It all started with a vagina.
Earlier this spring, a Facebook support group directed towards moms posted a picture of an anatomically correct vulva. The group boasted a readership of around 22,000, and the image was clearly meant for education, empowerment, and advocacy. It fell in line with the other discussion topics on Motherwise – which writes about “breastfeeding, parenting issues, and birthing options,” as well as serving as a platform for discourse and community.
Within three hours, the picture was taken down. Upon further inquiry, Facebook claimed that the textbook rendering of a vulva was deemed “pornographic.”
Soon afterwards, Motherwise published an impassioned “Open Letter To Facebook,” elucidating the “hypocrisy and misogyny” they saw in the website's community guidelines. Although Facebook claims to delete overtly sexual content or hate speech, there are multitudes of horrific pages like:
A week ago, Facebook finally made the decision to “update its policies on hate speech, increase accountability of content creators, and train staff to be more responsive to complaints.” The decision came after an onslaught of online feminist activism, lead mostly by Women, Action, and the Media. They brought publicity to pages like Chris Brown’s Greatest Hits, displaying photographs of Rihanna post-assault, or memes showing men covering womens’ mouths with rags, with captions like Does this smell like chloroform to you?
At first, Facebook claimed free speech. But the backlash was harsh – companies pulled ads, more than 100 advocacy groups joined the movement, and thousands of people tweeted using the hashtag #Fbrape, protesting their decision.
Facebook felt the heat, changing their verdict: “In recent days, it has become clear that our systems to identify and remove hate speech have failed to work as effectively as we would like, particularly around issues of gender-based hate…We need to do better – and we will.”
Getting Facebook to take accountability for their part in promoting misogyny is an impressive victory, but it is not the only feminist battle being fought on the digital frontier. This new digital environment makes the dream of organizing online and forming cohesive feminist communities possible – sure enough, there are many activists who are taking advantage of it and kicking ass, as The Guardianreports.
Lucy Anne-Holmes recently made news when she started a Change.org petition calling on the Sun to stop using page 3 topless models, which has been a tradition for years. “Dominic, stop showing topless pictures of young women in Britain’s most widely read newspaper, stop conditioning your readers to view women as sex objects,” Holmes beseeches the paper’s editor in her petition.
Last year, Laura Bates set up everydaysexism.com, a forum for women and children to talk about the misogyny they face daily. “The internet allows you to find such strong support. Everydaysexism has become enormously popular because women get so used to street harassment and sexism that it’s become normalized and you’re seen as uptight if you draw attention to it.”
As for the youth? Lili Evans is making history at 15 years old. She is co-creator of the Twitter hashtag TYFA, which stands for the Twitter Youth Feminist Army. “At our age you get told not to wear short skirts to school and then you get shouted at by men in cars on the way home anyway, and realizing that it’s wrong and that there are other people out there who share your views is great.”
Nimko Ali is an incredible inspiration as a feminist blogger and co-founder of the Daughters of Eve, a non-profit organization that works to protect girls and women who are at risk from female genital mutilation by raising awareness and providing support services. “FGM takes place because of structural inequalities in society – particularly gender inequality…any approach to end FGM which does not address these inequalities will only leave a vacuum for another form of violence against women,” she says astutely.
As exhilarating as it is to look around the Internet and see such multiplicitous advocacy, it is critical to remember that networks of privilege operate online as well as on the ground. Lists highlighting feminist activists are unfortunately still predominantly white. As Jessica Marie Johnson (Professor of History at Michigan State) says, “This power, at play in the space, is precisely what allows the long history of black feminist and WOC online activity to be erased…Some feminists are able to write the story down, tell it, and have it be seen as the gospel truth. Power and privilege are invisible and insidious and difficult to face, but only power and privilege explain why such a well-documented past (and thriving present!) is not explored.”
Johnson is thoroughly correct. Why don't we hear more about the Crunk Feminist Collective, Black Girl Dangerous, WOC Survival Kit, New Model Minority, Latin@ Sexuality, Racialicious, or any of the myriad of incredible activists speaking up about racialized perspectives on gender issues?
As feminism is all about disassembling hierarchy and bringing equality for everyone, it is exceptionally important to remember that, while we do celebrate (with gusto!) the online activism of those who tend to be featured in the media, we must also carve out spaces for those who have been fighting all along, who may not have been given their due recognition yet.
Source: The Guardian
Photos via Motherwise, PoweredByGirl, The Huffington Post, The Guardian, Facebook, Twitter, EverydaySexism.com, Daughters of Eve.