Friday, 23 August 2013

Are vulvas so obscene that we have to censor them?

Accessed 22nd August 2013


Are vulvas so obscene that we have to censor them?

Our student newspaper was taken off the shelves for showing vulvas. But what is offensive about a body part that over half of the world have? 
Hannah Ryan, Avani Dias, Mariana Podesta-Diverio and Lucy Watson, Thursday 22 August 2013 04.50 BST

Honi Soit's censored cover - the issue was still pulled off shelves as the black bars were 'too transparent'. An uncensored version of the cover can be seen below. Photograph: Honi Soit. Photograph: Jennifer Yiu/Honi Soit
Eighteen vulvas. All belong to women of Sydney University, and feature on the cover of Honi Soit, the university's student newspaper. We were told to cover them with ugly black bars before publishing. Why, even after complying with this, were the issues taken off the stands?
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 (porn) or stigmatised (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 na├»ve 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 1,200 Australian women a year get labioplasty 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? 
We want to feel normal; we don’t want to feel fearful when we have a first sexual encounter with a partner who may judge us because of our vaginas. That fear was replicated during the photo shoot. “Just before getting the picture taken the little voice in my head was doing the whole ‘why didn’t you landscape?’ thing,” said one participant. This sentiment was shared by most people in the project – they felt a pressure to present our vaginas to the world in a way that the audience would be "comfortable" with. But this cover is intended to reassure other women. Take comfort from the fact that everyone’s vagina is different, and normal.
All the women on the cover have been unified through their experience, but so is every other person that is able to defeat any negative feelings they have towards their own or another vagina. 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.”
It’s telling that the women who participated in the creation of this cover found the experience to be liberating. It’s because we need liberation. Just before we went to print, we were told that our cover was illegal, possibly criminal. But why? According to the Student Representative Council’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 vulvas?
In 1993, the Honi Soit editors ran an uncensored photograph of a flaccid penis on the front cover, as a response to another university newspaper's decision to do the same. Neither newspaper received any complaints. Our cover was not a comment on nudity generally, but instead an exercise in female empowerment. 
Even after complying, the paper was pulled off stands yesterday. Why? Due to a printing error, the black bars which we were made to use to hide the "offensive" parts and avoid prosecution came back from the printers ever so slightly transparent.
Art exhibitions over the last few decades have attempted to break down the stigma attached to the vagina by bringing its realistic depiction into the public sphere, most recently in Redfern. But the audience must first choose to go to the exhibition. By distributing this cover about the university, we have given our audience no choice. Either accept vaginas as normal, non-threatening, and not disgusting, or explain why you can’t. 
Censorship laws in Australia state that the publishing of "indecent articles" without classification is illegal. Indecent is supposed to be something that will "offend" a "reasonable person". If deemed indecent, items must be classified before publication. Pornography is classified, and deemed suitable for publication in places that only adults can access. Our publication risked being classified as more extreme than that, available only from behind a counter, something that should be hidden away from view, something that should be shamed.
That in 2013, vulvas can still be considered something that should be shunned and hidden, or offensive, is absurd.

Dalai Lama: Women Better Leaders Because Of Potential For Compassion; Next Dalai Lama May Be Female

Accessed 22nd August 2013

Dalai Lama: Women Better Leaders Because Of Potential For Compassion; Next Dalai Lama May Be Female

Posted: 06/14/2013 7:23 am EDT  |  Updated: 06/14/2013 3:13 pm EDT

The Dalai Lama weighed in on the debate around women leadership and came out firmly on the side of the female.
Talking to reporters during a visit to Australia, the Buddhist leader was asked to weigh in on gender during a race for Prime Minister that has included charges of sexism.
Speaking generally, the Dalai Lama suggested that the crisis of suffering and inequality in the world requires a compassionate approach to leadership:
"In that respect, biologically, females have more potential... Females have more sensitivity about others' wellbeing. In my own case, my father, very short temper. On a few occasions I also got some beatings. But my mother was so wonderfully compassionate."
The exiled Tibeten Buddhist leader then applied the same logic to his eventual successor; reaffirming that a female Dalai Lama is possible.

"If the circumstances are such that a female Dalai Lama is more useful, then automatically a female Dalai Lama will come."


Accessed 22nd August 2013

Rape Culture At Work: Five Examples Of How Employers Turn Women Into Sex Objects

It’s no secret that women face a disproportionate amount of discrimination in the workplace. One-third of women say they have been subject to some type of workplace discrimination at some point in their careers — which can range from being paid less for the same type of work, to being denied a promotion, to being scrutinized more carefully than their male colleagues.
But the issues that women encounter on the job can run deeper than being unfairly assumed to be less competent or less valuable than their male counterparts. In many cases, women are up against very specific assumptions about their sexuality, their role as “objects” intended to be attractive to men, and their responsibility to prevent men from desiring them.
That attitude toward women’s bodies becomes entrenched at an early age, as girls are told what type of clothing is or isn’t appropriate to wear at school so they don’t “distract” the male students. And it carries over into the workplace, too, as adult women repeatedly receive the message that they are responsible for both obscuring and leveraging their sexuality for men’s purposes. Here are just five recent examples:

A New Jersey judge ruled that casino waitresses can be fired for gaining weight.

Twenty two former cocktail servers sued a popular casino in Atlantic City over a policy that forbids waitresses from gaining more than seven percent of their original body weight. The women were subject to regular weigh-ins, and the policy meant that a 130-pound woman was not allowed to gain more than 9.1 pounds. They alleged it was weight discrimination — but an Atlantic County Superior Court Judge disagreed. In July, the judge ruled that casino waitresses are essentially “sex objects,” and it’s okay to fire them for gaining weight because they are no longer fulfilling their contractual obligations.

A widely-used employee training manual tells women how to make sure they don’t lead men on.

Earlier this week, Jezebel reported that a popular manager training guide — used as companies like Google, Groupon, and Modcloth — essentially tells women that they’re responsible for preventing advances from their male co-workers. The manual tells women who are “touchy-feely or flirtatious by nature” to “dial it back,” suggests women socialize in groups, and advises women to avoid “revealing clothing” or “ending statements with an upward inflection.”

Women at Merrill Lynch have been instructed to seduce their way to the top.

Other employee trainings have similarly gone off the rails when it comes to guidance on women’s behavior in the workplace. Female employees at Merrill Lynch allege they were made to read a book called “Seducing the Boys Club: Uncensored Tactics From a Woman at the Top” and to make use of its advice to get ahead. To get men to do their work, the book suggested “play[ing] on their masculine pride and natural instincts to protect the weaker sex.” To diffuse tense situations, it pointed out that men “puff up” at being told, “Wow, you look great. Been working out?” The women also allege that they were pressured to attend female-only events on “dressing for success” and were told to be more “perky” and “bubbly.”

The Iowa Supreme Court decided it’s okay to fire attractive women if they pose a risk to men’s marriages.

James Knight, a dentist in Iowa, didn’t fire his female assistant Melissa Nelson after 10 years of working for him because of performance reasons. Instead, Nelson alleges that Knight’s wife told him to do it because “she was a big threat to our marriage” given that he was sexually attracted to her. Yet in July, the all-male Iowa Supreme Court stood by an earlier decision that she wasn’t improperly fired because it wasn’t gender discrimination. Instead, her firing was found permissible because of the facts surrounding her relationship with Knight, such as several comments he made about her clothing and the fact that they texted each other after work hours.

Two hotel employees were fired after they complained about being photoshopped onto bikini-clad bodies.

Two sisters, Martha and Lorena Reyes, say they were fired from the Hyatt Hotel in Santa Clara, CA after they complained about photoshopped images of them. In the photos, the women’s heads were photoshopped onto the bodies of women wearing bikinis. Lorena told Jezebel that they were “extremely humiliating and shameful for me” and also said she has never worn a bikini, even at home. While the company says it fired them two days after they complained about the images because they took overly long breaks, the sisters feel it was related to the incident. The Reyes sisters have filed a retaliation charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Just like when it comes to school dress codes, the issues at play in the above scenarios are ultimately a manifestation of rape culture. Many Americans think of “rape culture” specifically in the context of incidences of sexual assault, but it’s actually a pervasive societal attitude about women’s sexuality that runs much deeper and influences a much broader range of interactions. When women in the workplace are sexualized in these ways, they’re receiving the message that their bodies have everything to do with men’s reactions to them and nothing to do with their own autonomy or consent. This approach to gender roles assumes that men can’t control themselves around women, and it’s women’s responsibility to figure out how to handle that. And ultimately, this culture contributes to high rates of sexual harassment in the workplace: One in four women report having experienced such abuse.
But once women and men internalize those messages about women’s bodies, it’s not hard to see why many of them may assume that women who are subject to that sexual harassment — or other types of sexual violence — probably did something to “deserve it.”