Caitlin Stasey (left) and Bindi Irwin (right). Photo: Getty
The media likes nothing better than to pit young female stars against each other in a battle of the Madonna and the Whore, and the unwilling contenders in this week’s Good Role Model vs Bad Role Model cage fight to the death at The Coliseum of Moral Judgment are Bindi Irwin and former Neighbours star Caitlin Stasey.
In an interview with News Corp, a discussion of Irwin’s personal style turned into the young “wildlife warrior” offering her thoughts about her fellow teens’ sartorial habits. “I mean, for me, I look around at a lot of young girls that are my age and they’re always trying to dress older,” she said. “Whether it’s wearing revealing clothes or hardly wearing any clothes at all, I feel really bad for them.”
“A lot of times I want to grab these girls and say ‘look ... in 10 years you’ll regret this,” she continued. “Just dress like who you are. Don’t try so hard. A pair of jeans and a T-shirt is just as gorgeous and even makes you look classier’.”
Stasey responded via Twitter:
Open letter to bindi, in ten years you'll wish you stood beside your shared sex rather than be proud you belittled their choices & agency— caitlin stasey (@caitlinstasey) June 23, 2014
And I think her opinion, in this case, is damaging— caitlin stasey (@caitlinstasey) June 23, 2014
An opinion is an opinion is an opinion, and one aired publicly encourages discourse. People listen to her, the media is championing her— caitlin stasey (@caitlinstasey) June 23, 2014
It will surprise you only if you have recently arrived on earth from a distant galaxy to hear that the media then went berserk, pitting the wholesome Irwin against the mean, uncouth Stasey. This is likely because Stasey has, of late, been using her social media platform to eloquently discuss gender politics and censorship.
Of course, such a subtle and truthful exploration of these issues is lost on the mainstream media, who instead trumpeted about her “racy” and “sexy” Instagram posts. It’s an undeniable contrast with Irwin, whose social media presence is intensely monitored to present a particular “personal brand” (photos of her holding a starfish alongside a Rainer Maria Rilke quote, for example).
The media have done a disservice to both myself and to bindi by portraying us as dichotomous opposites— caitlin stasey (@caitlinstasey) June 23, 2014
There is no right or wrong party here, at least as far as Irwin and Stasey’s opinions are concerned, though if it were up to me Stasey’s emphasis on personal expression would win out: young women should be able to dress however they damn well want, without fear of judgment or being, say, thrown together in a witless media “fight”. I’d hope it’s just youthful naivety that leads Irwin to make judgments about what style of dress is “classier”, since “classy” is usually code for “not a slut” or “better than you”.
Inevitably, it’s the defender of modesty who gets the media approval in this instance, since Stasey’s stance (i.e. that young women should be encouraged to have agency and express themselves however they like) is terrifying to a conservative media that prefers its young women to fit a prescribed notion of “good behaviour”. The media - and armchair commentators - are far more likely to side with the young women who has played it safe, even though such approval comes with scant analysis of precisely why Irwin feels the need to come out batting for modesty.
Yes, many young women like to dress modestly; that’s not the issue here. Rather, we should examine why Irwin is goaded into sounding off about her fellow young women’s clothing in the first place.
Hint: it’s the big neon sign flashing “SEXISM” 50ft high, and the klieg lights spelling out “DOUBLE STANDARD” behind it. Imagine a similar pair of young male stars being played off against each other. Imagine their being asked what they think about how other men dress.