By Elle Chase
This week, I found three year old article on www.MamaMia.com.au online regarding Australian Classification Board’s (think the the Australian version of the MPAA except it includes all video games, films and published materials) censorship of the natural state of a woman’s vulva in magazines. In it, journalist Mia Freedman (who also wrote the pieces I’ve linked to below) describes it in the following way (in an article that can be read HERE in full):
” … the basic situation is that any magazine featuring a picture of a naked woman, had to digitally remove anything visible outside the ‘single slit’ of the vaginal lips. So any stray bits of labia or clitoris had to be airbrushed out. Because it was deemed OFFENSIVE.”
“any magazine showing any ‘genital detail’ must be sold in a sealed plastic bag. Like pornography. And I’m not talking about explicit legs akimbo shots, just shots of a normal girl standing up with her legs closed. She must look like Barbie or the airbrush will be deployed to make the censors happy and protect our sensitive eyes from OFFENSIVE VISIBLE LADY PARTS.”
As you would expect, noted Australian Feminists have been up in arms about this for years to no avail. Their frustration is palpable. It’s bad enough that women are taught (intentionally or no) that their sexuality should be hidden, now the Australian government is literally sending a message that if their vulvas don’t look a certain way, there’s something wrong with them. To make matters worse, it seems that the Australian Classification Board denies they have any mandate to excise the labia minora from pictures of naked women. But all ‘soft-core’ men’s magazines and any other publication that ‘could be deemed inappropriate for a minor’ has been digitally altering women’s vulva’s for about 10 years in order to escape the wrath of the Board..
I have read the Australian ‘National Classification Code’ posted online HERE, and while it does not specifically list the excising of the labia minora from photos, being non-specific seems to be the (intentional?) real problem.
If you’re curious as to what non-specificity looks like, read on:
1. Classification decisions are to give effect, as far as possible, to the following principles:
(a) adults should be able to read, hear, see and play what they want; (b) **minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them; (c) everyone should be protected from exposure to unsolicited material that they find offensive; (d) the need to take account of community concerns about: (i) depictions that condone or incite violence, particularly sexual violence; and (ii) the portrayal of persons in a demeaning manner.
2 Publications (except RC publications) that:
(a) ***explicitly depict sexual or sexually related activity between consenting adults in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult; or (b) depict, describe or express revolting or abhorrent phenomena in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult and are unsuitable for a minor to see or read
Category 2 restricted
3 Publications (except RC publications and Category 2 restricted publications) that:
(a) explicitly depict nudity, or describe or impliedly depict sexual or sexually related activity between consenting adults, in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult; or (b) describe or express in detail violence or sexual activity between consenting adults in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult; or (c) are unsuitable for a minor to see or read
Category 1 restricted
4 All other publications Unrestricted
Nowhere else in the code or it’s amendments does it get any more specific about just what kind of material they are protecting minors from that is considered **”likely to harm or disturb them.” This means that somewhere, someone sits behind a desk with a big red pen and a singular opinion, deciding just would cause harm to the average Australian minor. Are sex education materials that show the labia minora offensive? How about medical journals and trade magazines? I mean, certainly a minor could come across such provocative pictures in the doctor’s office? This should scare the average Australian way more than it seems to, especially in light of the “adult opt-in policy” that the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron is about to put into effect.
And what about this little passage?
*** “explicitly depict sexual or sexually related activity between consenting adults in a way that is likely to cause offence (sic) to a reasonable adult; or (b) depict, describe or express revolting or abhorrent phenomena in a way that is likely to cause offence (sic) to a reasonable adult and are unsuitable for a minor to see or read.”
Who decides what “revolting and abhorrent phenomena” or what a “reasonable adult” is? Perhaps someone who believes in a different God? Maybe someone who believes homosexuality is deviant? Possibly someone who regards the Transgender individual’s sexuality as indecent? No way to tell.
And that’s the point.
With so much room for interpretation amid rapacious denials of the controversial censorship or “editing,” can the banning of images of male foreskin be far behind? But seriously, even in that case the “harm” has less potential, as men have the opportunity to see one another’s genitals in the restroom from an early age, where women have no societal structure where they come in visual contact with each others vulvas (as pointed out by Kirsten Drysdale).
As a child until I was about 18, I had only seen my mother’s vulva, which differed completely from mine. Her labia minora lips fell past her majora folds and mine did not. I felt as if something were wrong with me, or rationalized that this kind of stretched out labia minora happened after a woman had given birth. It was only until I was 18 and performing in theatre productions when I was able to see other women’s vulvas in the dressing room and realized that it’s natural for the vulva to have differences in size, shape, color and texture. What of the young Australian women who come across photos of vulvas, all digitally altered to look the same? What subconscious or conscious message will take root in their brain if they don’t resemble what’s in those pictures?
We’ve seen what fashion magazines and the media have done to women’s self esteem in reverence to the tall, skinny ideal of womanhood. It’s given our daughters eating disorders, caused out kindergarteners to go on diets and supported a multi-billion dollar diet industry worldwide to fix it all. This vulva editing is no different than shaming women for not being thin and the stakes are just as high.
If I were tasked to write a new National Classification Code for the Australian Classification Board, I think I might be a little more worried about the proliferation of violence against women in the magazines they police.
Case in point, this Australian ad for Melbourne shoe company, Luella was allowed to be published n 2009.
Although, it was pulled shortly after it hit the stands, this awful ad apparently didn’t have editors of the magazine it appeared in nervous enough that they would be chastised by the Classification Board if they published it. This is just one example speaking to the fact that according to the Australian Classification Board, a woman’s vulva in it’s natural state is more disturbing and causes more harm to our children’s minds than an ad with a woman tied up and stuffed in a trunk to sell shoes
Check out the original article that sparked this post (below):
Additional articles on the subject: