FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When It Comes to Misogyny, Facebook Learned from the US Government

by NATHAN GOODMAN

Lately, feminist activists are organizing against a litany of misogynist Facebook pages that glorify violence against women or treat it as a joke, pages with names like “Raping Your Girlfriend” and “Fly Kicking Sluts in the Uterus.”  The activists’ primary tactics include making specific demands for changes to Facebook’s moderation policy and “calling on Facebook users to contact advertisers whose ads on Facebook appear next to content that targets women for violence, to ask these companies to withdraw from advertising on Facebook” until those demands are met. It’s a good example of how boycotts and other market activism can power the fight against bigotry.

But this campaign is illustrative for another reason. Facebook is under fire not just for permitting misogynistic speech that condones violence, but for banning speech far more innocuous. As Soraya Chemaly, Jaclyn Friedman and Lauren Bates explain in their open letter to the company:

“These [misogynistic] pages and images are approved by your moderators, while you regularly remove content such as pictures of women breastfeeding, women post-mastectomy and artistic representations of women’s bodies. In addition, women’s political speech, involving the use of their bodies in non-sexualized ways for protest, is regularly banned as pornographic, while pornographic content — prohibited by your own guidelines — remains. It appears that Facebook considers violence against women to be less offensive than non-violent images of women’s bodies, and that the only acceptable representation of women’s nudity are those in which women appear as sex objects or the victims of abuse. Your common practice of allowing this content by appending a [humor] disclaimer to said content literally treats violence targeting women as a joke.”

This is truly a vile double standard. It treats women’s bodies as more offensive than violence against women. It treats rape and domestic violence as less objectionable than women breastfeeding.

What we should keep in mind, however, is that this double standard did not start with Facebook. The same double standard has been promoted for more than a century as part of US law. One of the few exceptions to the First Amendment that the US government recognizes is an exception for “obscenity.” The US government claims the power to prosecute and incarcerate people for speech and expression it deems legally “obscene.”  Historically this has meant targeting sexual expression.

In 1873, Anthony Comstock convinced Congress to pass the Comstock Law, banning “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” content from the mails. Moses Harman, publisher of anarchist feminist journal Lucifer the Lightbearer, was jailed multiple times under Comstock’s reign, because his periodical featured “obscene” advocacy of birth control and free love. Margaret Sanger was similarly charged with obscenity for distributing information about contraception. The Comstock Law was used to punish practically anyone who sent information about contraception or criticism of marital rape through the post.

Obscenity law has changed a lot since the days of the Comstock. In 1973, in Miller v. California, the Supreme Court affirmed that “Obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment” but narrowed the definition of obscenity, defining speech as obscene based on the following criteria:

(a) whether “the average person, applying contemporary community standards” would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value

“Prurient interest” refers to sexual arousal. So the US government claims the power to use force and violence to censor speech based on it being sexually arousing, “offensive,” and lacking “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”  This provides justification for the US government to censor completely non-violent pictures of naked bodies. As John Stoltenberg writes, “obscenity laws are constructed on the presumption that it is women’s bodies that are dirty, that women’s bodies are the filth.”

Based on the Miller test, US courts have also ruled that government censorship of sexist material is unconstitutional. Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon’s Civil Rights Antipornography Ordinance was ruled unconstitutional in part because “The Indianapolis ordinance does not refer to the prurient interest, to offensiveness, or to the standards of the community.” Instead, the statute referenced objectification of women, degradation of women, and portrayal of violence against women.

The American legal system believes that the state has more legitimate interest in stopping people from being sexually aroused than in countering sexism or violence. Don’t you think those are bizarre priorities?

As a matter of principle, the state should have no power to censor. Furthermore, the state’s backwards priorities present a good argument for its abolition. In addition to abolishing the state, we should seek to stop its toxic and bigoted standards from defining the privately run social media spaces we use.

Nathan Goodman is a writer and activist living in Salt Lake City, Utah. He has been involved in LGBT, feminist, anti-war, and prisoner solidarity organizing. In addition to writing at the Center for a Stateless Society, he blogs at Dissenting Leftist.

Nathan Goodman is the Lysander Spooner Research Scholar in Abolitionist Studies at the Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS.org). He blogs at Dissenting Leftist.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 01, 2017
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Fictitious Economy: Hiding How the Economy Really Works
Joseph Natoli
The Fourth Estate vs. the Trump Regime
Kim C. Domenico
A Deconstruction of Whiteness: Unsafe Among My Own Kind
Yoav Litvin
American Dystopia – A Future of Racists, Snitches and Outcasts
Dan Glazebrook
From Kissinger’s Playbook: Flynn is Gone, His Russia Policy Lives On
Peter Mayo
Storming “Fortress Europe” in Search of a Social World
Sam Gordon
The Audacity of Sacrilege
Arnold August
Fidel, Political Power and the New Culture of Communication
Linn Washington Jr.
Black History in Cyberspace: British 3D App Game Features Forgotten Facts
Norman Pollack
Trump’s Neo-Fascist Discourse: CPAC Revisited
Nyla Ali Khan
Women in Conflict Zones: Escaping Masculine Socialization and Generating a Transformative Vision
Sam Husseini
Questioning Pelosi and Schumer
Jesse Jackson
Private Prisons Slam the Door on Justice
February 28, 2017
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
A Paradigm Shift in the Middle East: Iran as the Solution, Not the Problem
Paul Street
Big Brother Capitalism Strikes Back
Stephen Cooper
Trump’s Pusillanimous Immigration Policy Imperils the Public and the Police
Vincent Emanuele
The Madness of U.S. Empire
Michael Sainato and Chelsea Skojec
We Need the Endangered Species Act Now More Than Ever
David Underhill
Oops, They Did It Again: Crowd Bowls Over Rep in Beery Alley
John Eskow
Jimmy Kimmel is a Total Dick and Other Reflections on the Oscars
Steve Horn
Trump’s Top Energy Aide, Mike Catanzaro Peddled Climate Change Denial
Jack Random
The Trump Diaries: Week Five
Robert Fisk
The Education of Marine Le Pen
Pauline Murphy
Felicia Browne’s Fight Against Fascism
Mary Lynn Cramer
Fearing the Trump Impeachment
Mel Gurtov
While Our Attention is Elsewhere, Climate Change Worsens
Dan Bacher
Extinction 2017: California Edition
Abel Cohen
The Trojan President: America Never Saw It Coming
February 27, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Media Ban! Making Sense of the War Between Trump and the Press
Dave Lindorff
Resume Inflation at the NSC: Lt. General McMaster’s Silver Star Was Essentially Earned for Target Practice
Conn Hallinan
Is Trump Moderating US Foreign Policy? Hardly
Norman Pollack
Political Castration of State: Militarization of Government
Kenneth Surin
Inside Dharavi, a Mumbai Slum
Lawrence Davidson
Truth vs. Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Extradition Saga of Kim Dotcom
Robert Fisk
Why a Victory Over ISIS in Mosul Might Spell Defeat in Deir Ezzor
David Swanson
Open Guantanamo!
Ted Rall
The Republicans May Impeach Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Why Should Trump―or Anyone―Be Able to Launch a Nuclear War?
Andrew Stewart
Down with Obamacare, Up with Single Payer!
Colin Todhunter
Message to John Beddington and the Oxford Martin Commission
David Macaray
UFOs: The Myth That Won’t Die?
Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail