For those of us who frequent the gym, the bulletin board on the landing of the stairs to the weight room can be a source of information, a welcome excuse to stop and catch your breath, or — as it was to me last week — an outrage. Last week, the bulletin board featured an advertisement for a Class of 2014 SA Senator candidate. The image that graced the poster was not his own face, but a topless young woman. Her breasts were covered with a white sign that, in red lettering, said “Vote Smart.” Below, the candidate urged the freshman class to allow him to represent them in the SA Senate. I was not the only student to stop and gawk at the advertisement. As other students passed, some displayed shock, some chuckled, others barely noticed its presence.
In a brief e-mail exchange with the candidate, I asked him why he chose that particular image for his campaign. His answer: “I figured it would grasp the attention of straight men and lesbians; topless women have been known to do that.” Thank you, sir. I will give the candidate credit for using such an eye-catching image. I cannot, however, understand why this image in particular would help him become elected as an SA senator.
Does it display his passion for student activities or his commitment to excellence? Does it demonstrate his understanding of the problems UR students face in their day-to-day lives?
Women’s Caucus, the feminist group on campus, also came under fire for using a similar image in a much different context. We hosted a “Turn Ya Body Out” meeting last spring to promote positive female sexual expression. The image we used was deemed lewd and unnecessarily graphic. Our message, however, was one of positive sexual freedom. I would argue that the posters used by the aforementioned SA candidate silenced women and used them as a prop.
To discover the differences between the two advertisements, let’s look at the images in greater detail. The young woman pictured in the posters is holding a sign to cover her breasts. Her bare shoulders and midriff are left exposed, and viewers are left to hopelessly ponder what is underneath the sign.
The woman pictured in the Women’s Caucus advertisement is notably more covered than the woman in the campaign posters. The image cuts off well below her breasts and exposes only her midriff. She is also very clearly empowered in this image. She is displaying sexual aggression and freedom. In contrast, the campaign poster model is imprisoned behind her sign, unable to assert herself. The ideas expressed on the poster are not her own, nor does she have control over what the sign says. She is a passive, yielding platform on which a senatorial campaign was built.
I think it is also important to note that this particular senatorial candidate did not submit a platform to Campus Times for last week’s issue. His campaign was built solely on word of mouth, this image and two others, one of which also uses female body parts as props and depicts voting as sexual. Though I am glad to know that this candidate can copy and paste sexual images from the Internet, it might have been more useful for the Class of 2014 to know about his background in student government or his vision for the SA.
So I would like to extend a warm welcome to this particular candidate and the entire class of 2014. I hope that in the future they will reflect upon whether it is necessary or in good taste to use women as props.
Although sex does sell in the real world, do we want it to be a vehicle for our Students’ Association elections? Should women be disrespected on this campus? The answer doesn’t lie within me or even within this particular candidate, but within the future classes still to come to UR.
Will sex sell on campus? I can only hope not.
Wermers is a member of the class of 2013.