The above image is responsible for how I found feminism – which in turn lead me to the idea for Shirts are for Boys. This photo is one I took this past summer of my partner Hannah, while we were at a Manitoban nude beach. To be honest, at the time it was taken there were no real convictions or preconceived meanings behind it. The landscape was vibrant, the weather was warm, and after a lifetime of struggling with my own body issues I felt incredibly free being naked. Quite simply, I wanted to remember that moment, and so I took a picture. Not for a minute were there any thoughts about what the implications of taking this photo could be, or how it would completely change everything I thought I knew.
Let me back up a little bit. I was never fond of the idea of feminism. For one, I had no real idea of what the term actually meant and absolutely no intention of finding out. Like many, my idea of a feminist was an angry, man-hating lesbian with short hair, plaid shirts, and body hair. Given that I was already a short-haired, plaid-wearing lesbian I set out to make sure I conveyed an image that made it clear I was a humanitarian – NOT a feminist. I didn’t hate men and quite frankly didn’t really believe women were having that much of a different experience from them. It’s the 21st century, in North America nonetheless. Women have the right to vote, are allowed to wear pants, and sometimes we even get away with bad behavior because we are “non-threatening”. For women in the LGBTQ community, we were now able to legally get married, hold pride parades (in Canada) without much interference and for the first time in a long time had a growing amount of community support. Truthfully, I didn’t see the point in feminism or the true value of its efforts. I had never really felt connected to my gender until I received this response on my sharing of the photo of Hannah from a reputable social media platform:
“We removed your post because it doesn’t follow our Community Guideline. Please read our Community Guidelines to learn how you can help keep our site safe.”
Censorship?! My photo was reported for nudity and taken down because it was offensive?! I was in shock.
I had heard of censorship and the “free the nipple” movement. I had read articles on public breast feeding and knew the female body was offending people far and wide. But the actual implications of it were so far removed from anything I had experienced personally – I was outraged.
I have been an artist my entire life and am constantly striving to create controversial work. One photo I had success with entitled “She” depicted violence against a person identified as a woman. The photo gained some attention, shocked a few, and got some commercial and artistic recognition – but not once did it seem to offend anyone, least of all social media platforms. Now here I was… offending not only the individual who felt compelled to report my photo as inappropriate (which is actually quite petty in my opinion) but an entire social media guideline! I couldn’t wrap my head around how something that was meant to be a beautiful moment was being exploited and taken entirely out of context. It was then that I got angry. How dare a widely accepted and used social media site, one that should be responsible in encouraging ethical treatment and equal rights of all peoples, try to censor something that was very clearly artistic?
In response to my photo being removed I shared a call to action for all of my viewers, supporters, and fans to share the photo of Hannah. To my surprise people responded with an overwhelming amount of love and support by not only sharing my photo but adding commentary and encouragement to continue pushing back against my censorship. All of a sudden my inbox and media pages were being flooded with touching emails, words of encouragement, and stories of individuals who wanted this story shared – most of these people being women. Women who were vocalizing and sharing their stories that did in fact prove our experiences are different from men. That even though we can vote, wear pants, secure employment, that we are still very much existing in a binary and oppressive structure. That femininity, regardless of gender, was not socially acceptable and therefore something to be censored. That by accepting a part of yourself and owning your existence you can challenge social constructs – without being an angry lezzie.
It is this realization that lead me here, to this blog, Shirts are for Boys. Think about that phrase for a moment. I mean really let it sink in. How ridiculous is the notion that a shirt is for a boy… or a girl? That bare chests are only acceptable for one gender, while dresses and the colour pink for another? That any object or expression is reserved for a specific characteristic? That it is offensive for someone to be anything they want to be?
Shirts are for Boys is a creative response to inequality in our current culture. The focus is on creatively informing and discussing relevant issues surrounding gender. It is a blog dedicated to encourage readers to live authentically, find self love, and be what ever you want to be. It is about empowering others, exploring non-binary concepts, and liberation.
This is my response to censorship. It comes with love, compassion, and a real desire to affect change. Shirts are not just for boys, they are for whoever the hell want to wear them.
– Steph Jael
P.S. I’m sorry your body is offensive Hannah