Southampton University Student Union (SUSU) have provoked an angry response from some students after promoting a ‘women’s day’ event with a poster featuring several bikini clad models. Women’s day, celebrated for over a century, is a feminist event, supposed to be about promoting the equal treatment of women and women’s rights in society. By advertising the day with a poster that featured what some would see as objectifying and degrading images, many campaigners feel their cause has been undermined.
Azeezat Johnson, a student, has written the following draft letter of complaint to the union:
After seeing this poster, some friends and I were surprised by the depiction of woman in an event that was meant to represent women’s day. As students interested in having a well-rounded university experiences that allows us to understand and explore the infinite depths of our combined cultural and social histories and identities, we were initially excited by the idea of students having a women’s day programme. However, after seeing the poster we felt that our university had not only let us down, but the movement that women’s day should represent.
First, we feel that it is important to understand what women’s day is supposed to mean. As an event that began in 1909, it was supposed to symbolise the improvements that women have made in our social, political and economic sphere, as well as a way to show the respect and dignity that women are too often denied in the public sphere with billboards portraying us as objects rather than individuals. It runs in tangent with feminism which has fought a continuous battle to respect a woman’s right to choose to become whatever she wanted to be whether a model, a housewife, a lecturer or a business executive whilst respecting her as a female individual working from within a framework that allows her to make these choices.
This is why the poster confused, angered and disappointed us and so many others that we spoke to. There are several failings of the poster that must be addressed.
1. The proud history that woman’s day and feminism was not even alluded to, which ultimately means that despite the other problems, it fails at its onset to capture the message of the event that it was supposed to promote.
2. The use of stereotypically beautiful female bodies, which could have been transferred to every and any other poster for events rather than one about women’s day. An ongoing battle for feminism is the understanding that different women’s bodies are beautiful and that as human beings who come in different sizes and shape we deserve and demand to be treated as equals no matter what our sizes. We do NOT need to be a certain size or figure to be categorised (another problem) as beautiful. Any poster that does not respect that is furthering this demoralisation of women, and this particular poster that was supposed to show how University of Southampton celebrates and respects these differences not only fails, but exceedingly disappoints.
3. It is unclear why Robert Pattinson and Ewan McGregor appear on this poster, other than a representation of stereotypical female “eye-candy”. This furthers the disrespect of women as full identities that want more than the teenage “heartthrobs” and insults not only us, but also men in general, as they then need to fit into that false stereotype to be seen as “attractive”.
4. It is also interesting to us how the men in these posters are (from what we can see) fully dressed whilst the women are scantily dressed in bikinis. Note, it is our belief that as individuals it is your right to express yourself by dressing in anyway that you feel from a bikini to a nun’s habit. But in these instances it furthers the objectification of women wearing little to nothing as being “sexy”. This angers us when we are forced to deal with it in the media and larger society in general, talk-less of an advertisement for an event made to promote the necessity to stamp out this objectification.
5. With the little information that is actually on the poster describing this event, it becomes clear that it is not a celebration of women for what we could become, but a further attempt to categorise us as children that would be more than happy with the occasional sweets, sing-star competitions and cocktails. Considering the inspiring history of women’s day and feminism, this lack of recognition of our potential as females is what insults the most.
6. There was no further information provided about the actual discussions or talks that we assume it was meant to promote at 11:00 on the 9th March, and as we were frustrated at the poster and wished to address it during the discussion, we went to the union concourse and we saw no sign of this event taking place, which means that the forum in which we and other like-minded students could discuss and learn more about women’s day was not even provided towards the end.
Celebrating the tradition of women’s day within the University is to be applauded, although many will feel that more harm than good has been done by the campaign. It would be difficult to imagine a similar set of stereotypes being used to promote a day about race or sexuality, and campaigners feel it is time for the Union to adopt a more progressive stance with respect to gender.
While the event has now passed, students are attempting to draw the Union into discourse about the poster. Anyone wishing to further pursue the issue should let the president know what they think.