Australian Family Association: Female Genitals (Cunts) “Offensive”, “Degrading” To Women
Posted by Clem Bastow on March 1, 2009
Yes, you did read that headline correctly.
Readers interested in the art world, living in Adelaide or attending Adelaide Fringe (or who RSVP’d to the Facebook event!) will likely be aware of Greg Taylor’s new exhibition, CUNTS… and other conversations, which features 140 life-sized sculpted portraits of, well, cunts.
(For the record, I subscribe to the excellent Betty Dodson’s use of the term “cunt” rather than “vagina”, because as she notes – even if it is geared towards sexual identity rather than just identity – “technically speaking, the vagina is the birth canal, so using this term leaves out the other parts of a woman’s sex organ”).
Far from the sensationalist angle you would be forgiven for expecting if you read the tabloid news (and we’ll get to that in a minute), the exhibition serves a noble and much needed purpose: to remind people – and, yes, women – that all cunts are different, and all of them are beautiful. From the press release:
“It is a challenging show to some, but it is a work of celebration and empowerment to others. It’s the kind of show that makes a stimulating backdrop for women’s issues to be discussed, which I encourage,” he says.
CUNTS previewed in Melbourne in 2008 and attracted 2000 visitors over ten days including school groups, mothers with their daughters and medical students sent by their university lecturer.
The models for CUNTS range in age from 18 to 78 and are from various religious backgrounds; Christians of many denominations, including Catholic, Protestant, Salvation Army as well as Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Pagans, Witches and Atheists. The women come from all walks of life; teachers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, writers, actors, musicians, artists, life models, students, architects and theologians. The models are heterosexual, bisexual, lesbians. Some are virgins. All of them want one thing; for young women to be free of growing up with fear, ignorance and loathing of their bodies and sexuality. [my emphasis – Clem]
Xanya Mamunya is a harpist whose cunt features among the works. She says of the modelling process, “It was empowering because I am from a generation that never even looked down there. I wasn’t even told about the menstrual cycle until I thought I was bleeding to death. Modelling for the exhibition made me feel that I was part of something that I think is very important – for everyone.”
It’s such a stand-up inspiration for an art show that, naturally, the Australian Family Association and their associated cronies had to come and spoil the show. And boy, did they ever, stepping beyond their usual sex/body-phobia into a whole new realm: yes, women’s genitals are offensive and degrading… to women!
The Australian Family Association also attacked Mr Taylor’s use of the word and images as degrading to women and totally inappropriate for public display. Spokeswoman Gabrielle Walsh said there was absolutely no excuse for the public display of the sculptures or the “C” word.
“He shouldn’t be allowed to force these images and words upon us in public for all to view, including children,” she said. “It’s an abuse of public space and women, in particular, would find them deeply offensive.”
One wonders if Ms Walsh feels personally “offended” or “degraded” by the very thing lurking inside her pants. Fellow blogger Audrey Apple launched the exhibition (with her work hat on); we were discussing the infuriating uproar this morning via email and she had this to say:
Personally, I feel degraded by the notion that the Australian Family Association, with their regressive anti female, anti homosexual and anti sexuality agenda, feels that they can speak for ME. In fact, it’s my experience so far that women especially have responded positively to the exhibition. If the AFA weren’t so determined to believe that bodies are disgusting – and women’s bodies especially – then they might actually learn something. In a world where more and more women are having cosmetic surgery to make their vaginas and labia look ‘presentable’, it’s the height of obscenity to declare an exhibition celebrating vaginal diversity ‘vulgar’ and ‘offensive’.
Throughout the gnashing of teeth by AFA (and Australia Post, and – yes – “State secretary of the Communications Electrical Electronic Energy Information Postal Plumbing and Allied Services Union of Australia, Graham Lorrain”), it’s hard to work out what has sent them into more of a lather: the use of the word “cunt”, or the images of women’s genitals?
On the former topic, yes, it’s true that the “worst” words you can throw at a person have been narrowed down to two that are distinctly female: “cunt”, and “motherfucker”. But it’s worth reclaiming “cunt” (as many people, feminist and otherwise, are aiming to do); it’s a fine, old word with a rich etymological history (hell, it was good enough for Shakespeare!). If we can take back “bitch” and other epithets, why not “cunt”? Why not take it as a compliment? A cursory Google search on the topic will reveal an extensive library of pro-cunt blogging, journalism and web-ringing.
Indeed, it is easier to believe (though harder to accept) that it’s the former – images of cunts – that is the main issue at hand. And why wouldn’t it be? Women’s magazines aren’t allowed to print images of women’s genitals (i.e. for sexual education) unless they are the homogenised line drawings of tampon leaflets (I recall Mia Freedman, when she was Editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, even running an editorial push for readers to “write to their local member of Parliament” – so to speak – in an effort to get rid of these archaic censorship laws). Porn magazines airbrush women’s labia until they look like neat little purses. Women of all walks of life are talked into plastic surgery in order to achieve “designer vaginas“.
But calling women’s genitals “deeply offensive”? It seems the depths of society’s fucked-up-ness are yet to be plumbed.