It was supposed to be a commentary on "the inaccurate depiction of vulvae in the mainstream media," but the comment was apparently lost on the censors who decided to order every copy of one august student newspaper destroyed for featuring too many real vulvae on the cover of its latest issue.
Founded in 1929, Honi Soit is the official student paper of the University of Sydney and Australia's only weekly student publication.
Its name is an abbreviation of the Old French motto "Honi soit qui mal y pense" — or "Shame upon him who thinks evil of it" — which was given singular significance this week after the paper was ordered to guillotine 4,000 copies of its Week Four, Semester Two issue that featured photos of 18 vulvae on the cover, all belonging to students at Sydney.
According to an excellent rundown of the chronology by Mamamia, the Student Representative Council was informed that putting vulvae on the cover would violate section 578 of the New South Wales's Crimes Act, pertaining to the publishing of "indecent articles."
Honi Soit thought it could work around the ban by placing black bars on the vulvae, but they were ultimately deemed "too sheer," and the paper was pulled from shelves and ordered to be pulped.
Given its stated duty to rain hellfire upon those who think evil of it, Honi Soit took to its Facebook page to publish an open letter written by the women whose "indecent articles" were set to appear on the cover:
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?” [...]
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?
Honi Soit's editors still plan on releasing the issue, but with an entirely blank cover instead.
In a separate statement, the editorial team said its intention was "to publish a cover which women would find empowering, not to do something controversial or sensational."
The statement continues:
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.
The team insists they didn't know there would be a legal issue, much less a criminal one, involved in the cover's publication.
However, now that they do, they would like to know why "the distribution of images of a body part that 50% of the population has" is a criminal offense and how they might go about changing that.
Meanwhile, the university's vice-chancellor, Dr. Michael Spence, said he personally found the cover "demeaning to women," but acknowledged that he was "not the target audience for Honi Soit."
One of the women who had her private parts photographed for the cover has since come forward to emphasize that, in actuality, its the current state of vulva affairs that demeans women, not Honi Soit.
[photos via Twitter, Honi Soit]