Campus Feminists Accuse a University President of Posing for a Male-Order Calendar
As Michigan State University President John DiBiaggio sees it, the request was a tender trap. The 14 female members of MSU Motion, a precision dance team that stages slickly choreographed routines to a jazz beat, wanted to raise money by selling a calendar. Would DiBiaggio be willing to pose? Recently appointed as the university's chief executive and anxious to demonstrate his accessibility to students, DiBiaggio decided this was something he could support. An MSU economics professor and the coaches of the hockey, basketball and football teams also agreed to have their pictures taken with the girls of Motion. When DiBiaggio showed up for the shoot, he was met by comely Krystal Walker, 19, who was accompanied by her mother. Walker, he says, was wearing a raincoat, but quick as a shutter click, she doffed her covering to reveal a one-piece bathing suit cut very high on the thigh. For DiBiaggio, 53, it was the shot heard round the campus. "Had I known," he says ruefully, "I certainly would not have participated."
The Motion dancers say the juxtaposition of bathing beauties and fully clad male faculty members and coaches was meant to poke fun at cheesecake calendars. Women faculty members who have struggled long for equality with their male colleagues were angry. They complained that the calendar portrayed women in stereotyped, sexually submissive roles. "Although you might not have intended the similarity, the fact remains that pictures of skimpily dressed women accompanied by fully dressed men are standard pornographic images," Associate Professor of English Katherine Fishburn wrote in MSU's student newspaper. "Its subliminal message is...that women are sex objects and men are not."
Stung by the cries of "Sexist!" DiBiaggio, who has two daughters and whose wife, Carolyn, is a feminist, pointed to his record of supporting women's causes during his previous appointment as president of the University of Connecticut. "I don't believe in cheesecake or beauty contests," he says.
The members of MSU Motion see nothing to blush about in their calendar, which has so far sold about 1,000 copies through the mail and at local bookstores for $5.95 each. "I'm really proud of it," says Miss April, Sue Wyatt, 23, echoing the feelings of her teammates. Colleen Rudd, 21, a senior majoring in communications who first suggested the calendar, says the team badly needed money. The team members have all taken dance lessons for years, rehearse eight hours a week and consider themselves serious performers. Besides travel, they must also pay for their uniforms. "People don't realize how expensive pompoms are—$16 to $20 each," says Rudd. "A class-A image costs money."
The 10 remaining members of Motion have issued an apology to anyone who might have been offended, but they have refused to withdraw their profitable calendar. Among women in the student body, the female professors' protests may have backfired. "The bottom line is it's difficult to take seriously a group of people who whine that trivialities such as 'sexist' calendars and 'sexist' language are endangering their civil rights," wrote opinion editor Michele Glance in the campus paper, The State News. "By being so irrational, this fanatical minority is turning off both men and women who are potential supporters of women's rights."
These days all concerned at MSU would just as soon forget the calendar flap. It's a safe bet, though, that if President DiBiaggio is invited to pose for the calendar again, it's a date he won't keep.
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