I don’t care who sees it. It’s the actual process of filming it that sucks. It’s unsexy, it’s incredibly technical, it’s incredibly boring and also incredibly embarrassing. You’re just like writhing around in front of a group of maybe 30 dudes because the set is primarily men… but the act of a woman actually taking care of herself in that way is incredibly powerful.”