Acadia paper’s explicit cover results in stalemate
A decision to publish a sexually explicit cover has issue 76.9 of the Athenaeum without a printer
February 12, 2014, 11:59 PM ADT
Last updated February 12, 2014, 11:59 PM ADT
The editor-in-chief of Acadia’s student newspaper doesn’t want the images in this month’s Athenaeum to take priority over the written content, but it’s the images that have the paper’s usual printer refusing to see the issue to stands.
Iain Bauer, editor-in-chief of The Athenaeum, says he expected some members of the Wolfville community to be surprised by the imagery of issue 76.9 when it was to be published Feb. 4.
But he did not foresee the challenges in getting the issue published.
The cover features a painting of a masturbating woman with her breasts exposed, and inside the paper a painting of female genitalia illustrates a story titled Two lessons my vagina taught me.
The issue was originally going to be themed around sex, but the editorial team decided to focus specifically on female bodies and experiences after the submissions they received reflected that theme.
The cover image was designed by an artist who prefers to remain anonymous. Bauer says he didn’t ask the artist specifically to paint anything graphic, but she contributed the work she thought fit the issue.
Bauer says that at first, their printer told him they had been advised by their legal team against publishing the paper.
Bauer, a third-year honours philosophy student, was told TC Transcontinental Printing had an issue with the cover and thought it would open them to litigation. He says he has not been explicitly given an explanation as to why.
The printer asked Bauer for a letter from someone from the paper’s publishing board or Acadia’s Student Union claiming all legal responsibility for the issue.
Bauer says he came to an agreement with the student union, where it would pay to have the cover wrapped in a white sheet of paper.
But when he approached Transcontinental with that compromise, he was told they wouldn’t print nudity at all.
Bauer doesn’t want the illustrations of nudity to be the focal point of the discussion surrounding issue 76.9, nor the fact they can’t find a printer.
“My staff and the writers and people involved with this issue, they were trying to talk about female body ownership and empowerment,” says Bauer. “So it’s been really hard to take this on without letting a censorship debate overwhelm the issue and regain control of the discussion.”
A “white sheet of paper” now virtually covers issue 76.9 where it is hosted online at issuu.com.
A content warning appears before the paper becomes accessible, meaning you have to confirm you are over 18 and register an account before you can read it.
One reason Bauer wants the issue in print is the paper’s advertisers are paying for their ads in print, not online. But more than that, he feels the students who worked on the paper deserve to see it published.
He says the writing – most of it by authors who weren’t paid — is “some of the bravest writing we’ve seen.”
The issue features pieces on campus safety, sexual abuse, menstruation, sexual norms in culture and pornography addiction. Bauer says the issue aims to challenge female body objectification in western culture.
Bauer says he has heard nothing but support from students and faculty, with faculty from the gender and women’s studies department offering to financially help with getting the issue published if they can find extra money.
The Athenaeum, in circulation since 1874, is now struggling to find an affordable printer to work with.
“There’s only really two options in Atlantic Canada and neither of them are willing to print with us,” says Bauer. “The smaller, more independent ones are about three times out of our price range.”
The expense and access of printing has not been the only challenge faced by Bauer in finding a new printer.
“When it comes down to myself speaking to printers or speaking to legal teams, it is a man arguing to publish a picture of a naked woman, which I think has its own problems and difficult power relations,” says Bauer.
“I think it’s difficult when, as much as this is the issue I’m most proud of, it’s not my message. It’s a message of the artist and the writers who are behind all the articles.”
The paper typically has 2,000 print copies delivered bi-weekly to 24 locations on and off campus, including small businesses and cafes in Wolfville.
Bauer says the paper’s national advertisers did not have any complaints when they were told printing would be delayed, but he is sure they will be getting anxious.