Sunday, August 25, 2013

Stand by for the Clive James centrespread

I'm confused. Okay, I'm always confused and I'm confused about my confusion even more than that, and while my general state of quizzical befuddlement and bemused confuzzlement varies from day to day, I usually start the day off knowing nothing about anything and end the same day knowing even less. Today, my state of confusion, quizzicality, befuddlement, bemusement, and confuzzlement is directed at the brave activists at Honi Soit, the old student rag at my old alma mater, who apparently simultaneously decided to take a photograph of their vulvas and publish it on the cover and withdraw that same edition. Actually, the details are a little vague, but the decision to publish the cover and then withdraw the same cover was apparently taken by the one person, editor-in-chief Hannah Ryan, which makes it all the more of a head-scratcher when you read this piece, by an unnamed Honi writer, protesting against the censorship that it turns out they have undertaken themselves.

But that's hardly all, indeed, a university student paper getting into trouble, or perhaps getting itself in trouble for not getting into trouble, is hardly news. But the confusion multiples, it grows, it keeps coming in great tidal waves of confusion. What exactly was the cover protesting? Surely not the commodification of women's bodies, because mass producing images of vulvas like this - 18 per cover, hundreds of copies of Honi going to print (and then being pulled (but being put all over the net anyway)) is a perfect example of said commodification. Perhaps the cover has an educational purpose, because as one of the writers says, "Until I saw the uncensored versions of the vaginas, I didn’t even realise myself how different they could be." But to present them in this format, disembodied and impersonal - doesn't this kindasorta encourage the objectification of women? Or are we not worrying about that anymore? Will the cover change anything, help anyone, educate girls and liberate women? Is it actually raising consciousness or just encouraging future students to take their clothes off, take photos of their bits, and publish them? Is that good or bad or neither or either or something else entirely? Just how exactly is today's activism much different from yesterday's exhibitionism or tomorrow's participating in the evil patriarchal capitalist hegemony? And for the sake of gender equality, should we perhaps imagine former editors like Charles Firth, Robert Hughes, or Clive James naked as well? Do we really have to?

It's all become a bit of a blur to me, what's right and what's wrong and what to publish and what not. I don't know: if anyone needs me, I suppose I'll be forcing myself to google pics of James supine and naked and fleshy in his London flat: you'll be able to tell where I am by the gently tender yet horrified screaming.


Steve said...

I doubt you are intending to get a serious response, but:

I think it's hardly "commodification" if it's not intended to be commidified. The Free Dictionary definition:

"To turn into or treat as a commodity; make commercial"

As noted at my blog post about this, the large lightbox posters I saw all over my local Westfield shopping centre showing a pantied female torso in a "lady's razor" ad was commodification.

Perhaps the word you were looking for was "objectify"?

In a technical sense, you could say that putting vulvas on display is objectifying them (treating them as objects); but just as we don't say that a sex education or anatomy book is offensive for objectifying sexual organs, this cover can't be accused fairly of that either. "Objectification" in a feminist sense is offensive because of its intent to depersonalise bodies or body parts for the viewer's selfish reasons. I think I said the Bic ad did that, too.

By the way, I just read that the magazine is going to be published after all.

A couple of dubious taste puns to finish come to mind, not including one about dubious taste, but I won't trivialise it. Really.

Steve said...

I didn't mean to sound cranky at the end of the last comment. But it end up all Gerard Henderson feeling, I think...

TimT said...

Do you know the Baron made exactly that same point about the word 'commodification'....! That, and my somewhat indiscriminate use of the words 'vulva' and 'vagina'.

I would have to double check the meanings again to make sure but at any rate I do seem to recall that Honi has ads, so that would be enough to make anything in/on the magazine as a product, ie, something commodified....

Steve said...

Ooh, that's a stretch, that last argument!

I read somewhere that the magazine cover once feature a flaccid penis. (How prominently, I'm not sure.) I fully expected that to be the case - it's the sort of thing socially immature university students like to do. But if we didn't have a week of "will we or won't we" and associated newspaper headlines, why are vulva's attracting so much attention?

Steve said...

A week of trauma over whether a penis should appear or not.

TimT said...

I'm pretty sure they would have featured several vulvas on the cover when I was at uni - this time they got attention because they publicised the story of their self-censorship themselves, somehow with the usual level of self-righteousness and anger about being censored - it is all rather odd.

On these issues I recall an article by P J O'Rourke - possibly in Eat the Rich - where he visits his old campus and witnesses the editors of the student rag there agonising over whether to publish a rant by a local nutbag because, you know, free speech and the constitution and rights and some such - or whether to not publish it because, you know, racist, violent, insane, etc. O'Rourke observes: "No-one thought to throw it out because it was a piece of shit".

Ah well, it's a student publication and they're students. So they'll learn.

Steve said...

I must admit, I keep thinking of "Volvo" when writing vulva.

I wish I edited a motoring magazine, as I could entertainment myself for hours coming up with article headings like "Bronwyn Bishop gives us a look at her impressive Volvo".

Email: timhtrain - at -

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