One of the downsides of the world’s largest social networking site is its facilitation of hate speech, misogyny, homophobia and racism.
Facebook has more than 1 billion users, a demographic so large that it stands to reason pockets of it would exist to entertain the worst of humanity’s bottom-feeders. While you can’t blame an organisation that provides a free service for attracting rape apologists, racists, homophobes, misogynists and hate-filled bigots, you can hold them to account for knowingly facilitating this kind of behaviour, hiding behind the banner of “free speech” to defend pages with titles like “I kill bitches like you”, “I love the Rape Van” and “Raping Babies because you’re f—ing fearless”. And if they still refuse to address it, reasoning that their reach and influence is so great that not even a bunch of panty-twisted feminazis can dent their huge success, then you attack their bottom line.
It’s exactly the motivation behind the #FBrape campaign currently being run by a trio of online feminist activists. Jaclyn Friedman from Women, Action & the Media (WAM!), Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, and writer Soraya Chemaly have joined forces to urge Facebook to take seriously the bilious swill that masquerades as humour on their website, and that so often makes the rape, assault and even murder of women and children their punchlines.
There’s an absurd irony in the fact that Facebook seems to take a zero tolerance policy to the uploading of breastfeeding photos (many users have been reported and even temporarily banned for sharing images of them feeding their babies), yet it took weeks and a Change.org petition with more than 100,000 signatures to get Facebook to remove a “humour” page called “What’s 10 inches and gets girls to have sex with me? My knife” and that they continue to respond to images urging the rape of women with tepid excuses like this (after the jump).
The #FBrape campaign began with an Open Letter to Facebook and continues by asking people to notify advertisers when their ads appear on pages promoting misogyny and violence. The algorithms of Facebook mean that ads appear dependent on the users; an ad for Samsung might appear on a page urging its users to “Kick a Slut today” simply because a user happens to have a fondness for both violence and photographic composition (or perhaps even both, given by how many photographs and videos of women and girls being raped have made their way onto the social network.)
But while a company mightn’t elect to advertise on a page that tries to pass off the trauma of rape as “controversial humour”, knowing that it could appear that way without their permission is what underpins the #FBrape campaign. Since the campaign launched last week, companies have already begun pulling advertising, a trend that will hopefully gather momentum as more organisations realise the value in defending women against what representatives from Facebook have referred to as “rude jokes”.
Look, I love a rude joke. I don’t even subscribe to the view that jokes about rape can never be funny. But as Molly Ivins once said: “Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful … When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel – it is vulgar.”
The reason misogyny runs so rampant online is because it’s completely facilitated by our culture. As a woman, I find jokes that make fun of rape culture hilarious. What I don’t find funny is a joke that relies upon the sexual degradation and torture of a woman to raise a laugh. I especially don’t appreciate the minions of Mark Zuckerberg, whose media empire began as a way for Harvard students to minimise the worth of the women in their community by rating their attractiveness, telling me that the real problem here is political correctness and sensitivity.
Male rape “humorists” of Facebook, you try living in a world where one in five of you will be raped in your lifetime; where safety is never guaranteed because even if you haven’t been raped yet, you still could be; where it is common and not rare for your friends to confide in you the stories of their own sexual assaults, some of whom have been victimised multiple times; where when you are raped, you’re reminded of all the ways it was probably your fault; where the leading cause of death among women aged 15 to 44 isn’t heart disease or cancer, but domestic violence; where less than 1 per cent of all sexual assault charges will result in a conviction, because no one wants to ruin the promising futures of young men who “made a mistake”; and where the biggest concern in all of this is not how the perpetuation of these kinds of jokes tell women that they’re nothing, but whether or not a person’s freedom of speech is being threatened.
But more than that, more than the violence, more than the blatant misogyny – you try living in a world where you are reminded at every turn that you’re not allowed to complain about the joke, because you are the joke. And when you’ve come close to experiencing what that feels like, to be marginalised as fodder for juvenile male humour, to be treated as a punchline in more ways than one, and to be expected to laugh along with it so as not to spoil the fun for all the boys who find the idea of kicking you in the vagina “hilarious”, then you tell us to stop being so goddamn sensitive about everything.
Petulantly arguing for your right to unleash violent misogyny free from persecution or criticism doesn’t just misunderstand the concept of free speech, it also betrays an ironic sense of entitlement. Women are expected to endure attitudes whose logical conclusions result in them being beaten, raped and sometimes killed, with any complaints thrown back in their face with a specially tailored threat to accompany it. But tell any one of these so called freedom fighters that their jokes are a hideous insight into their own warped minds and it’s like Stonewall all over again.
This is what the #FBrape campaign is revealing – the insidious, nasty entitlement of cultural misogyny and its skittish reaction to anything that threatens its absolute right to continue unchecked. It’s also why I’m lending it my full support. Like Friedman, Bates and Chemaly, I’m over it. I’m tired of being expected to applaud the continued degradation of my people, to marvel at the cleverness of juvenile, angry sexism, to laugh along as these men show me in every foul, unimaginative, aggressive way possible that they think I’m nothing more than a series of holes for them to violate as they please. You should be too.
NB: Men are the victims of rape and violence too – most often at the hands of other men. And while their trauma is real and far reaching, it has yet to be further compounded by a culture that continuously reminds them of how little control they have over their own bodies and safety. Male rape jokes revolve around the threat of prison issued punishment. Female rape jokes are about ownership. In both situations, it’s about the dominant patriarchy wielding masculine power. This isn’t a fight between men and women. It’s a fight between people who respect women as equal human beings and people who don’t.
Facebook has responded to the campaign in this long and somewhat typically self-serving post.