Internet Histories13.11.14

Vocal Chords and Nothing More

Janet McAllister on why the makers of the vagina posters are dicks.

In 1928-29, surrealist Rene Magritte created his most famous painting. It has two elements: a pipe and the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This is not a pipe”). The work is called The Treachery of Images and his point is that the painting is not a pipe but a representation of a pipe. In 1945, he painted an image showing a female head as a female torso, with breasts for eyes, a belly button for a nose, and female pubes for a mouth. Entitled Rape, it is most obviously read as a criticism of the male gaze that treats women as mere bodies without personality.

These paintings are relevant as we turn to the current vaginas-for-health fracas in New Zealand. Detailed, graphic posters of a gigantic, sexualised, hairless vadge have been sprouting up all over the city. This, my friends, is a normalised teenage wet dream of a vagina. It is an aspirational vagina, the ur-vagina, the one-and-only vagina regina.

The poster is ostensibly not of a vagina but of vocal chords, and carries a public health message. The pretend-excuse is unreadable (small and white on vulva-pink) unless one gets up close and personal with the poster in public. As the message is irrelevant to the image, I'm not going to repeat it here. The Beavis and Buttheads responsible are a small, private outfit called the Men’s Health Trust.

“…the drawing is a close up image of vocal cords and nothing more…”

- Men’s Health Chair Phil Clemas, email to me, 9 November

Thanks for clearing that up, Phil. It’s all in my pretty, if dirty, little head then.

Except what’s this that you’re telling the blokes?

“[When we first saw the poster idea] we thought,
this is one that is going to cut through….
[I]t does look like a vagina so there's bound to be
some people doing a double take.”

- Phil Clemas, Dom Post article 6 November

Yes, that’s right. Unsurprisingly, this is a deliberate representation of a vagina, using vocal chords as an unconvincing fig leaf. A la Magritte, the poster is neither a vagina nor vocal chords. However, it is a representation of both orifices. It is the representation of a vagina made of vocal chords. Such a cunning stunt.

The Men’s Pelvic Thrust claims the poster va-jay-jays are somehow good for men’s health. Lady bits: doing what they were put on earth for – being used by Man to help Man be more Man. Roar. Nothing says 'men’s health' more than pornographically-framed moist deep throats plastered all over town. What man isn’t going to feel healthier when faced with ready-and-waiting lady meat in public? If he doesn’t – if perhaps he’s even offended that such a public poster is supposed to appeal to him - then he’s not a real man. And the Men’s Health Magazine Trust doesn’t need to care about the health of non-men. Because men have nothing to do with non-men as people. Just objects. Sometimes objects on posters.

Isn’t it great about the Roast Busters, by the way?

No public quango would attempt to flaunt cunts in commuters’ faces and expect to continue their government funding. The Men’s Health Club Trust is privately funded; so are its linked organisations concerned about the damage to their brands? Their masterful sponsors – Wairakei Golf + Sanctuary, Parker Hannifin and Enzed – all declined to comment. The spread legs are a-ok with them.

The Men’s Health Spa partners are Unitec and University of Otago’s anatomy department. Otago did not answer a request for comment while Unitec’s Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social and Health Sciences, Wendy Horne, wrote back in support of the Trust. It’s nice to know nurses and social workers are being taught within a culture that lets deliberate, well-planned sexism slide.

But wait – I’ve got it wrong. The poster actually has nothing to do with men’s health. A-ha ha-ha! Sucked in! The Men in Marketing Health Fandango just wants notoriety, to be known as those baad, baaad boys. They want to impress Tony Veitch. For their next trick, it’ll be armpits doing farts, and nipples made out of melanoma moles.

Hats off to the Anti-Women-Anti-Men Brigade for reclaiming the mouth/vagina equivalence from Magritte’s feminist revolution. The patriarchy is in rude health indeed.

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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