Note: Some images in this post contain nudity.
Two weeks ago, if a photograph of an actively breastfeeding mother with nipples exposed was shared in Facebook, that photograph would have violated the company’s guidelines regarding nudity and obscenity and been removed. According to my conversations with Facebook spokespeople, as the result of a quiet policy change made two weeks ago, that is no longer the case. The female nipple ban no longer exists for breastfeeding mothers, which should make many people who have been pushing the company to address a nudity double standard at least partially happy.
Last year, when Jaclyn Friedman, Laura Bates and I organized a social media campaign challenging Facebook to recognize gender-based hate, the public focus of the initiative was on revealing the ways in which content depicting gross violations of women’s human rights — rapes, domestic battering, widespread violence against women — were being treated as, among other things, harmless jokes. After five days, 60,000 tweets and 15 advertisers leaving the platform, Facebook acknowledged the problem and committed to addressing it. We’ve developed a productive working relationship and continued to work on policies related to free speech and violence against women on their platform.
Photo credit: Paala Secor, 2014
Of equal importance to gender-based hate was the issue of the context in which content passes moderation. As a reflection of the world’s culture, Facebook continues to be a place in which depictions of women as sexually objectified (overt pornography violates community standards) or debased is broadly allowable, but others, in which women represent their own bodies for non male-gaze sexual pleasure, is largely not. So, for example, at the time of our campaign post-mastectomy photographs were removed for violating nudity policies. Similarly, photographs of woman breastfeeding, or topless in art or political protest were, as the latter two still are, banned on the site. For the past year we have been actively involved in pressuring the company, as have many others, to remove restrictions on women’s freedom of speech that results from“obscenity” double standards.
Among the clearest examples of how distorted ideas about “obscenity” are is the treatment of breastfeeding mothers, off-line and on. While female toplessness is legal in many places, and breastfeeding in public is legal everywhere in the US, it remains “obscene” under many social media rules, and in daily interactions offline. There are entire Facebook pages, such as FB v Breastfeeding and Hey Facebook! Breastfeeding is Not Obscene, dedicated to the issue. Breastfeeding selfies, a trend, could not be shared on the platform. Each time there is news about graphic and violent content allowed in Facebook, the ridiculousness of banning photos of women feeding their children is highlighted.
Similarly, it seems as though not a week goes by that Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, isn’t embroiled in a controversy regarding female nudity, usually toplessness.
Two weeks ago, Instagram disabled Rihanna’s Instagram account and then quickly reinstated it. She has since mocked their nudity policy and closed the account. Rihanna’s body-based statement was hardly new, but is more and more common. Last week, Scout Willis took topless walk through New York to protest Instagram’s polices after she posted a photo of a t-shirt featuring two topless friends. Instagram called Willis’ deleted photos (which included nipples) “incidences of abuse.” Last week, model Natalia Vodianova posted a “legal” breastfeeding photograph (no nipples showing) that was criticized by breastfeeding advocates who felt that the image did more harm than good by sexualizing the act. These high-profile celebrity engagements, led earlier this year by Miley Cyrus, are helping the #FreeTheNipple movement pick up serious steam. Even the cartoon icon for #FreeTheNipple, a global movement that has grown up around a soon-to-be eponymously named movie about decriminalizing the female body, has been removed from Facebook, while theHooter’s “owl” and Travelocity’s remains cozily entrenched.
A lot of ire is focused on Facebook, because, in terms of population, it is the third largest country in the world. Facebook is not responsible for the double standards, or the rules and beliefs that they reflect. They are mainstream ones in these regards. TheMPAA, the FCC and the modesty and morality police of the public sphere are all equally censorious about women’s toplessness. However, by virtue of its regulation of content, it is an important social arbiter of them.
The very traditional and mainstream ideas about nudity that Facebook and other social media companies are grappling with maintain the cultural idea that women’s bodies are first and foremost, sexual objects and second, can be regulated in terms of distribution.
Laura Dodsworth, a photographer, launched the project Bare Reality, to explore the dichotomy between how women feel about their breasts privately and how they are presented for public consumption through the media.
“I know how frustrating it can be to push these restrictions on social media platforms, as they can be more conservative and discriminatory than real-life society,” she says. “For instance, it’s ironic trying to create a conversation about Bare Reality on Facebook, because I will never be able to share the artwork there — for personal and political reasons I will not obscure women’s nipples. Controlling female nudity is about controlling women.
The idea that women should be able to share non-sexually objectifying images of their bodies, a form of counter-speech to our pervasive sexual objectification, eludes many people, who seem to skim the surface of what the core issues are.
Source: Huffington Post