Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Drops in the bucket

A couple of years ago, I hopped into the Facebook controversy over breastfeeding with this post and this followup. I haven't been so involved in the continuing controversy in the last eighteen months. I weaned the boys, got busy with our growing family, had a little PPD inspired nervous breakdown, and healed marvelously and beautifully. And so it goes.

Last night, I got an email from a researcher named Caroline Jack at Cornell University. She is working on a research project that "looks at how social media affect the ways we make sense of contentious social and political issues, and how the policies set by social networking sites may influence the conversations that individuals and communities can have about those issues" (to quote directly from her email, because I certainly can't paraphrase this concisely). As part of this research, she's interviewing people who were involved in the Facebook controversy over breastfeeding. She asked me for an interview, and I excitedly said yes. (We're finalizing a date in August).

And then I started reminiscing. It was so exciting to be involved in the Facebook breastfeeding debate. It felt important. Relevant. It might have been a small drop in the bucket of all that needs to change in our society, but was something. It felt hopeful. I believed. 

I believed that if we all kept trying, we could make a difference. I believed that we could educate our communities, convert our neighbors, and gain some true publicity to get the word out there. And through all of this, I believed that the world would be a little bit better.

So it's two years later. I haven't posted any breastfeeding pictures of Anwen and I, and I'm not up on the current state of Facebook with breastfeeding. The reality is, breastfeeding, in many ways, is simply one of many aspects of life that we can look at to see how women are being treated/perceived/censored (controlled) -- by society as a whole.  We live in a world that is not equal. It's not equal if you're a woman, if you're gay, if you're part of a racial minority...I could go on and on. I fear that we're often lured into believing that things are better. That we're not still living under the heavy thumb of patriarchy. Wake up. The truth is ugly.

But back to breasts and Facebook for a moment. In the spirit of the second of my above mentioned posts, I did a quick search on Facebook...I typed the word "boobs" into the search bar. I immediately was presented with four different apps, all creatively named "boobs" with a combined 39,000 monthly users. The first app listed included the description, "send a pair of boobs to your friends! Some are hot, some are NOT!" So then I searched four more terms for breasts. Here are the images that immediately popped up:


As recently as February, Facebook had this to say about pictures of "nude" breasts: 

When it comes to uploaded photos on Facebook, the vast majority of breastfeeding photos comply with our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which closely mirrors the policy that governs broadcast television, and which places limitations on nudity due to the presence of minors on our site. On some occasions, breastfeeding photos contain nudity – for example an exposed breast that is not being used for feeding – and therefore violate our terms. When such photos are reported to us and are found to violate our policies, the person who posted the photo is contacted, and the photos are removed. Our policies strive to fit the needs of a diverse community while respecting everyone¹s interest in sharing content that is important to them, including experiences related to breastfeeding.
There are tens of thousands of fans of these pages. Pages that are heralded by pictures of hyper-sexualized and often disfigured breasts. Apparently, this content is considered within the realm of appropriateness for "minors on (Facebook's) site." I mean, it took me, a thirty one year old mother of three, less than five minutes to pull up these images. Certainly a tech savvy thirteen year old is equally capable, no?

I'm not pointing this out to be the boob police. I'm not posting these images for anyone's entertainment. I'm not making a judgement on what is or is not appropriate content for thirteen year olds. I'm trying to bring attention to the fact that breastfeeding is the tip of the iceberg.  In at least half of these pictures, the women shown have no face. No head. They are pieces of meat. In the vast majority of images, the bodies have been cut off. In most cases, the breasts have been altered, either on the screen or in the flesh, or both.

It's not about Facebook and breastfeeding. It's not solely about gender equality. It's about our world.

When I first posted on this two years ago, I posted all of the images I could find. There were four of them. Two years later, and in the same brief search, I found twenty-two. Twenty two images of somebody's daughter. Somebody's sister. Somebody's friend. I posted twenty two pictures of human beings, their bodies morphed and de-personalized, degraded.

In spite of all of this effort by tens of thousands, here we remain. Here we have progressed. 

My heart breaks. I brought children into this world. This world, where the KKK goes to court over their right to adopt a section of the highway. (Excuse me while I stop to vomit. Writing "KKK" and "their right" in the same sentence makes me want to crawl out of my own skin.) But children. My children. Your children. This is the future we offer them. Where the fucking KKK goes to court over a highway, and yet women have not been granted the legal protection to nourish their babies in the most accessible, simple and natural way they can. Where Chick Fil A throws homophobia around like a banner of patriotism for the first amendment, and yet thousands of people are dying at the hands of their own governments. Where a man walks into a movie theater and senselessly opens fire on innocent people, and yet money still wins out in the debate over gun control.

This is our world. This is what we have created. Our willingness to go along with it is our vote for things to stay the same. My heart breaks. I want more. I want better. I want to believe.

I want my children to grow up with hope.

I want my daughter to never know there was a time where she could have been an object. Where she could become a commodity for her breasts. I want my sons to never know a time where having a penis meant an automatic ownership. I want them all to know a world where we are born equal. Where good wins and where evil isn't worth it. Where they will have the opportunity to prove their excellence because of what they become, not what they are born with.

I want to believe.

And I'm terrified. I'm terrified that we're exhausted. I'm terrified that we're blind. I'm terrified that we're all too willing to turn our heads and look the other way. I'm terrified that we think this is good enough. Or that we think this is as good as it gets. I'm the idea that we all think somebody else is going to fix it.

That "somebody else" ...? The one who's going to fix it?

Put the computer, the tablet, the phone...put it down. Go look in the mirror. 

It's you. 

It's me. 

It's all of us. And if we don't?

This is our world.