Commission on Status of Women asked to take down Facebook page

On March 5, 2012

  • The above photo led to an editorial in the Union Leader, which led to the UNH President’s Committee on the Status of Women being asked to take down its Facebook page, where the photo was displayed. Courtesy

The debate over reproductive rights has become the 2012 presidential campaign's hottest topic. Birth control and abortion legislation have angered liberals and conservatives alike. Amid the national controversy surrounding women's bodies, there is controversy happening at UNH as well.

Recently, the UNH President's Commission on the Status of Women was asked to remove its Facebook page following an editorial posted by the New Hampshire Union Leader on Tues., Feb. 28. The editorial criticized UNH for maintaining "countless boards and panels" for unnecessary reasons, as well as allowing these boards to participate in "one-sided political activism through social media."

The editorial also called out the Facebook page's profile photo.

"There's also a ridiculous photo of five women in absurd, sexually explicit costumes that will outrage readers while sending others into fits of laughter" the editorial stated.

Just hours after the editorial was posted on the newspaper's website, the Facebook page was deleted. Prior to deleting, the commission posted a status update explaining that the university had asked them to remove it.

According to Wanda Mitchell, vice provost for faculty development and inclusive excellence, the page will return once details are discussed and guidelines for posting are developed. She said Facebook is a useful tool, but that it is difficult to regulate. A meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday to discuss these concerns.

Meanwhile, one proponent of the commission and women's rights has created a Twitter account to vent her frustration. @frustratedNHfem, who asked to remain anonymous given her current position at the university but will be identified as Leslie for the purposes of this article, said the forced deletion of the commission's Facebook page was the last straw.

"Basically they were censored because some outside people were offended by women's issues," Leslie said in an email. "They thought the awareness that the W.C. provides around very controversial issues was being too political. Of course when you make something as personal as health care a political issue like birth control coverage, what can you expect? If lawmakers weren't all up in my lady parts all the time then we wouldn't need to be talking about them so much."

Leslie said she found the Union Leader's editorial offensive, but was more angered by the university's response. Leslie graduated from UNH in 2004 with a degree from the College of Liberal Arts. She said she is not part of the Women's Commission, but that she was able to keep track of several women's issues because of the regular posts made on the commission's Facebook page. Its removal is unjustified censorship, she said.

"If learning about sexism and attacks on women's health makes people (like the Union Leader) uncomfortable, well ... Then it should," Leslie said. "It makes me uncomfortable that I get paid less because I am a woman. It makes me uncomfortable that I have to think about my safety on a regular basis and how to reduce my risk of getting raped. It makes me uncomfortable that my health has become political."

Mitchell said many changes in university policies and practices have occurred because of the commission's work. Its mission statement is to "create equal educational and employment opportunities for all UNH women."

"Our Women's Commission has educated the campus and individuals throughout the Granite State on issues that are important to women, knowing that if these issues are not addressed, they will have a devastating impact on the entire campus," Mitchell said.

She added that she believes these issues will be resolved soon. Mitchell said that the commission is a women's group focused on taking action, which she said is especially important now. March is Women's History Month, and women's health is an increasingly hot topic for debate in the U.S. political sphere.

Leslie's Twitter account also focuses on these national issues surrounding women's health. She created @frustratedNHfem the same day that the Union Leader posted its editorial and the commission deleted its Facebook page. She has been tweeting steadily ever since, using a combination of sarcasm, retweets of various women's organizations and news sites, and tweets targeted at those she believes should be more instrumental in the feminist discussion.

"Want to censor Rush Limbaugh? Ask the @UnionLeader to write a cry baby editorial. Worked w/ censoring the #UNH Women's Commission," she tweeted on March 3.

In an email, Leslie said she thinks the current legislation discussions are setting progress back by several years. Despite accusations in the Union Leader's editorial that the unequal rights issues discussed on the commission's Facebook page are nonexistent or at the very least inaccurate, Leslie said the debate surrounding women's health suggests otherwise.

"I can only hope that more women and MEN start recognizing that times like these where we take away a person's right to choose what is right for them and their health, when that choice is taken away it is a very dangerous time."

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