Censorship Fail: Vaginas Removed from University Newspaper Covers

by Brenda Pitt


In an admirable attempt to protest the ways in which vaginas are overly sexualized in porn and totally censored in mainstream media, The University of Sydney’s student paper Honi Soit recently published an issue with a brave and totally rad cover featuring the naked vulvae of eighteen students. Okay, they weren’t totally naked. The school’s Students Representative Council and their lawyers instructed the paper to obscure the images with black bars placed over particularly “explicit” regions of the images. Still a great step, right? 


An essay released by the editors of Honi Soit entitled The Vagina Dialogues explains the significance of a cover like this one:  “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 authors confront the fact that over twelve hundred Australian women undergo labioplasty, writing against unrealistic standards of vaginal aesthetics. As they correctly point out, most vaginas are not always smooth, pink, quaffed, and free of “flaps,” and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s about time we saw a wide array of vaginal imagery, vulvas of various sizes, colors, shapes, styles. All lady parts are beautiful and should be neither a source of shame nor a target for objectification.



In a shocking and laughably, heart-wrenchingly ironic turn of events, the Students Representative Council censored the vulvae images, pulling thousands of copies of the paper from shelves and refusing to let them into circulation. The council believes the images to be “illegal, possibly criminal […] and likely to cause offense to a ‘reasonable adult.’” I don’t think so. Thankfully, editors and readers of the magazine have fought back, writing, “what is offensive or obscene about a body part that over half of the […] population [has?…] either accept vaginas as normal, non-threatening, and not disgusting, or explain why you can’t.” The paper plans to re-release the issue with a defiant, blank cover (does this remind anyone of feminist and modernist editor Margaret Anderson’s Blank Issue of the Little Review? In which she published blank pages to exercise her power as editor and demand respect?). I think this is a bold and awesome move, given the circumstances. 


The good news is that various media outlets continue to show support for the editors of Honi Soit, many of them discussing the controversy with Editor-in-Cheif Hannah Ryan, who told The Huffington Post, “It’s fantastic that we’ve started a worldwide conversation. Women have contacted us telling us they’d never seen other people’s vulvae before and that they feel better about their bodies […] Other media organizations have come on board and argued that it’s ridiculous that to show a body part that 50% of the population has is illegal, and possibly criminal.” Way to go, international media! Maybe we can all draw some wisdom from the women over at Honi Soit and do our own part to embrace vulvas of all kinds without objectification or shame. 


The Cover Image

Thanks to The Huffington Post and Honi Soit

Images via Honi Soit and The Huffington Post

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