Flashback to 1981: UQU Bans Sale of Magazines Exploiting Women

This fabulous piece of herstory will be featured in the upcoming issue of Wom*news: #8 Flashback!

Anna Bligh and Kerry Boman explain why magazines which exploit women's bodies were banned from sale by the UQU.

Anna Bligh and Kerry Boman explain in Semper why magazines which exploit women’s bodies were banned from sale by the UQU.

This article from a 1981 edition of the UQ Union students’ magazine, Semper, showcases ex-Queensland Premier Anna Bligh and fellow UQ Women’s Collective member Kerry Boman explaining why magazines that exploited women were removed from sale on campus. Anna Bligh went on to become the students’ women’s officer during her time at UQ. There are also some interesting related women’s and queer issues raised in the other replies on this page.

~ Emma Di Bernardo

Full text of the article:

Women’s Rights Explain

‘Playboy’, ‘Penthouse’ and ‘PM’ exploit women’s bodies for profit. They distort women’s sexuality and body images to provide titillating fantasies for men.

Next time you get hold of one of these magazines, take a serious look at the pictures of the women and ask yourself, “Are the women portrayed in a positive or negative way? “Are the women presented as active sexual partners with their own independent sexuality or just as sexual objects for male consumption?”

A critical analysis of the photographs reveals that the message emerging* from them is one of women as passive recipients of male sexuality. The women are photographically saying “Take me” “Use me (abuse me)” “I’m available”.

The sexual message in the pictures is integrally linked with one about power – the power of men over women. This is what turns men on about centrefolds. It is also what turns men on about rape – the active, ultimate expression of power over women.

The articles on women or anything related to women, the graphics and the letters on the problem pages of the magazines all reflect and reinforce the images of women presented in the glossy centrefolds. These were the arguments presented to the council and they were accepted by the majority of councillors, who voted accordingly.

By choosing not to sell these magazines, the union is merely asserting its right to choose what it will sell in the union shop. The union has not instructed anybody else to remove the magazines in question from their shops.

To compare the action taken by the union – one of self-regulation – with that taken by the Queensland or Australian censorship board or Nazi Germany is clearly ludicrous. Organisations have the right to determine what they do or do not sell. For example, nobody would expect the anti-uranium mining lobby to sell pro-uranium mining literature in their bookshops. It is not that they would be stopping people from obtaining it elsewhere, they would merely be regulating what they wished to sell and support.

We seriously doubt if accusations of censorship would be levelled at these people.

However, while we do not consider this to be an issue of censorship, it seems from the discussion over this issue that the censorship question needs some elucidation.

One point which one must bear in mind in any censorship debate is that there is more to censorship than censorship boards etc. In a society such as Australia, we don’t have an ideal democratic state where everyone* has equal rights to access to the media and public opinion. In other words, those with wealth and power get their point across because they own, control or have power to influence the media. In such a society, freedom of speech is the privilege of those who can afford it. We do not support the ‘freedom’ of these people to exploit the powerless, in this case, the ‘freedom’ of multi-million publishing companies to exploit women.

Removing these magazines from the Union Shop is not to imply that students are too stupid or impressionable to make up their own minds about what they buy or read. However the Students Union is in a position where it can take a stand on issues such as this, and by saying that we don’t want to sell these magazines, we have expressed an opinion, thereby creating some discussion and hopefully a better understanding of the issue, at least on campus.

Anna Bligh and Kerry Boman on behalf of the Women’s Rights Committee

Bligh, A and K. Boman. (Eds. Jones and Shelley). (1981). Women’s Rights Explain. Semper, The Rock Issue (6), 31. Retrieved from UQ LIbrary’s Semper catalogue by Emma Di Bernardo.

One thought on “Flashback to 1981: UQU Bans Sale of Magazines Exploiting Women

  1. Sapphicscientist says:

    A fascinating snapshot in time which adds a greater understanding of where Anna Bligh “came from.” I think this is still a contentious issue, particularly from a Third-Wave / Sex Positive Feminism prospective. I personally have a different opinion on Playboy than other magazines such as Penthouse and Picture. In Playboy where women featured in the magazine (as Centrefolds, Playmates and interviewees) are presented in a less exploitative way and give an impression that they actively choose to present themselves to the audience. In my opinion there doesn’t appear to be as exploitative, sleazy and male directed imagery when compared to other magazines like People. But, as the article states, the ban was not about censorship and stopping people from buying such magazines, in was a choice not to sell such magazines by the union shop. On another note, I would love to see more such historical articles.

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