Hey Facebook, rape is not a punchline

dailylife
May 28, 2013
Clementine Ford

Clementine Ford

Writer

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.

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#FBrape

deafmute

Facebook’s hate speech problem

Facebook’s big misogyny problem

Update

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.

Shooting down the gender thugs

6 October 2011

Van Badham

female soldier

Van Badham

Sometimes my crazy female emotions, or hormones, or intuition, or shoes, or ovaries, or whatever, prompt the most gosh-darnedest sentiments in me.

Just today, for example, I found myself imagining that perhaps I should have more control over my identity as a woman than a couple of middle-aged men who write for newspapers.

Thank god, then, that Prof Clive Hamilton and The Australian’s Greg Sheridan have teamed up to set my pretty little head straight with their combined expertise.

Yes, that’s right – the tree-hugging, progressive poster-boy Prof and The Australian’s favourite cuddly Catholic apologist-for-dictatorship have stepped across the left/right divide for reasons of super-dooper importance to our country in these cash-strapped, climate-changed times:

They want to keep Australian women out of combat roles in the military.

Last week the  Government announced the long-overdue removal of the gendered prohibition against women soldiers serving in front-line positions. It was met with enthusiastic gratitude by women who actually serve in the military.

The previously discriminatory policy contravened the Australian military’s obligations under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 Article 23 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Hamilton and Sheridan, however, were one voice of self-righteous horror at the event.

In an article for Fairfax, Hamilton’s rhetoric was emotional. Ending military discrimination was “a victory only for the campaign to obliterate difference”, and a “great betrayal of the women’s movement” on a par – no less! – with women “driving like hoons”. For shame!

Sheridan in The Australian did it once more, with feeling. The ADF’s decision to have all tasks assessed for physical requirements and assign personnel on physical capability might be standard occupational health and safety practice in every workplace in Australia, but Sheridan’s opprobrium ascended the poetic. The change was “lunacy… The stupidest idea I’ve ever heard in my life…”, even “a punctuation mark in the larger grammar of madness.”

It’s heart-warming to see a rare moment of consensus amongst prominent identities of the Australian left and right on an issue of social policy.

It’s devastating that it seems to be a consensus belief in same-old, same-old misogynistic baloney – from dull, middle-class male Australian media commentators, left and right, once more telling women what they are, what they can be and what they should want.

Perhaps because he conforms to a particular stereotype so completely, Clive Hamilton’s article attempts to foist stereotyping upon three billion women across a diverse and complex world.

To him, we women are, homogeneously, compassionate and caring; we’re “pacifiers” who exercise a “subtle, civilising power” over the “violent tendencies of men”.

Yep, I know – I’m doing it right now.

Written with the anti-war earnestness of a camp-side rendition of Kum-ba-yah and dripping with the kind of  “why can’t we all be nice to one another?” idealism unfashionable even at undergraduate level, Hamilton’s chief objection to women in combat roles in the military seems to be that it threatens his sugar-and-spice notions of what little girls are made of.

The prospect that his fantasy female creatures “motivated more by care than duty” may transform into “women soldiers returning with their faces blown off” is just pseudo-leftist cake-decorating around a long stale cake of patriarchal assumptions.

For one, the myth of female delicacy. Conveniently ignoring the abject realities of menstruation and childbirth, this has variously employed over history to keep women out of universities, away from unclothed table legs and in a separate room of any Australian bloody pub until the mid 1970s.

Two words for you, Clive: volunteer army. There hasn’t been a draft in this country since the National Service Termination Act 1973 and any woman facing the risks and realities of front-line combat has not been forced to be there. Your desire to protect women from the implications of our own vocational callings, aptitudes and personalities is patronising and unnecessary, thank you.

No wonder you are “terrified of being accused of sexism” – you are writing sexist things and the accusation is thoroughly fair.

As much as Hamilton’s concern may be about the “uniquely female”, Sheridan’s piece is heartfelt for the boys. Every boorish stereotype associated with Australian masculinity is employed to defend Sheridan’s idealised male army of “common identity” with its “deep traditions of comradely bonding” – from the word “bloke” to an off-topic, impassioned avowal of both his love of rugby league and special, masculine feelings towards injured half-back Brett Kimmorley.

According to Sheridan, our army relies not on strategy, tactics or the most advanced technological arsenal in world history for its strength, but “very strong blokes” lifting things that “very few women can”.

That women – or (gasp!) men – who can’t lift things won’t be enfranchised the responsibility to do so under the new policy is of no consequence to Sheridan, who in a long career of syllogistic self-justification has not once yet let facts spoil a moment of prejudicial spewing. He declares “warriors are men” as if his own arrogant conviction in committing the words to paper are enough to make it so.

He similarly claims, without evidence, there are “inevitable romantic liaisons” when women enter mixed gender units, and that a “law of nature” as yet undiscovered by science forces a situation in which “male soldiers will try to protect female soldiers” in a combat situation.

That rather a lot of male soldiers throughout history have risked their own safety to protect other male soldiers, that this is the basis of tactical defence, troop cohesion and the very notion of “mateship” is, again, to Sheridan, of no concern.

The problem with generalisations at the Hamilton-Sheridan end of the scale of operatic pomposity is that they only require a single contradicting fact to utterly collapse.

Neither “women” or “men” are homogeneous groupings, a fixed set of behaviours or in essence anything other than one of two principle variations on a spectrum of random biological bits, all with unique and variable talents, aptitudes and dispositions.

Hamilton’s claims that violent tendencies and the killing instinct are the sole preserve of men could be disclaimed by anyone who saw my face or heard my unrestrained and colourful invective when first I read his essentialist, sexist knobbery in the paper.

As for Sheridan, I suggest he wander into a defence force bar, approach the largest group of male combat soldiers he can find, point a finger and holler “Everyone knows you put ho’s before bro’s!” and see how well that goes down with the assembled before he utters such nonsense again.

In their attempts to restrict women to their narrow ideal paradigms, Hamilton and Sheridan are equally guilty of purporting myths and stereotypes about dominant masculinity that burden and oppress their fellow men.

Repeated attestations that “real” men have “violent tendencies” or an “instinct to kill” enforce a coercive cultural cruelty on the male of the species, publicly bullied by the like of Greg Sheridan to participate in dangerous behaviour or risk criticism of their masculinity.

If there’s a single ideological reason for allowing women to have front-line military responsibilities, it’s that their inevitable achievements will expose the arguments of Hamilton and Sheridan as nothing more than old-fashioned gender-thuggery.

The purely visual change to what represents our notion of “warrior” or “defender” just may force a reconsideration of how damaging and dangerous untrue social constructions of “male” or “female” qualities and behaviours are to everyone.

There are some militarily-skilled women in this country who are willing to risk disfigurement or death in defence of their people and their homeland and this is something Clive Hamilton and Greg Sheridan should be bloody thankful for, not slagging off.

They are grown men with multiple university degrees who’ve been given the social privilege of a public platform and have no excuse to be pig-ignorant, nor any reasonable grounds for their apparent need to own and control the definition of “women” and “men”.

Their shared, hysterical comments towards feminists are revelatory in this regard – to Hamilton feminism is “a rotting corpse” while to Sheridan “the wilder shores of feminism” that demand full social equality “have never been inhabited by normal people”.

It’s remarks like these that reveal what the real problem is for calcified old misogynists about women in military combat roles.

If women who refuse to conform to the stereotypes they wish to force on us are frightening, the prospect of us trained, skilled and wielding a gun must genuinely terrify.

Van Badham is a writer and dramaturg. Follow her on Twitter @vanbadham

 
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All images © Australian Broadcasting Corporation