Friday, May 25, 2007

UW Calendar Gets More Attention

UW pinup honcho has it covered
By Nicole Brodeur
Seattle Times staff columnist

The Balanced Man of Sigma Phi Epsilon, we're told, has a taste for life's simple pleasures.

The ballet. The ability to prepare and present a meal. The dignity of a clean room. When it comes to a woman, the Balanced Man — as the University of Washington fraternity brothers refer to themselves — knows to open a door for her, walk behind her, even order for her in a restaurant.

And if that woman wants to slip on a bikini and a coy smile and pose for a calendar called "Women of UW"?

Well, the Balanced Man is cool with that. He'll even arrange for the photos, publish and sell it as a class project.

And when University Book Store officials pull the calendar off the shelves, as they did this week after some complaints, the Balanced Man will respond clearly and calmly.

"Well, we obviously don't agree with the comments that our calendar objectifies women," said Zachary Meissner, a member of Sigma Phi [Epsilon] and one of four students who developed and marketed the calendar.

(Actually, the bookstore boss said, it pulled the calendar because of improper references to the UW Business School. He said allegations of censorship are "deplorable.")

Two of Meissner's team members are women. The other is his fraternity brother and fellow Balanced Man, Jonathan Cat.

I had to ask: Didn't the sexy calendar go against the principles of the Balanced Man?

"The first thing a Balanced Man is taught is to respect women, to be gentlemanly and to see them as counterparts," Cat answered.

I'll accept that. Just as I'll accept their contention that the models weren't objectified.

The women posed willingly. They weren't plied with Jell-O shots at some Caribbean-theme bar and coaxed into stripping in an Aurora Avenue motel.

"Most certainly the women were treated well," Cat said. A few of the models are from his circle of friends.

And who can get angry when one woman's mother found the calendar brag-worthy, and bought 10 copies?

Now that it has been pulled from the University Book Store, the calendar will be sold for $15 at www.womenofuw.com and the two Dawg Den stores in the U District.

The UW chapter of Sigma Phi [Epsilon] has received national attention for the Balanced Man program since the national organization instituted it in 2004. At the time, the UW chapter was at risk of shutting down. Boozy parties and other indiscretions had 90 percent of the members leave UW or get kicked out.

Seven members stayed and turned the house around with etiquette classes, cultural outings and weekly cleanings.

"Spit-spot," was how Meissner described it. Just like Mary Poppins.

Now, the Balanced Man can add "crisis management" to his skill set.

"That's for sure," Cat said. "This whole debacle is less about the calendar than the situation."

It has been important, he said, to respond to criticism "in the right way that isn't defensive or degrading."

"That," he said, "is how a Balanced Man is different than someone else."
Great. Now put something on.