The University of Sydney is debating the censorship of the cover of a student newspaper -- Honi Soit -- which was forced to place black bars over portions of 18 photographs of students' vulvas. The Student Representative Council, which publishes the paper, ordered the addition of the black bars, citing Australian laws on obscenity, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. Michael Spence, vice chancellor of the university, told the newspaper that "personally my view is the cover is demeaning to women but I do realize I'm not the target audience for Honi Soit. However, the student body at the University of Sydney has a long and proud tradition of independence and it's a tradition we will continue to uphold."
Despite all the efforts to block the cover, copies of the original cover leaked and can be found on various websites and Twitter. (Readers who do not wish to see close-up female genitalia may not wish to follow this link, which shows the original version and the censored version.) While the body parts are not identified, some students have come forward to not only defend the project, but to point out their participation. See, for example, this blog post "That's My Vagina on Honi Soit."
The newspaper's website has been shaky with all the traffic since the controversy broke. But an editorial explaining the rationale behind the cover also was posted to the newspaper's Facebook page. "Eighteen vulvas. All belong to women of Sydney University. Why are they on the cover of Honi Soit?" says the editorial. "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 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 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?'"