Printer Rejects Canadian Student Newspaper Due to Nudity, Masturbation Featured on Cover

A printer has refused to publish the current issue of The Athenaeum student newspaper at Canada’s Acadia University due to its cover art depicting a topless woman masturbating.

The explicit illustration is the gateway to a full-blown theme issue focused on female sexuality. Stories in the issue touch on everything from menstruation, campus pregnancy support services and sexual abuse and rape culture to anal sex, the female orgasm and pornography addiction.

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A separate confessional column from Acadia student Megan Stanton shares “some lessons that my vagina has taught me, in the hopes that someday you will come to love your vagina the way I love mine.” An image accompanying Stanton’s write-up displays the outlines of a woman, legs spread, genitalia front and center, without any blurring or obstructing (partial screenshot below). It was painted by the same student artist who created the cover image — each one completed at the behest of the staff but with her own artistic sensibilities.

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Athenaeum editor-in-chief Iain Bauer, a third-year student at Acadia: “This really is the bravest issue, I think, my staff has ever put together. … My staff and the writers and people involved with this issue, they were trying to talk about female body ownership and empowerment.”

That talk hit a roadblock last week when TC Transcontinental Printing declined to print the bi-weekly paper — which normally boasts a 2,000-copy run — due to a “fear of litigation.” The company does not cite a specific law behind its rejection, but a spokeswoman tells CBC News that staff concerns center on “a potential risk of litigation from whoever might make a complaint about the image.” Hmm.

According to Canada’s UNews: “The printer asked Bauer for a letter from someone from the paper’s publishing board or Acadia’s Student Union claiming all legal responsibility for the issue. Bauer says he came to an agreement with the student union, where it would pay to have the cover wrapped in a white sheet of paper. But when he approached Transcontinental with that compromise, he was told they wouldn’t print nudity at all.”

This is the second student media controversy surrounding female sexuality so far this academic year.

As I previously posted, in August, an Australian campus newspaper’s attempt to “make a stance about body ownership” by running images of female students’ genitalia resulted in censorship and a press and social media maelstrom. After staging very intimate photo shoots with willing young women, Honi Soit at the University of Sydney published uncensored, close-up images of 18 vaginas in a special front-page spread.

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 vagina should and can be depicted in a non-sexual way – it’s just another body part.”

The university did not concur. A school office that oversees the paper’s printing worried the photo collage ran afoul of national indecency laws (specifically 578C of the Australian NSW Crimes Act).

A compromised page was published with black bars blocking part of each image. 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.

National and international media coverage soon followed. The hashtag #vaginasoit spread fast on Twitter. Debates raged about the relative appropriateness of the photos and what happens “when pubic privates become public property.” A Tumblr user dubbed the school’s black-boxes-cum-recall nothing less than “The Vilification of the Vulva.” And with their website down due to a surge in traffic, Honi Soit editors issued a statement of defiance on the paper’s Facebook page – garnering lots of “Likes” and supportive comments.

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