THE BLOG

In Support of an "Explicit Material" Prompt on Facebook

Last month Amina Tyler posted photos of herself topless on Femen Tunisia's Facebook page. In the first photo Amina had painted the words "Fuck Your Morals" across her chest and stomach and posed flashing the middle finger to the camera (or more accurately fingers). In the second photo, Amina posed sitting in a leather chair with a book in one hand and a cigarette in another, with black eyeliner applied slanted across her lids, and pin-up red lips (a woman who reads is always more dangerous to the status quo than a woman who smokes).

Similarly, she was topless in this photo but with Arabic painted across her nude upper body with the bold phrase "my body belongs to me, and is not the source of anyone's honour". Reports say the head of Tunisia' Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice called for Amina to be stoned to death because "her act could bring about an epidemic. It could be contagious and give ideas to other women."

Her photos spread quickly with a petition on change.org calling for her safety garnering more than 15, 600 signatures. Amina explained "nothing they could do would be worse than what already happens here to women, the way women are forced to live every day. Ever since we are small they tell us to be calm, to behave well, to dress a certain way, everything to find a husband. We must also study to be able to marry, because young guys today want a woman who works."

As Asma Ghribi of Tunisia Live stated "I wouldn't say that Amina represents me" and as many activists, religious and not, have made clear, Amina and the organization Femen does not necessarily represent them and they do not see a need to use nudity as a tool of activism. However, the fact that there are some women who do feel that need presents us with a necessity to provide an outlet for it and protect their manifestations of their rights.

Islamophobic images were posted of Femen activists who posed bare with beards and turbans; those images are obviously to be dismissed and repudiated as ignorant and hateful. Fighting for a group's rights at the cost of another's is no just struggle. But the activism that women are conducting on their own behalf, be they Ukrainian, Russian, French, or Tunisian is what is important.

Facebook seems to render much of Femen's activism null. For an organization that uses nudity and sexuality as a way to question's people's ideas of women's roles, women's power, women's control, Facebook seems to either wittingly or unwittingly hinder Femen's mission. The exercise and autonomy that Amina practiced over her own body over her mind, over her health, over her sexuality, was silenced by Facebook's censure. Her message was silenced by Facebook as much as she was silenced by her society. At the same time as Sheryl Sandberg is promoting her philosophy of 'leaning in' -- the necessity of women taking control in the public sphere rather than leaning back, Sandberg has yet to speak out about her company's policies and how it blocks the way many women may choose to 'lean in.' How is her company limiting the outlet through which women can express themselves?

To see these photographs blurred is ridicule and farce, whether they are images of Femen activists who protest and confront Vladimir Putin or Amina herself. Facebook however has not limited hate speech. Facebook pages like Heteros Inspiring Pride which posts homophobic content or Watermelon Chicken Stealing which posts racist and sexist content (like an image of Snow White with the caption "Dead Girls Can't Say No) prosper.

If Facebook refuses to ban those pages due to freedom of speech concerns which are valid, how can Facebook then ban images of women breastfeeding or breast cancer body paintings or 19th century art for that matter?

How can it censor dissent and art while allowing hate and hostility to prosper on its site? A simple prompt warning us that the images or content we are to view is explicit and we consent would forewarn us and deal with our fickle sensibilities which can respond to hate speech in an intelligent manner, but which find breastfeeding too pornographic. If Facebook were to change its policies and treats its users like adults, men and women making a choice as to which content they wish to subscribe to, all Facebook would have to do is create a prompt asking us for confirmation to view explicit material. Our favorite shows do it (see: The Daily Show's explicit material prompt for example), YouTube asks confirmation that you are over 18 and iTunes informs you that a song or film can be considered explicit with the word "explicit" written right next to it. Blogs warn readers that war stories may be graphic or stories may depict sexual violence. If we can handle hate, rape, and war, surely we can handle seeing a pair of breasts.

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