Emily Ratajkowski Nails What We Get Wrong When We Talk About Female Sexuality

July 7th 2016

Lucy Tiven

In an interview with feminist author Naomi Wolf for the July issue of Harpers Bazaar​, Emily Ratajkowski opened up about slut-shaming, her topless selfie with Kim Kardashian, and feminism in the social media age.

Ratajkowski described how slut-shaming is outdated; it can make female sexuality a commodity and leaves little room for women to celebrate their bodies on their own terms.

"There's this idea that if a man enjoys a photograph of a nude woman or if he likes your short skirt, he's taking something away from you," she said.

The notion that women always express their sexuality as part of a transaction — ie. in exchange for validation from men — is hugely disempowering and rooted in archaic stereotypes about sexual pleasure.

Wolf and Ratajkowski explain some of the misconceptions that women face:

"ER: It's not right. Sex is normal. Desire is normal. Attention is normal, and that's okay. That's really what slut shaming is, right? You talk about this in your book Promiscuities. A woman talks about having sex, and it's like, well, a guy got to have sex with you, so you're stupid. You've given something up.

"NW: These attitudes come directly from the Victorian period. They're ridiculous, of course. The caveat is when you're in the performance profession; you're giving pleasure with the performance. But if someone else uses your short skirt to undermine you or belittle you, that's not cool. That's also not your fault."

Ratajkowski describes how selfies allow women to push back against the way popular media depicts female bodies — particularly nude ones — as objects of the male gaze.

"A selfie is a sort of interesting way to reclaim the gaze, right?" she pointed out. "You're looking at yourself and taking a photo while looking at everyone."

The Lady Godiva-inspired photo shoot that accompanies the article nods playfully to the political power of female nudity.

As the legend goes, Lady Godiva rode through the streets of Coventry, England, naked on a white horse to convince her husband, a powerful Earl, to lower taxes.

This reference also illustrates how nudity performed for a man or male audience can have another function — Lady Godiva's nude journey through town is in service of a greater good, but her husband also told her to do it. So she is working within the constraints of a patriarchal system and subverting them at the same time.

Ratajkowski also asserted that a nude photo doesn't necessarily have a political message.

"But also who cares? Kim's allowed to do what she wants. So I issued a series of tweets; she sent me flowers, thanking me, which was very sweet. We ended up running into each other and had this idea to take a similar selfie with our middle fingers up."

In fact, we shouldn't scrutinize or judge the reasons women express their sexualities, she explains.

"The whole idea is that when Kim takes a nude selfie, she's just seeking attention," Ratajkowski told Harpers Bazaar. "That's not the issue. A woman can be seeking attention and also make a statement. They don't need to be mutually exclusive."

You can read the full interview on Harper's Bazaar.