A nonprofit that offers pin-up girl calendars and visits to hospitalized veterans isn’t happy about being spurned by the Sioux Falls VA Health System.
The group “Pin-Ups for Vets” distributes calendars of female veterans posing in the style of the World War II-era pin-up girls, then donates the proceeds to veteran’s programs.
It also sells playing cards, tote bags, clocks, patches, art prints and wall tins, and pin-up models visit other veterans in their rooms during its on-site visits.
The group says it donated $56,000 to VA Hospitals last year for the purchase of equipment.
The Sioux Falls VA Health System initially approved a visit for Oct. 10, according to founder Gina Elise of Claremont, California. That welcome was rescinded this week after the local hospital concluded the visit would be inappropriate.
In a Facebook post Thursday, the VA noted “multiple inquiries and messages” after its decision, but said it wished to maintain a welcoming environment for all veterans.
“This decision was made because we feel the materials the group asked to distribute may contribute to the disrespect of women veterans in their roles as equals, and perpetuates objectification of women in general,” the health system wrote.
The Pin-Up group responded with a post of its own, noting that 62 other facilities have welcomed the pin-ups as ambassadors.
“Our calendar features 21 female veterans dressed in 1940s-style clothes. We are not sure what is disrespectful about that. We are sure the female veterans featured in our calendar will be very hurt by this decision,” the post reads.
The group’s supporters across the country peppered the local VA Health System’s Facebook page with comments, some of which came from the veterans who pose as models.
“As a veteran, I have the right to throw on a modest dress and a hair flower to go spend time with my brothers and sisters of all eras,” wrote Jennifer Marshall, a Navy veteran and group member. “We would have visited the facility in sweatshirts and jeans if a modest dress was that much of a sticking point.”
Others pointed to the long history of pin-up art within military culture.
Jennifer McNamara, a Sioux Falls resident who has posed for pin-up photography herself, said she sees nothing especially objectionable about the visits or the calendars, but wondered if some of the more suggestive prints sold to support the group could have sparked the denial.
“I imagine that somebody looked overall at their method of raising funds,” said McNamara, who posted a link to a print that’s since been removed from the group’s online catalog.
McNamara also said that if someone at the Sioux Falls facility were uncomfortable with the appearance of the pin-up volunteers they “absolutely have the right to revoke that.”
The VA in Sioux Falls pointed to similar reasoning on Friday.
Shirley Redmond, spokesman for the VA Health System, said in an email that the shift in course was based on the calendars and made after consulting with the VA Women’s Health Services.
“This was a local decision that’s in sync with our national campaign to end harassment of women,” Redmond wrote.
Female veterans and even VA employees “frequently experience unwanted attention or touching, suggestive remarks, and catcalls by strangers,” she said, and the VA’s goal is to educate employees and veterans about clear boundaries.
Karen Vasquez, a Navy veteran from California who posed for the 2017 calendar, was disappointed by the choice. She the said visits are respectful.
“Many of us are veterans. Female veterans. I’m a veteran. I’ve been sexually harassed,” Vasquez said. “What I like about Pin-Ups for Vets is that we interact with the vets and we have conversations with them.”
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