Sydney University bans vaginas

images_article_2013_08_22_HaniSoitCover

 

In news this week: Sydney University higher-ups were shocked to discover that there were actual human vaginas on campus (the nerve!) and were forced to have them immediately hidden from view and possibly guillotined.

The Sydney University newspaper, Honi Soit (which roughly translates to “shamed be he who thinks evil of it” #relevant), pitched a cover which was subsequently censored by the university and then eventually pulled.

The uncensored cover:

honisoit-642-380

And why were there 18 vulvas on the newspaper cover? Well, as a starting point if you’ve ever seen or heard of The Great Wall of Vagina installation you’ll find a similar intent behind the Honi Soit cover. We spoke to Avani Dias, one of the Editors, about The Vaginagate Scandal and the story so far:

How did it come about? Was there a particular experience or incident that prompted you to choose the cover?
It was an idea we thought of late last year after we got appointed as editors. We always wanted to do it and eventually decided just to do it. We got a lot of positive responses from people willing to actually be on the cover, which obviously helped [the cover concept] progress.

How did you go about finding women to pose?
Some of the editors were quite keen to go on the cover and then we approached the Women’s Collective on campus (which is one of the more Feminist groups on campus). We pitched them the idea and told them exactly why we wanted to do it, and so many people were receptive – then they told their friends and we ended up getting 18 women who wanted to be photographed.

Were you surprised at how easy that recruiting process was?
Definitely. It’s a very daunting prospect to get a private part photographed, so obviously the fact that so many people were willing to do it [was a surprise]. On the day when we were photographing, people were like “oh my friend wants to do it as well!” and it was very positive and it was a really good response.

I found that, weirdly, when volunteering with the artist who orchestrated that installation of all those people nude at the Opera House [artist and photographer Spencer Tunick] and there were so many people who were so excited about getting naked.
Yeah, it’s awesome! People are really into it!

So what was the law that the University cited that was in danger of being broken by your cover?
I think it was Section 578 of the Crimes Act. It basically states that if we were to publish the image it would be obscene and offensive… but the law is quite ambiguous. So, we had to get a lot of legal advice from different people to figure out exactly what we could do and the biggest risks that we were taking. However, it was the SRC [Student Representative Council of Sydney University] that was more liable, and they were a lot more hesitant than we were to do the cover.

What were your main concerns with going ahead with the cover?
I guess it would be that you can get arrested and put into jail for twenty years – which would be a pretty bad thing to happen! [Someone speaks in the background] One year? [Confers with colleagues] Okay. Not twenty years! Yeah, so that would have been the worse case scenario.

Was there ever a backup option like putting the image inside the magazine, for example?
Well, essentially what happened was we wanted to put the uncensored cover on without any black bars [covering the vaginas], and then the backup option ended up being having to put the black bars on what was considered quote-unquote “offensive”. As you probably noticed, there was a printing error and the black boxes turned out transparent, which is why they were all taken down from the stands.

So the uncensored version was fine to be IN the magazine, did they say?
The uncensored version was not allowed to be put anywhere; we were allowed to put them on our personal Facebook accounts and things like that, but we weren’t allowed to post it from the Honi Facebook page or the website or anything to do with the publication. So a lot of the editors and people involved decided to post it from their personal Facebook profiles and on Twitter, and we’ve heard a lot of people say they saw the uncensored version and not the censored version because it went quite viral on the Internet.

Did you ever consider pulling the image when you were told you had to put the black boxes on it?
We fought as hard as we could, and it was good because the editorial team was quite unanimous in that we wanted to put it on there… but it was the law and it’s pretty hard to overcome that!

At the end of the cover story, you said: “either accept vaginas as normal, non-threatening and not disgusting or explain why you can’t.” What have some of the explanations been, from what you’ve heard so far (from people who ARE offended)?
I think a lot of the concerns expressed have been that, you know, obviously if we were to put penises on the front cover we would have had the same reaction and it’s just nudity in general that’s offensive, but we were actually contacted by one of the Honi editors from 1993 and they put a flaccid penis on the front of their cover and a bare man’s butt on the back, and they had no reaction and no complaints. So that’s quite telling of the situation. I guess we could test the penis thing later in the year [laughs], but the reason why we did the vaginas specifically, was because they are quite stigmatised in society in general, and it was more about empowering women and showing that this is a real vagina and not the kind you see in porn or in sex scenes – and that was really the aim of it. It wasn’t really to do with causing a sensation. Actually, that’s another big complaint that we’ve had: that it’s just attention-seeking. Our defense of it is that this is for women, and the fact that so many people have been quite outspoken about it shows a lot about the impact that it’s had.

I saw in the comment section of the article on Jezabel someone said: “I’m not opposed to what they did and I believe in their principles, but I think an “ugly” boobs cover would have done the job more effectively.”
An “ugly boobs cover”?

Yeah and they did put “ugly” in inverted commas.
[Sighs] I think that the point is there are eighteen different vaginas on there, and she’s got quite a big… selection to choose from, and some of them are completely hairless, some are not at all… We wanted to show that every vagina is different and it doesn’t matter what yours looks like. I don’t really know what that comment was really trying to get at.

Someone else wrote something about men feeling like they will now have to post pictures of their penises because of porn and unrealistic expectations. What do you think about the difference of doing it for women based on the expectations on women rather than men needing to do it in that way?
Yeah I think that definitely is an issue, and it is one of the complaints that we’ve had, as I said earlier, that penises are not well represented either. But I think, again, that the message we were trying to send is vaginas – basically in every context – are sexualized, and the aim of this was to show vaginas up close and in a normal non-sexual setting.

Do you think with the cover being pulled and then getting such a huge reaction to it has kind of, in some ways, made your point for you?

Yes! Definitely. You know, it’s funny because obviously if it wasn’t pulled off the stands then it wouldn’t have been as big a reaction. I guess that was something that kind of worked in our favour, and it started a massive debate about the issue and that’s exactly what we wanted to happen.

From what you’ve seen, how is the student body reacting to their newspaper being taken away?
It’s annoying because there’s actually a lot of good content in the paper and people aren’t getting to read that because of the front cover. But we’re trying to figure out what we can do in terms of putting it back on stands. Apparently guillotining the cover is one option, or colouring in every black box is another option. Either way we’ve got a big night ahead of us!

What’s the circulation?
We have four thousand copies printed.

That’s a lot of colouring. Were you surprised when international media were picking up the story?
Definitely. We saw it was put on a Danish website and in Indonesia. That was really great to see that it had made it around the world. You know, obviously we can’t understand what they’re saying but as long as the debate is being sparked, I think that’s exactly what we set out to do.

Pedestrian

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Categories: Sex

2 Comments on “Sydney University bans vaginas”

  1. September 22, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    Shame on you Sydney. It’s celebrating the differences and beauty of the human body. Why does everyone treat nakedness with a shock, horror attitude? Do we detest our bodies that much?

    Great post as always 😉

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  1. Vaginas are ugly. Apparently | Missy Jubilee's sex blog - September 15, 2013

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