By MAMAMIA TEAM
The covers of 4000 copies of Honi Soit (the University of Sydney student newspaper) are about to be guillotined.
Why? Because there are pictures of vulvas on the front. You know, the body part that approximately 52% of the population has. Because OFFENSIVE.
Here’s the cover:
And this is just the censored version. If you want to see the uncensored image click here. (Warning: clicking this link is certainly not safe for work . And FYI, Mamamia would put that same disclaimer if we were showing a photo of a penis).
Here’s how the whole saga went down.
The editorial team at Honi Soit decided to publish a cover featuring a composite image of 18 different vulvas.
The cover was intended to be a protest against the inaccurate depiction of vulvas in the mainstream media. The average vulva that you see on television or in print is smooth. It is hairless. And it is labia-less. (Thanks for that, porn.)
The result? Most of us women haven’t ever seen a real vulva (other than our own).
Enter: pesky meddling student politicians with their big fat law textbooks.
The student newspaper was informed by the Student Representative Council (SRC) that they couldn’t publish the images inside the magazine – let alone on the front cover – at all. The reason? Because censorship laws in Australia say that the publishing of ‘indecent articles’ is illegal. And ‘indecent articles’ apparently include vulvas. (For more on censorship and vaginas and vulvas, click here.)
A lawyer informed the President of the SRC that publishing the pictures of vulvas was a criminal offence under section 578 of the Crimes Act and that it was punishable by up to 12 months in prison. So Honi Soit went ahead and published the cover you see above – with opaque, black boxes over the ‘indecent’ articles in question.
But due to a printing error the black boxes were not as opaque as intended, and some parts of the vulva could still be seen. And so on the Sydney University campus this afternoon it was decided that even placing, sheer black boxes over women’s non-sexually explicit body parts wasn’t ‘decent’ enough. So thousands of copies of the magazine have been pulled from shelves around campus; the covers will be guillotined.
On their Facebook page, Honi Soit have published a piece written by the 18 women whose vulvas are depicted on the cover. Mamamia has published an edited version of their explanation below:
Eighteen vulvas. All belong to women of Sydney Uni. Why are they on the cover of Honi Soit?
We are tired of society giving us a myriad of things to feel about our own bodies. We are tired of having to attach anxiety to our vaginas. We are tired of vaginas being either artificially sexualised (see: porn) or stigmatised (see: censorship and airbrushing). We are tired of being pressured to be sexual, and then being shamed for being sexual.
The vaginas on the cover are not sexual. We are not always sexual. The vagina should and can be depicted in a non-sexual way – it’s just another body part. “Look at your hand, then look at your vagina,” said one participant in the project. “Can we really be so naïve to believe our vaginas the dirtiest, sexiest parts of our body?”
We refuse to manipulate our bodies to conform to your expectations of beauty. How often do you see an ungroomed vulva in an advertisement, a sex scene, or in a porno? Depictions of female genitalia in culture provide unrealistic images that most women are unable to live up to. “Beautiful vaginas are depicted as soft, hairless, and white.
The reality is that my vagina is dark and hairy, and when it isn’t it is pinkish and prickly,” said one of the participants in the project. We believe that the fact that more than 1200 Australian women a year get labiaplasty is a symptom of a serious problem. How can society both refuse to look at our body part, call it offensive, and then demand it look a certain way?
As one participant put it: “When it comes down to it, my vagina is just another part of my body, which can be viewed in a number of different ways, but the majority of the time is completely neutral, just like my mouth or my hands. It is not something to be ashamed of; it is not my dirty secret.”
Just before we went to print, we were told that our cover was illegal, possibly criminal. But why? According to the SRC’s legal advice, this publication might be “obscene” or “indecent”, likely to cause offence to a “reasonable adult”. But what is offensive or obscene about a body part that over half of the Australian population have? Why can’t we talk about it – why can’t we see it? Why is that penises are scrawled in graffiti all around the world, but we can’t bear to look at vaginas?
… Here they are, flaps and all. Don’t you dare tell me my body offends you.
Honi Soit are right.
There is a reason these images need to be published.
There is a reason that the media need to start publishing more realistic representations of women’s bits. Because at the moment women are being held up to an impossible and not-real standard that is being applied to every single body part.
Faces must be pimple and wrinkle-free.
Breasts must be pert. And large. But not too large.
Stomachs must be smooth and abs distinctly visible.
Thighs must be skinny. Boxy gaps must be boxy.
Behinds must be curvaceous.
Legs must be waxed.
And vulvas must be pretty.
In porn (where, lets face it, most young people are learning about sex today, before they even get close to having sex) vulvas are waxed, and cleaned, and anything but natural-looking. And that’s before the photoshopping even begins.
In men’s magazines labias are digitally removed and skin imperfections smoothed away, until all that remains where a vulva once was, is a Barbie-like lump.
The only way women will stop comparing themselves to these unrealistic images, is if the media starts pushing the envelope and publishing images of what women actually look like. Honi Soit spoke to Mamamia about the guillotining of their cover.
Their editorial team said:
Our original intention was to publish a cover which women would find empowering, not to do something controversial or sensational. We felt that the twin influences of pornography and censorship (for instance, the fact that the cunnilingus scene in Blue Valentine earned the film a more restricted rating than it would have if the film had depicted fellatio) meant that women attach shame or fear to their vaginas, and feel that they have to conform to a certain standard of beauty (small labia, etc.). The cover and the 18 vulvae were intended to say to women that they were normal, that it didn’t matter what they looked like, and that they didn’t always have to be sexual.
We (naively) didn’t think this would be a legal problem. We certainly didn’t think there would be any issues of criminal law. The SRC lawyer has expressed concern that the original cover, and the printed version (with slightly transparent bars over the vulvae) are in breach of s 578C of the NSW Crimes Act, as the images are “indecent”. As a consequence, the covers are probably going to be guillotined off tonight or tomorrow morning and the papers redistributed. We want to know why, in 2013, the distribution of images of a body part that 50% of the population has by a student paper known to push boundaries on a university campus (meant to be a liberal place where all ideas are welcome and debated) could possibly be criminal.
Also, if this is indeed the law, we’d be interested in seeing it changed, although don’t have any specific plans for a campaign at this stage.
So, MM-ers. It’s over to you, should vulvas be publishable? Or not?
At Mamamia absolutely everything is up for discussion: from pop culture to politics, body image to motherhood, feminism to fashion. We unashamedly cover what everyone is talking about today: whether that’s stories which will make you laugh out loud, cover your mouth in shock, help you get informed or start you thinking about an issue in a different way and sometimes, we help you to just switch off the brain power from a few sweet minutes and kick back. Follow us on Twitter here and on Facebook here.