Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why Facebook's "Occupy a Vagina" Event Is Not Okay: A Guest Post by Stephanie

Emily's note: This guest post was originally published last month at Bitch Flicks, a website dedicated to reviewing films through a feminist lens. I realize we're a bit late in cross-posting, as the offensive facebook page appears to have since been removed. However, the issues Stephanie addresses are relevant and well-worth considering. Reader beware: Stephanie is very comfortable with colorful language, especially when she's talking about something as upsetting as rape culture.

Last week, a petition urged Facebook to remove pages that promote sexual violence. Some of the offending pages included, "Kicking Sluts in the Vagina," and "Riding your Girlfriend softly Cause you dont want to wake her up." The following passage from the petition explains the overall goal:
First, Facebook needs to clarify that pages that encourage or condone rape--like the ones mentioned above--are in violation of their existing standards. Secondly, they need to make a statement that all pages that describe sexual violence in a threatening way will be immediately taken down upon being reported. Finally, Facebook must include specific language in their Terms of Service that make it clear that pages promoting any form of sexual violence will be banned.
Jessica Bennett wrote about the petition and the #notfunnyfacebook Twitter campaign for The Daily Beast in an article called, "Should Facebook Ban Sexist Pages?" She writes:
In some ways, misogyny on Facebook is just a newer version of the same old problem. Indeed, there are enough stories like Sierra's for Danielle Citron, a cyber law professor at the University of Maryland, to compile a whole book of them—she's hard at work on a text about online harassment that will be published by Harvard University Press in 2013. She notes more recent cases that have made headlines: the women smeared by AutoAdmit, the law school discussion board; the case ofHarvard sex blogger Lena Chen; and the dramatic story of 11-year-old Jessi Slaughter. "I talk to women every day who've been silenced, scared, and just want to disappear," Citron says. "It's easy to dismiss these things as frat-boy antics, but this isn't a joke."
Then, on November 5th, ZDNet published an article called, "Facebook Finally Removes Pro-Rape Pages," and the writer goes into detail about Facebook's "massive problem with sex":
With zero tolerance for porn and a refusal to define it, Facebook has deleted breast cancer survivor communities (labeling one breast cancer survivor page as “pornography”), retail business pages, individual profiles of human sexuality teachers, pages for authors and actors, photos of LGBT couples kissing (for which Facebook just apologized), and even the occasional hapless user’s profile who has the misfortune of having someone else post porn on their Wall.
With no comprehensible or clear methodology around sexual speech, we see pages deleted that discuss female sexuality, while pages that joke about and encourage raping women and girls rack up the likes.
So, yes, Facebook complied (finally) and removed some of its pro-rape pages, but as Shelby Knox noted on Twitter, "... #notfunnyfacebook isn't a victory until they clarify the pages violate their terms of service." We're still waiting, Facebook ...

In the meantime, I'd like to talk about the Occupy a Vagina Facebook event. When it first appeared a little over a week ago, the page was bombarded with offensive and violent rhetoric targeted at women (all in the name of "comedy" and "fun" of course), but when many women and men got angry about the event--and pushed back by leaving comments on the event wall asking the creator to remove the page (because it promoted rape and violence against women)--the creator deleted the comments. Now, the Occupy a Vagina event page says this:

(Edit for all the trolls)
To all of you people who want to assume this event has anything to do with rape, you are completely wrong... This event was created by a WOMAN as a JOKE!!! If you don't think it is funny, then click not attending and move on... I will be deleted any trolling ass messages about "promoting anything" other than comedy so don't waste your time......
I mean, where in the fuck do I even begin? (Seriously, I keep starting and re-starting paragraphs because I don't know where the fuck to begin.) With outrage? Okay, look: I don't give a shit if a woman created the event, or if a man created it, or if I created it when I was passed out drunk in my bathtub--if it promotes rape, then it promotes rape. The author basically makes the ridiculous assertion that women can't possibly participate in the perpetuation of rape culture (e.g. "this event can't even contribute to rape culture because a woman created it to be funny.") No. See, the thing is--and people still can't seem to successfully grasp this in Sexual Harassment 101--intent is irrelevant. Do I believe the creator intended to invite a bunch of people to an Occupy event sponsored by rape culture? Or that the "attendees" honestly believe they're engaging in anything that might directly or indirectly cause women harm? Not really. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that the event is out there, and it's seriously problematic, and it isn't just "harmless fun"; it's another permanent fixture in (omg, is she gonna say it again?!) rape cultureHere's a primer:
According to the rape culture theory, acts of sexism are commonly employed to validate and rationalize normative misogynistic practices. For instance, sexist jokes may be told to foster disrespect for women and an accompanyingdisregard for their well-being. An example would be a female rape victim being blamed for her being raped because of how she dressed or acted. In rape culture, sexualized violence towards women is regarded as a continuum in a society that regards women's bodies as sexually available by default.
It's important to note that even the language--occupy a vagina--divorces women from their own bodies. It's a form of dismemberment, and I'll say it again: we live in a rape culture, a culture that reduces women to body parts, whether it's to sell a product, to promote a film, or for nothing more than reinforcing (and getting off on) patriarchal power. When we use language that prevents us from seeing a person as a whole human being, language that encourages us to view women in particular as a collection of body parts designed for male pleasure (e.g. occupy a vagina), then she exists as nothing more than an object, a fuck-toy, sexually available by default. It might not have been the intent of the event creator to participate in women's subjugation, but it's certainly the fucking reality.

It’s also important to talk about the Occupy a Vagina event within the context of the recently reported rapes and sexual assaults at several Occupy camps. The founders of the valuable Web site Occupy Patriarchy wrote a piece that highlights many of the incidents. In response to the assaults, several women’s groups have moved forward in creating safe spaces (like women-only tents) so that women can fully participate in the Occupy movement without fear, although safer sleeping areas don’t necessarily mean women will experience less groping and invasion of personal space in general. Obviously, we need to address the underlying (and pervasive) privilege in the movement that allows violence against women to occur in the first place, but these are all positive first steps to ensuring women can, you know, Occupy.

Now, let’s talk about what it means, in the context of the movement, to “occupy.” The original organizers of Occupy Wall Street proposed the following: We show up at Wall Street on September 17th, with tents, and we fucking move in. Why? Because it’s ours. You can hear it in the chants and slogans at every rally: “Whose Street? Our Street!” Even the Occupy Times Square protest was often described as, “taking the square.” This, my friends, is a campaign that involves moving into public spaces; it involves taking back, or reclaiming, our cities and reminding the very small yet powerful group in charge that it’s really the people who own this shit. And, perhaps most importantly, it involves resisting when we’re told to leave. [Note: the problematic “occupy” language, as it pertains to Native territory, has been written about far more elegantly and intelligently than I can do here, so please read those pieces as well.]

If we read the Occupy a Vagina event in the context of the other Occupy events (and why wouldn’t we), it’s easy to immediately see the problems: vaginas are not public spaces; they don’t belong to a collective group; they can’t be owned or reclaimed; and resisting when a woman tells you to get the fuck off her vagina--well, that’s rape. It isn’t funny. It isn’t harmless. This isn’t a cute little “event” that’s upsetting a small minority of angry feminazis who can’t take a joke. It contributes to rape. To narcissistically quote myself froma previous piece about rape culture
...This constant, unchecked barrage of endless and obvious woman-hating undoubtedly contributes to the rape of women and girls.
The sudden idealization of Charlie Sheen as some bad boy to be envied, even though he has a violent history of beating up women, contributes to the rape of women and girls. Bills like H. R. 3 that seek to redefine rape and further the attack onwomen's reproductive rights contributes to the rape of women and girls. Supposed liberal media personalities like Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann showing their support for Julian Assange by denigrating Assange’s alleged rape victimscontributes to the rape of women and girls. The sexist commercials that advertisers pay millions of dollars to air on Super Bowl Sunday contribute to the rape of women and girls. And blaming Lara Logan for her gang rape by suggesting her attractiveness caused it, or the job was too dangerous for her, or she shouldn't have been there in the first place, contributes to the rape of women and girls.
It contributes to rape because it normalizes violence against women. Men rape to control, to overpower, to humiliate, to reinforce the patriarchal structure. And the media, which is vastly controlled by men, participates in reproducing already existing prejudices and inequalities, rather than seeking to transform them.
It’s unfortunate that I need to add to this:
Facebook’s refusal to ban all pages that condone sexual assault and violence against women, and their refusal to acknowledge that these pages violate their already existing standards, contributes to the rape of women and girls.
See, at Bitch Flicks, we believe more than anything that the blind and uncritical consumption of media portrayals of women contributes to furthering women’s inequality in all areas of life. And as we all learned from The Social Network, one of the most misogynistic fucking movies I’ve ever seen, Facebook is a form of media that’s defining a generation. (Thanks so much for your contribution, Fuckers.)

Stephanie Rogers is the Co-Founder and Editor, along with Amber Leab, of the feminist film review Web site Bitch Flicks, which advances "the radical notion that women like good movies." She also developed the Tumblr site Women Occupy to highlight women in the Occupy Movement.

1 comment:

  1. Facebook is media many women and men consume at least once a day, and the negative implications of women being treated as objects and sluts, has too far a wide-reaching impact. Even if it is "just" for humor - what a load of crap.

    I had no idea this was going on - I don't know how that's possible - but I am absolutely going to share this.