Massey University's student magazine Massive made national headlines last week after publishing an issue illustrated with what looked to be a girl being raped while studying Psych 101.
The controversial cover accompanied a story about students in the sex industry, leaving the magazine in hot water for seeming to confuse sex work with sexual violence. At a time when tackling rape on university campuses is paramount, it's easy to see why the image is considered problematic.
Massive has been called out previously for misogyny for their sex advice column, and this latest debacle has seen them skewered by Salient, Victoria University's student magazine. Salient also came under fire recently for a nude cover and subsequently issued an unreserved apology. Massive editor Carwyn Walsh is instead refusing to admit fault—even if that means his resignation.
VICE spoke to Carwyn about the backlash and to ask what the fuck he was thinking.
VICE: Hey Carwyn, how exactly did you end up with this cover?
Carwyn Walsh: The story itself is about a student involved in the sex industry and our angle was to demystify it and show powerful women making powerful choices. One of the women in the story mentioned how the men were so sheepish [about soliciting sex] that they kind of whispered to her "do you mind if we do it in doggy style?" So the whole thing was to have her in doggy style looking bored and studying at the same time. That's the message we need to get out to people.
Are you able to see why parallels were drawn between the cover image and rape?
I understand art is subjective, but we are trying to show women that are proud to be involved in the sex industry. What's wrong with that?
Totally, but when I look at the image I don't see a proud or powerful woman though, I see someone being subjugated against their will. Is that something you consider an overreaction?
Well at the time we didn't see rape on the cover. I did not expect this kind of reaction. People are saying that I masturbate to rape pornography. I'm a human being, how do you think I feel about that? I can't work in my Wellington office anymore. People seem to have forgotten that I'm a young editor and this is my second cover. What do you think my mother would say reading that?
Have you had to defend the cover to your parents?
Well no, my mum is just very concerned about me. No one is saying these things who knows me as a person. People who know me as a person know I wouldn't put this as a cover to deliberately advocate for rape.
I'm just finding it so difficult to comprehend that no one raised a red flag.
I understand rape is an emotive subjective, but no one is stopping and thinking. I mean, Salientfor example, got in huge trouble with their chancellor so they issued an unreserved apology. I showed them solidarity and defended their actions. Then about this they wrote an editorial calling me a coward and rape advocate. They have to have a look at themselves in the mirror. We're not issuing unreserved apologies to like, multi-millionaire chancellors because we're scared we're going to lose our jobs. So who's the coward? I don't give a shit about my job. I will happily resign if that's what it comes to. I did the right thing at the time.
Would it come to that?
Well, the personal toll it's taking, it's simply not worth it. I did this with the best intentions. My reputation is getting dragged through the mud. There's no one speaking the truth about this.
So you think it's just a case of misjudging a book by its cover?
Yeah and people have had a long-term agenda against our magazine long before I got there. We're never going to change them. They just hate our magazine. The first article in the magazine was about the gender pay grade, people aren't thinking. That's what's pissing me off.
But surely you can admit there could have been an alternative way to visually communicate your message that didn't conjure images of sexual violence?
Well, retrospect is a great thing, isn't it? We had a media advisory meeting where we allowed women to speak and say something and they didn't. There's a very vocal minority of women saying "what the hell?" We all agreed together, it was a unanimous decision. Everything we do is getting misconstrued.
To be clear, you are admitting you could've done things differently you could have?
We are going to start doing things differently. If someone sees something incredibly offensive on the cover that we've missed, we will seriously take on board their advice.
I know I sound like a broken record, but despite the direct correlation to the story, how could you have missed it? How did you not think twice?
The article has no mention of rape in it! What we saw was that she was bored and powerful, because men were being sheepish.
But the disembodied hands and the hair pulling? Where's the sheepishness?
Look at her eyes! She's bored and she's studying! We are learning lessons from this, okay? We're going to put in place a diversity panel and so people can raise objections but as editor I still get the final say.
You guys have come into hot water before with misogyny before, haven't you? With the "sex guru" column?
Well that's all under review now. There's going to be a lot of positivity from this I think.
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