Nel's New Day

June 6, 2014

School Yearbooks – One Piece of the Rape Culture

The Utah high school yearbook that censored young women’s photographs was the subject of my writing on May 29. Following is more information about this situation and the prevalence of yearbook censorship in the U.S.

First, a bit of background on whether the school officials acted legally when they photo-shopped girls’ pictures to put more clothing on them. For almost 20 years, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1969 Tinker v, Des Moines protected students’ freedom of expression. School officials could not stop students from expressing their opinions on school grounds if they didn’t disrupt the school environment or intrude on others’ rights.

The same court stopped this freedom in 1988 when it ruled in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier that the principal of a school could legally censor controversial articles in the school’s newspapers. The material removed from the newspaper was a two-page center spread on teenage pregnancy, divorce, and runaways.

Writing for the majority of five justices, Justice Byron White stated, “Censorship of school-sponsored student expression is permissible when school officials can show that it is reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.” The school needs an official policy of prior review in place or has a history of prior preview. The court considered any publication with the school name to be curricular.

Over two years ago, Ceara Sturgis sued the Copiah County School District because her photo had been taken out of the school yearbook. She had worn a tuxedo for the picture. The case was eventually settled without a trial, and the portrait policy, requiring all female students to wear drapes for their yearbook photos, has been scrapped. This year wearing a tuxedo kept Jessica Urbina’s photo out of her yearbook at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory School in San Francisco.

Jeydon Loredo, a transgender student in the La Feria school district, was luckier. He was first told that he had to wear “feminine attire” instead of a tuxedo because it violated “community standards.” After a meeting, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the district announced that the school had reversed its position.

Last year White Cloud (MI) High School refused to allow any photos that included baby bumps. According to officials, the pictures violated the district’s sex-ed policy of abstinence only.

Wheatmore High School Trinity (NC) asked seniors to include something in their photos that embodied an achievement or something that best represented them. There were no rules or requirements. Caitlin Tiller chose her two-year-old son. “He helped me get to where I am today,” said Tiller who is 17.  “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without him.” After his birth, she worked hard, graduated early, started college, and works at a part-time job. The yearbook pulled her photograph with her son.

The 2013 Palmyra Macedon (NY) High School yearbook pulled senior photos for Sarah Stenshorn and several other special needs students. To show the school’s concern for diversity, the cover featured sign language.

052914_SydneySpiesTwo years ago, Sidney Spies managed to get her photo into the Durango (CO) High School yearbook only by paying $300 and running it as an ad. The school claimed the picture was too sexy.


As I wrote earlier, the yearbook photos of some girls at Wasatch (UT) high school were changed because they showed shoulders and tattoos. The girls weren’t notified; they didn’t discover the changes until the yearbooks arrived. Below is the change in Kimberly Montoya’s photo. [Kimberly’s father responded to the May 29 piece about the situation.]Wasatch-High-School-yearbook A closer look at last year’s yearbook showed the dress standards for boys—bare chests, tattoos, and underwear. And the title “Watsatch Stud Life” to show “Studs doin’ what studs do best!” The following image reflects a view of what Wasatch High School officials to be considered “curricular.”


As one of the boy’s mothers said, “I keep hearing the word ‘modesty’ thrown around. So the girls are supposed to be modest while the boys are supposed to be ‘studs?’ That’s a huge double standard.”

While women’s bodies are sexualized and objectified in the United States, they are supposed to not express any sexuality in accord with society’s “purity culture.” Abstinence-only education, the shaming of pregnancy outside wedlock, “suggestive” photos, lack of “feminine attire,” tattoos—all these excuses for eliminating photos from yearbooks are symbolic of the nation’s attitude toward society’s requirements for women.

Beyond the yearbooks, these are some of the double standards between males and females in the United States:

Women are more likely to get fired for having sex outside of marriage. Unmarried pregnant employees are fired, but the men who impregnated them aren’t—even when employers know who they are.

Young women are blamed for the nation’s teen pregnancy rate. The boys are never targeted, even in education about making intelligent sexual choices.

Women wearing revealing clothing are blamed for men staring at them. School dress codes are almost exclusively concerned with girls’ hemlines and necklines. Businesses that give direction on how women should dress do not provide the same information for men. Women can be legally fired because their employers have lustful thoughts about them.

Women’s access to basic health care services is consistently questioned. Conservatives complain about the costs of paying more for women and object to fund their sexual activities, openly describing the women as promiscuous and “sluts” because they think that women should not be sexually active. Nothing has ever been said about the costs of medication for erectile dysfunction.

Women are not allowed to withdraw consent for sex. Society has the theory that only virgins can be raped because once a woman has had sex that she’s used goods. According to the same belief, any woman who has had sex will always be “asking for it.” Anyone reporting rape is blamed and harassed, especially if the rapist happens to be popular.

A prime example of rape culture promotion is A.J. Delgado’s piece in National Review Online about women being “brainwash[ed] into believing they were raped.” She uses a personal anecdote to draw the conclusion that “for every legitimate, actual rape claim there may be another that was not: a girl who cried rape.”

Zaron Burnett has an excellent article called “A Gentleman’s Guide to Rape Culture.” As the conclusion shows, the entire piece is well-worth reading:

 “Rape prevention is about the fact that a man must understand that saying “no” doesn’t mean ‘yes,’ that when a woman is too drunk/drugged to respond that doesn’t mean ‘yes,’ that being in a relationship doesn’t mean ‘yes.’ Rather than focus on how women can avoid rape, or how rape culture makes an innocent man feel suspect, our focus should be: how do we, as men, stop rapes from occurring, and how do we dismantle the structures that dismiss it and change the attitudes that tolerate it? Since you are a part of it, you ought to know what rape culture is.”

And yearbooks are part of the rape culture.


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