It's shocking to think that in 2019, there is still such a stigma and mystery about women's sexuality and pleasure. The idea of our sexuality and pleasure being for ourselves, rather. Since the beginning, women have been the play things of men, serviced them, brought them to climax, fulfilled their sexual desires - but what about us?
Artist Heather M. of Oakland, CA founded The Femme Project (@thefemmeproject) in 2014. She works not only in photography, but film and short story. She has a lot to say on the subject.
FFU: What was the inspiration for this amazing project? Could you give our readers an overview of the concept?
HM: After the bulk of my career in marketing and creative roles for agencies, the industry left me feeling burned out and a little disenchanted. I knew that I wanted to use creative talent to further causes that were important to me, specifically, those messages focused on empowering women. I created The Femme Project as a platform to create artwork and stories that was not art for art’s sake, but rather, art with purpose, exploring themes about femininity, sex and sexuality and equality as they relate to women. I had thought of the Femme Project as something bigger than just me, so I chose a name that could evolve with the vision and allow the opportunity to grow an collaborate with others. Lately, I have been focused on topics of sex and sexuality because I believe women cannot fully realize equality until they own their sex and sexuality. We need to control that conversation and feel empowered to engage with sex on our terms.
FFU: Tell us about the importance of a project of this subject - what are some stigmas and misconceptions in society? How are you trying to change those?
HM: I could talk about this for hours! I will say this. Despite improved access to information, young women are still coming of age lacking good information about sex, feeling unsafe when seeking answers about sex, and experiencing stigma associated with exploring their bodies and sex in ways that are informative and affirming. Tech companies have made things worse by enacting policies that communicate one thing: sex is bad and women’s bodies are something to be objectified, shamed or censored. Trying to have an honest and open conversation about sex in this environment is harder than ever. I am discouraged that the next generation of women in are experiencing the same reality that I did nearly twenty years ago. We need safe places, online and offline, for women to explore and express their sexuality and their bodies as they choose, without judgement. Unfortunately, the saturation of online porn has just made things worse - from creating unrealistic expectations about how to engage in sex as well as false assumptions of what pleasure looks like.
My goal with The Femme Project is to create content that gets people talking candidly about sex. I want everyone to have a healthier attitude and understanding about sex and how women experience sex. If the Femme Project can reach just a few women, change a few minds, that is success for me.
FFU: How has The Femme Project evolved? Could you talk about the different series you've done?
HM: The early work of The Femme Project was about testing ideas, experimenting with different artistic mediums and finding a voice. I’ve always been fascinated with the intersection between digital and tangible arts - so elements of graphic design and digital photography are combined with and influence other tactile interpretations such as painting and mixed media projects. I chose to explore self-portraiture in in a variety of ways to express concepts about body image and femininity as well as my own perceptions about sex and sexuality. These images evolved into projects like “Sexting IMGs” - which took the idea of sexting and digital selfies and transposed them as fine art charcoal drawings - and “Thigh High Thursday Challenge” series - a photographic series expressing themes about body image, equality, femininity and the female gaze, as told through self portraits in hosiery.
As The Femme Project took shape artistically, I began exploring ways to use the art to advocate for women’s issues and encourage a social dialogue. I created the #DontTrumpWomen project in response to the Trump campaign and the rampant sexism and misogyny in our culture. As my ideas and narratives about sex and sexuality matured, the #RespectHerSex campaign developed with projects like the short film, the erotic writing, “Into to Fold” and other photography and visual artwork.
FFU: The #RespectHerSex campaign is a personal favorite. I saw you made a short film as well! Could you give us a synopsis and when/where to see it?
HM: The film is called #RespectHerSex: The Erotic Drama and it is a six minute erotic short that explores the intimate relationships of a woman as she engages with her different partners. The film's premise challenges traditional, normative ideas that society places on women. There is a screening on March 31, 2019 at the New Parkway Theater in Oakland, California. I am also looking for ways to showcase the film (and future ones) online, so keep checking my website or join the email list! I recently made the film available to my email newsletter subscribers to view.
FFU: I know you have some views about Trump's America, let's hear it! What does this mean for women's rights?
HM: I think the world woke up to a very different perspective on November 9, 2016, and since then, the rights of women have been at risk and diminished on a seemingly daily basis. I realized that as a society, America is not as woke as I thought we were when it comes to women's equality. That's why I came up with the #DontTrumpWomen project. The Trump Administration and the Republican majority espouse policies and perspectives that are destructive, regressive and dangerous for women. This includes limiting access to healthcare and abortion and appointing conservative federal judges who demonstrate a callous disregard for women. The most disturbing thing is how they have no concern about publicly attacking victims of sexual assault. However, I think the silver lining lies within the fact that a new generation of women have been galvanized to fight for equal rights, to run for political office, and to stand for justice.
FFU: What are you currently working on?
HM: I am writing the first in a series of short erotic stories entitled Madame X. For me, using writing as a way to explore themes and ideas about women and sexuality has been a great way for me to round out the different creative approaches for The Femme Project. The writing inspired my first short film, which led to the #RespectHerSex campaign. Madame X tells the story of one woman's journey of sexual discovery and exploration. I wanted to tell a story of the female experience that is both erotic and authentic. The experience of women, when it comes to sex, is often messy, uncomfortable, and a little nerve racking. We often see the two extremes of women’s sexuality - on one side, the pornification of our experiences - and on the other, a romantic ideal that creates an unrealistic depiction of what sex or pleasure should be. I think the reality is somewhere in between, and much more rich and complex. The ebook will be available on Amazon and a limited print run in the next couple of months.
FFU: Have you ever received any backlash and if so, how do you deal with it?
HM: Over the years there have certainly been trolls on social media and inappropriate comments. It comes with the territory when you decide to put yourself out there online. Typically, I ignore the trolls and block particularly inappropriate or abusive users. There is no discussion or common ground to be had there. I think it's really important, as a woman, to control the conversation about how you engage in a virtual context, especially with regard to your sexuality. I find it useful to turn comments into conversations and opportunities for dialogue about challenging topics. However, it has been refreshing that the majority of responses to the Femme Project message have been positive and affirming, as opposed to antagonistic.
I encourage all women out there to empower women, because I believe that we are stronger together. We can be a force for change. As the Femme Project grows, I welcome the opportunity to collaborate with other women and build a vibrant community of voices and perspectives. So if you’re an artist, a writer, a creative or just curious, drop me line - I’d love to chat with you! And thank you for giving me the chance to speak about the Femme Project.