Student Newspaper Front Page Featuring Vaginas Blows Up Down Under
A campus newspaper’s attempt to “make a stance about body ownership” by featuring female students’ genitalia on its front page has resulted in censorship and a press and social media maelstrom in Australia.
Honi Soit is a publication with “a proud history of radicalism.” It is also the oldest student-run weekly newspaper down under, publishing since 1929 at the University of Sydney. Current staffers planned to run uncensored and undoctored images of 18 vaginas on the cover of this week’s issue — and they did, sort of.
Why? As editors explained in a Facebook post, “We are tired of having to attach anxiety to our vaginas. We are tired of vaginas being either artificially sexualized (see: porn) or stigmatized (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.”
The 90-second thrust of how the paper’s crusade played out: The Honi Soit recently staged very intimate photo shoots with 18 willing young women who apparently “found the experience to be liberating.” Editors then laid out the pics on the cover. But a university office that oversees printing of the paper blanched, stemming from a concern “the cover was against the law” (specifically 578C of the Australian NSW Crimes Act).
How are the explicit images possibly illegal? As Lily Patchett, a University of Sydney student and one of the women whose genitalia is featured on the front page, shares, ”Australian law states that published vaginas must be healed down to a single crease, which means that almost every vagina you see in the media has been censored and/or airbrushed — you’ll never see any ‘bits’ hanging out.”
Editors confirmed they “did not foresee how big a legal issue the cover would become.” A compromise was reached — black bars run across part of each image (specifically the portions featuring the labia and clitoris). But upon the issue’s distribution on campus ”it was discovered the black bars were transparent and did little to cover the vaginas.” Administrators swooped in, carrying out a “dramatic recall” of all 4,000 copies of the issue. They are now set to possibly destroy the covers.
— eda (@pedantration) August 21, 2013
Update: all the Honis on campus are being seized by the SRC, guillotining pending because of the transparency of the black bars #vaginasoit
— Honi Soit (@honi_soit) August 21, 2013
— elize strydom (@elizestrydom) August 21, 2013
Local, national and now international media attention has followed. The hashtag #vaginasoit has been spreading fast on Twitter. And a lengthy retort by the Honi Soit leadership on its Facebook page has garnered tons of comments, most of them seemingly supportive.
According to the paper’s editors, “Censorship laws in Australia state that the publishing of ‘indecent articles’ is illegal. Indecent is supposed to be something that will ‘offend’ a ‘reasonable person’. That in 2013, the vulva can still be considered something that will offend a reasonable person is absurd. … [W]hat 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?”
At the close of the Facebook post, editors cite the full French phrase upon which the newspaper’s name has been adapted: “Honi soit qui mal y pense.” Translation: ”Shame upon him who thinks evil of it.”
In a separate piece for Birdee, headlined “That’s My Vagina on Honi Soit,” Patchett argues, “It makes no sense to me that in this day and age, vaginas are still held to mythical standards of beauty — soft, hairless and white. The reality of vaginas is that some of them are hairy, sometimes prickly, sometimes dark, sometimes pinkish. Some women’s labia poke out, some don’t. But mostly, vaginas are always treated as some great, big, shameful secret.”
Click here to view close-up versions of the uncensored and black-box covers. Warning: NSFW.