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      culture Alice Newell-Hanson 11 June, 2015

      ann hirsch is a 'horny lil feminist'

      She’s been a YouTube camgirl, a reality TV contestant, a Brooklyn bro and now, for her latest project, “horny lil feminist,” performance artist Ann Hirsch is taking on porn.

      ann hirsch is a 'horny lil feminist' ann hirsch is a 'horny lil feminist' ann hirsch is a 'horny lil feminist'
      Courtesy Ann Hirsch

      "I want to print these USB sticks with my vagina on them and the printer won't even do that!" says Ann Hirsch over the phone from California. Her latest piece, "horny lil feminist" includes video footage of her vagina and she's recounting (in a voice that sounds like Kristen Schaal's) how her web host updated its content policy to ban adult material. She had to take down all of the 30 videos that make up the piece and upload them to another site. The USB incident is just the latest in a long line of censorship issues she's had to combat.

      Hirsch is known for her risqué material and approach: for Scandalishous (2008) she became a YouTube camgirl named Caroline and amassed over two million views, her eBook Twelve - based loosely on her own teenage encounter with a chatroom predator on AOL - was removed from the iTunes store, and she spent ten days as "Annie" a fake contestant on a real VH1 dating show. But "horny lil feminist," the New Museum's current online exhibition, may be her most out-there work to date.

      It's also her most feminist. The 30 videos, in which Hirsch (or some version of her) stars, experiment with internet tropes including YouTube shopping hauls, Pinterest wedding planning, and self-filmed late-night karaoke sessions. Watching them feels like seeing someone who just drank an entire bottle of white wine implode in real time on the internet. "It's over the top, it's dramatic," says Hirsch. "It seems like farce but the sentiment in it is very true." It's about taking control of the way we present ourselves online, she says.

      How would you describe "horny lil feminist" in one sentence?
      It's a portrait of being a woman on the internet today. If Scandalishous was a portrait of it in 2008, this is the updated version. For me, the big difference is pornography. When I did Scandalishous not that many people portrayed themselves online, but now that everyone is on Facebook and in YouTube videos, you have this juxtaposition of your body with the pornographic body. So it's about how that's shaping our sense of self and sexuality.

      How does showing an image of your vagina fall in with that goal?
      I constantly deal with censorship issues, and it's so frustrating. The only images [of naked women] that are allowed on the internet are pornographic. It's really difficult for a regular person to show themselves if they want to. For example, Twelve, my e-book, was censored from the iTunes store. It has no nudity, it's just a slightly erotic story. But they said it was "crude and objectionable," and under no circumstances would they put it back up.

      If we're going to say that women should be able to represent themselves in any shape, form or way, then I think opening a door and being part of that is important. If I want to get stills from "horny lil feminist" published in an art magazine, that's really difficult. So it's about being allowed to show what we want. My pet peeve is when people look at my work and say, "Oh, feminism - isn't that something that happened already in the 70s?" We have so far to go. There are so many people who will just shut down as soon as they see a vagina in my work. There's still so much disgust about sexuality and vaginas especially - even in art. And if you're beautiful, people say, "Well people are only interested because you're beautiful." So you can never really win.

      It's like when our Free The Nipple piece on the i-D site went viral. It was part of this amazing feminist movement, but it turned out 72% of the viewers were men who probably just wanted to look at boobs.
      I deal with that so much. With my Scandalishous project, which also went viral, this is what happened: first the creepy men find you - they're always the first ones - then, the kids find you, and once the kids find you you know it's going viral. Then come the regular people - the people you want to see your work.

      I think it's important to show a wide variety of ways sexuality can exist. So the videos on "horny lil feminist," they're not "sexy" or "cool", they're just really awkward and intimate. I'm sure men are into that too, though. That's the thing: men are into fucking everything. It's like, we can't take away their sexuality. So we can't base what we do on whether or not men are going to be attracted to it. If we did that we would never leave the house. It's about allowing ourselves the freedom to control out imagery and determine what it is for ourselves.

      I'm trying to not placate the side of me that wants to be seen as pretty or cute. I'm always asking, "What is the most embarrassing and horrific thing that I can do?" and that's what I need to do. Because if I'm ashamed of it, there's a reason for that, and I don't want to feel that way.

      How have people reacted to other nude pieces you've done?
      I'm used to taking negative criticism after Scandalishous and the VH1 project. The climate has changed a lot since then though, which is really great. I think I deal less with criticism and more with being ignored or lumped into some niche feminist category.

      How do you think the climate has changed? Do you think that the internet is helping women express themselves?
      I think so. But I also think there's also been a really strong backlash that wasn't there before. There's a lot more visible misogyny on the internet. There used to be tons of misogyny but it was more hidden, on 4chan, for example. I think just the transfer from 4chan to Reddit has made it more visible and mainstream. I got a lot of it in 2008, so now I'm like, "Old hat!"

      Have you had any super trolls?
      I've had more stalkers than trolls. I had a stalker from 2008 to 2012. But he hasn't reached out in a while. It really is true that if you don't incense the trolls they go away. It's really hard to do that. But it's toxic to be a part of it.

      You once compared your camgirl persona Caroline to Miley Cyrus. If "horny lil feminist" were a celebrity, who would it be?
      No one. No one would do that! That's the thing. When I was doing Caroline, no one was like that. Girls weren't getting on webcams and trying to be sexy. And now in 2015, I'm showing my vagina on the internet and no one fucking does that! Actually Rihanna could be the first one to do it. I could see her going there. But if a popstar would just make a video showing her vagina, that would be insane. And I hope it happens. I would love it if in seven years from now, everyone is showing their vagina. We either debase our bodies with pornography and it's disgusting or it's like, "Oh, your vagina is a temple!" If that dichotomy didn't exist anymore, it would be like, "Oh, it's just a vagina. Who the fuck cares?"

      hornylilfeminist.com
      therealannhirsch.com

      Credits

      Text Alice Newell-Hanson
      Image courtesy Ann Hirsch

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      Topics:culture, art, internet, interview, ann hirsch

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