The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Poster spurs concern

Advertisements are supposed to get people’s attention.

But several posters using sexual imagery to promote UW-Eau Claire’s arts magazine did more than that recently, eliciting complaints and their eventual removal.

The posters featured a close-up drawing of a person wearing a ball gag – a common prop in sexual bondage – with the words “Submit to NOTA” scrawled beneath.

Sophomore Wes Adams, an art editor for NOTA and designer of the poster, said he meant to encourage participation in NOTA through humor and symbolism. Submitting creative work can be uncomfortable, so the image highlights that anxiety, he said.

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“It was kind of tongue-in-cheek and kind of humorous,” Adams said.

Whatever the intent, the posters have raised questions on campus about tolerance, gender equity, free speech and ethics.

Adams said he intentionally left it unclear whether the figure was male or female.

But in late September, the College of Arts and Sciences and other departments received complaints from people who perceived the gagged figure as female and found the posters degrading, administrators said.

By Oct. 1, the posters were gone.

Administrators in various departments said there was no pressure by the university to remove the posters, and NOTA members said they have no idea who took them down.

Adams and other NOTA members said the reactions to the poster show Eau Claire’s need for greater tolerance of different ideas, including sexual practices.

People assumed the figure was female, decided the image was degrading and failed to consider the work artistically, they said.

But those on campus who work with gender issues and sexual assault said the posters suggest that women are objects and sexual violence is no big deal.

“That can create an unhealthy climate,” said Amanda Mondlock, a victim services coordinator for the Center for Awareness of Sexual Assault. “There’s an undercurrent in this poster that concerns me – of violence.”

Mondlock and others who analyzed one of the posters understood the play on words and the possibility that the figure was neither male nor female – though they said most people probably assumed it was a woman.

They also agreed that encouraging a deeper understanding of consensual bondage and other sexual practices is important.

But a single image on an advertisement can’t foster the sort of responsible discussion needed to do so, they said.

Janice Bogstad, head of the collection department at McIntyre Library and a professor who teaches women’s studies, was one of the people who originally complained about the posters.

She said the posters are a worse form of female objectification than the campus swimsuit calendars that come out each year, because the posters make violence against women seem “cute.”

Faculty affiliated with NOTA said they didn’t think it was appropriate to limit Adams’ expression, and people on campus who found the posters offensive agreed.

But the reaction to the posters’ content provided an opportunity for young artists to learn how to use free speech ethically, said Allyson Loomis, faculty adviser for NOTA.

“I asked them to think about the power of the image,” Loomis said. “With freedom comes responsibility.”

NOTA (None of the Above) is a student-run creative arts publication that includes visual art, poetry and prose. The submission deadline was Oct. 3.

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