The University of Auckland’s women’s magazine Kate, produced by the AUSA Women’s Rights Officers, recently faced some criticism for an article called Nudes: Why and How We Take Them.
First published in 2007, Kate is the latest in a series of University of Auckland women’s magazines, the first of which (Marte Nostro) was published in 1903.
The controversial article is body positive and insightful, featuring a collection of nude photographs sent in from people of all shapes, sizes, colours and genders, along with written captions about the photographs and their context.
In a Facebook group for University of Auckland students, one user made a post about the explicit content he had seen.
“[SIC] So has anyone noticed there’s an entire section of nudes in the uni papers with all the rather graphic photos and no censorship. […] isn’t this unsuitable for a uni sponsored publication. Especially as its available to the public including any minors at uni or passing through. Does this start to fall under the pornography content to minors?”
Many students were quick to agree with the post, and did not hold back on criticism towards both Kate and AUSA, such as:
“[SIC] tbh nobody gives a shit if you feel sexy or not, I don’t think that’s really an important issue”.
“If this counts as art then art has really fallen a long way […] real art requires some skill and has actual aesthetic value rather than just ‘muh soshal commentary”.
Caught in the crossfire of the controversy was Craccum, University of Auckland’s weekly student-run publication. Many students mistook Kate for Craccum, which ended up as the target for most of the criticism, such as:
“Craccum has always been complete garbage. They're the dipshit, attention seeking, virtue signalling media pundits of tomorrow. They give everyone who falls on the left of the political spectrum a bad name.”
“[SIC] Crappum was always a load of shite even back when my brother was at uni.”
Despite this feedback, there were students who came to both Craccum and Kate’s defence, saying that nudity does not equate to pornography, for example:
“It is merely art with a statement.”
“I like the idea of all bodies being stripped (excuse the pun) of all sexual application, and viewed for simply what they are. Our bodies are our physicality and it is important to make friends with it and to love it and value it. I like the idea that nudity isn’t sexual or offensive, but is a simple pleasure and freedom on a personal level. I don’t believe there is anything inherently offensive about the human body underneath all the social conditioning and scrutiny which we have all experienced every day of our lives.”
“You guys are ignorant as shit, depression because of how people feel about their bodies is a huge problem and it is a good thing that AUSA is trying to address this problem and empower these women.”
I spoke with Jennifer Muhl and Ngaire Smith, AUSA’s Women’s Rights Officers, who had this to say about the comments.
“[SIC] Kate this year was intended as an exploration of feminism as it relates to women’s suffrage. We wanted to reflect on how far we have come in the 125 years since women got the vote, and some of these responses are more evidence that we have not come far enough. […]
“My first point is that this piece cannot be classified as only degrading to women, as they were not the only gender present. Both men and non-binary people were featured, and to only make reference to the nudity of women is to continue down the same tired road of seeing a woman’s body as first and foremost a sexual object. Women are not inherently sexual. Bodies are not inherently sexual. Nudity is not inherently sexual, and even when it is intended as such, it is not inherently for the pleasure of others.
“Which leads me to my next point: the comments about my weight. I think that part of my social conditioning led me to place a huge amount of my personal value in my sexuality. As an assigned female person, I came to believe that if I was not sexually appealing under the heteronormative, capitalistic, media-driven ideas of male desire, then I was a failure at womanhood. […]
“Taking nudes and finding that I could see something sexy in those pictures allowed me to reevaluate my bodily beliefs. I wasn’t sending them to others for validation, I was seeing them for myself and realising that my beauty, and that of everyone, extended so far beyond the standardised values that I had internalised. As I reached out to people for contributions for the nudes section, I found I was not alone in my sentiments: nudes, shared or not, can make us feel good about ourselves. People take and send nudes. It is prolific! And because it has something to do with people, it is a feminist issue. In 2018, for a feminist magazine to not address nudes-culture would honestly just be weird.
Nudes will be sent whether it’s a good idea or not, so we felt it was important to encourage people to do this in a safe and loving way. Nudes need to be about freedom, autonomy, and intimacy, but this is not always the case.”
Ultimately, both Muhl and Smith are pleased to see that their publication has incited such varied responses.
“I am really glad that this issue of Kate has sparked conversation. Conversation is a fantastic way to grow minds. However, I am disappointed that the contributors who are actual people have been objectified. The comments about weight and complaints of having to see an erect penis seem to remove the humanity from the pictures. Objectification, sexual or not, is not ok. When discussing people, even strangers, we’d do well to remember their feelings. Kindness is actually important, and ought to be of higher value than weak jokes.”
Copies of Kate are available inside University of Auckand’s General Library, on a magazine stand by the stairs.