Hey Facebook, rape is not a punchline

May 28, 2013
Clementine Ford

Clementine Ford


And it’s a great big ‘thumbs down’ from us to Facebook.

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.


Read more



Facebook’s hate speech problem

Facebook’s big misogyny problem


Online protests prompt Facebook to crack down on pages promoting violence against women

Facebook has responded to the campaign in this long and somewhat typically self-serving post.

9 thoughts on “Hey Facebook, rape is not a punchline

  1. Why am I not surprised. Facebook was loath to do anything about pages which promoted violent racist attacks on Aboriginals, as well as denigrating them, because it was considered free speech. Protests eventually led to its removal but a similar page was allowed to start up. This was even though these pages were against many of FB’s own Community standards of hate speech.

    As for alienating the majority of their users, it doesn’t stand to reason. Do hope large numbers of their advertisers pull their ads. This is certainly something that would attract Zuckerberg’s attention.

  2. Okay. Deep breath.
    I guess I’m number one of the “one in five.”

    I’m a straight, white male with first hand experience of rape trauma, so I really don’t see anything funny about it either.

    There is however a wonderful coccoon I am able to live in online, I have never had anyone message me on Facebook with offers of sex, comment on my looks, my clothes, my behaviour. I am hearing more and more from female “friends” online that they are spending more time responding to (by blocking or reporting) direct and unsolicited assaults on them through Facebook than they do updating their statuses on things that are imortant to them.

    Like me, a lot of my female Facebook “friends” use it as a marketing tool for everything from books to products and and art they have made – none of which suggests they are open to being sexually harrassed online.

    From my perspective this is half the battle for women who want to increase public awareness – guys like me – are completely oblivious to this kind of behaviour because we are not subjected to it. The thinking is, we don’t do it – so why would anyone else?

    Another classic example was a live feed I tuned into yesterday, a group of Australian quantum phycists spent an hour talking about aspects of their research and answering viewer questions. The comments stream immediately clogged with commentary on the physical attributes of the female panelists, and mostly on the younger woman who was providing moderator support (and also connected by video conference).

    It turned a fascinating scientific discussion from 3 world class experts (including 2 women physicists) into a bad frat party atmosphere.

  3. Probably not cost-effective for fb to do anything about it till exposure gets so high they can’t ignore it. Just like many political issues that governments are too timid to address.

  4. The leading cause of death figure is certainly wrong for Australia, and it’s probably wrong for Turkey where the figure was supposed to come from.

    The only original reference I could find to it was here: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-289172-gender-based-violence-leading-cause-of-death-for-women-aged-15-44.html

    All other articles reference that article. There is no citation, no links to the Ministry that apparently released the report, not picked up by any major publications and not referenced at all by the WHO.

    BTW the WHO does look at leading causes of death among women: http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/84/4/297arabic.pdf

    In that link you’ll see homicide ranks 55th in likely causes of death, most likely is indeed heart disease – which is pretty much what you’d expect. And by ‘pretty much expect’ I mean it’s blatantly obvious that the leading cause of death among women isn’t domestic violence. That would mean that over 30% of women are killed by their partners. I’m pretty sure people would notice something like that.

    The claim that ‘less than 1 per cent of all sexual assault charges will result in a conviction’ is also complete fabrication. Right off the bat 25-35% (lower/high court being the difference) of people charged with sexual assault in NSW in 2003-2004 plead guilty. Of the remaining who plead not guilty on average 40% were convicted.

    Source: http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/current%20series/tandi/341-360/tandi344/view%20paper.html

    You may very well say these numbers indicate bias in sexual assault cases but these numbers are well and truly above the ‘less than 1%’ you pulled out of thin air.

    When people throw ‘amazing and unbelievable’ figures at you usually those figures are nonsense design to shock and astound the gullible. Maybe a little fact checking and critical thinking is in order Clementine?

    • Thanks for looking into this a bit. To be honest, I glossed over those stats without thinking much about them. If anyone else has better data on this I’d be interested too.

      I like the article, and for me the dubious stats don’t interfere with the spirit of it – but I’d get pretty upset about about someone using bad stats in an article I disagreed with – so I have to admit it was pretty poor form (also from the writer of the Today’s Zaman article if it’s as misleading as it seems to be).

      For me, I can kind of understand Facebook’s attitude. They’d want to stay out of it as much as they can, because it’d be so difficult to draw a line in the sand where “funny” begins and “just plain horrible” ends – with humour being so incredibly subjective and all. But judging by the examples in this article, they should probably give it a shot.

      • I don’t think the stats takes away from the main thrust of Ford’s argument, though if I were editor I may have had issues with them.

        There aren’t all that many opinion writers who can master statistical analysis. Greg Jericho comes to mind as one who can.

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