A ranty, funny, dead-serious intersectional feminist blog.

Why #FBrape is Not About Free Speech

Speech is an action.

Speech is an action.

This is an opinion piece I submitted to the Seattle Times in response to an ACLU blog post claiming Facebook’s decision to apply their existing standards to gendered hate speech is bad for “free speech” on the Internet. I disagree for a number of reasons, among them the fact that Facebook is not the Internet-at-large (but one community within the larger Internet that doesn’t allow hate speech–there are many that do), and does not traditionally maintain any sort of existing “free speech” standard as the blogger implied (in fact, they already ban a lot of content that violates their stated terms). As I have said before, freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences, and one consequence is counter-speech–and counter-action if the community you’re in believes that your “free speech” is harmful to the group. You’re still free to say what you want, but you might have to take it somewhere else if you get voted off the island. That’s just life.

All that said, I only had 600 words to play with, so I focused on my belief that this speech not only contributes to rape culture (which teaches us that rape is acceptable) but encourages (read: incites) rape and violence against women, and as such is not (or should not be) protected. By anyone. I’m about as far from a lawyer as people come, and I doubt there’s any legal precedent for my position, which is probably why the Times declined to publish (i.e., they did not respond within the requisite time). Nevertheless, I believe this to be true.

Today [5/30/13] Jay Stanley took issue on the ACLU blog with Facebook’s decision to remove content promoting violence against women in response to the #FBrape campaign, citing “free speech” and the need to protect it at all costs. I would like to point out that where the First Amendment of the US Constitution is concerned (which should be the primary concern of the ACLU), speech that incites violence is not protected, and can indeed be grounds for arrest. I believe that the content the #FBrape campaign objected to has the potential to incite violence.

Some of the images in question depicted real women and girls unconscious, tied up, bruised, bloody, and even dead–all presented as humor. They bore captions like, “Next time, don’t get pregnant,” “She didn’t make my sammich fast enough,” and “Tape her and rape her.”

There is a term that describes the toxic culture we live in where rape and violence against women are trivialized and normalized in this and many other ways. That term is “rape culture.” It’s a controversial term to some who believe it implies that all men are potential rapists. It doesn’t, but that’s beside the point, which is that rape culture is bad for everyone. It teaches boys that girls are objects made for sex and that they are entitled to sex. It teaches girls that their bodies are not their own; that their consent doesn’t matter, only that they play defense and remain pure. It praises men who have sex while shaming women as “sluts.” It makes light of prison rape and male victims of sexual assault. And it makes a joke of rape and violence against women.

You know who loves a rape joke? Rapists. Rape jokes, and people laughing at them, tell rapists that rape is acceptable when what they need to hear is “Dude. No.” And there are far too many rapists out there. They don’t wear a sign—they look just like everyone else. And they’re listening.

A 1987 study (The Scope of Rape: Incidence and Prevalence of Sexual Aggression and Victimization in a National Sample of Higher Education Students) found that “The frequency with which men reported having perpetrated each form of sexual aggression ranged from 19% of men who indicated that they had obtained sexual contact through the use of coercion to 1% of men who indicated that they had obtained oral or anal penetration through the use of force.” That means that even if you only count “forcible rape” with oral or anal penetration, approximately one in a hundred men are rapists. This is not an insignificant number. When you include vaginal penetration by force, the numbers must increase considerably. And when you begin adding crimes sometimes referred to as “gray rapes” they skyrocket—if not to one in five, then significantly nonetheless.

According to at least one ACLU website, hate speech is not protected:

But this right doesn’t extend to libel, slander, obscenity, “true threats,” or speech that incites imminent violence or law-breaking.

Obscenity arguments aside, one question is this: How imminent is the threat of violence by a rapist against a woman? It is estimated that three women are raped every hour in the US military. In the general US population an estimated 78 women are forcibly raped ever hour (this number does not include those so-called “gray rapes”). Promoting rape as acceptable, inevitable, and funny not only gives rapists tacit permission to rape, it is responsible for the idea that “all men are rapists.” All men are not rapists, but the ones who are thrive on society’s acceptance of rape.

And the ones who aren’t yet rapists but might be under the right circumstances? They’re listening, too.











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24 responses

  1. @emmawolf

    Interesting question. And when it comes to public speech who gets to decide what is and what is not hate speech?

    June 14, 2013 at 7:35 am

    • It is a good question, and I’m pondering it. Maybe worth another post.

      June 14, 2013 at 9:37 am

  2. How do you define “hate speech”?

    June 13, 2013 at 7:52 am

  3. Sin City Siren

    Reblogged this on The Sin City Siren.

    June 12, 2013 at 8:27 am

  4. Duly intrigued here. I didn’t know FB was now censoring “gendered hate speech”. Hmm, I wonder if that means they’ll swoop onto every FB page like feminist superheroes whenever “pussy” is used as an epithet. Something tells me that’s overly optimistic.

    At least they’ve stepped up to the plate where the worst of the worst is concerned. One small step forward is still a step forward, I suppose.

    This latest ACLU debacle is why I have a love/hate relationship with them. We’d definitely be worse off without the good and tireless work they do, but they have a habit of taking their 1st amendment love a little too far. Freedom from bigotry, racism, misogyny, etc. should take precedence. I’ve no shame in putting human dignity above freedom to disseminate hatred. Neither should they.

    June 6, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    • Whoops, my redundancy. *embarrassed grin*

      June 6, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    • Yeah, I’m developing a love/hate thing with them, too. Really sick of free speech as an excuse for harmful behavior.

      June 7, 2013 at 7:06 am

  5. “In the general US population an estimated 78 women are forcibly raped ever hour ”

    That works out to 683, 280 rapes per year. According to RAINN , “Every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted
    There is an average of 207,754 victims (age 12 or older) of sexual assault each year”

    Also “About Rapists

    Approximately 2/3 of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim
    38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance”

    June 6, 2013 at 9:49 am

  6. If this issue could be made without reference to gender, if it were about race or even animal abuse, the discussion would be completely different. The ACLU would not have stood for photos of bound, battered, gagged, beaten, and beheaded men of color. The public would not stand for such photos of animals. Since the photos were of women, well, that’s different. Feminists react to it, and we are easily dismissed for the same reasons we are so pictured in the first place.

    June 6, 2013 at 9:07 am

    • See, that’s my question: I know the KKK, for instance, has the right to gather in public places and spew their hate, but can they also hold up photos like the ones you describe with captions like the ones we’ve seen on FB encouraging violence? Is that protected speech, or is it speech that is geared to incite violence, and thus actionable? I can’t seem to get a clear answer.

      June 7, 2013 at 8:10 am

  7. Being a bio guy, the discussion here in the comments brought to mind some work that has been done with various types of primates. In nature, gender roles vary wildly; from the almost complete matriarchy we see among ants and bees to the cases of angler fish and zombie worms where the male is basically a parasitic organism who literally lives attached to or inside the female.

    Among many mammalian species we see males “dominate”. For example, the biggest male gorillas fight among one another for access to female harems, while females are attracted to the biggest, strongest males because they have the best genes. It’s the same with walruses and a lot of other animals.

    Chimps and bonobos (a chimp subspecies) have a different reproductive strategy.The males of these species have larger genitals relative to body size, because rather than having a single male with a harem, you have a more indiscriminate sex life. Now that brings us to the difference between chimps and bonobos — bonobos make love, not war. Chimps are notoriously violent, and male chimps often abuse females and babies. Bonobos, however, are more egalitarian, and are more likely to solve an issue by having sex than by attacking. I read an account where a male bonobo hit a female, and a group of males in the troop chased him down and beat the everloving crap out of him.

    But why the difference? If you look at chimps and bonobos, there isn’t a huge difference in appearance (chimps are a bit bigger). The hypothesis has to do with the access to food resources, that in chimp habitat food is harder to get at and the group is forced to fragment more, breaking the groups into smaller bunches that allow large alpha males to take a lead role without a big band of ‘lesser’ males and females to counter him. Whereas with bonobos the lay of the land and distribution of resources encouraged better group cohesion and allowed beta males and females to band together against alpha males and show them who was boss.

    Now unless you think I’m being a determinist, I’d like to point out a study done with monkeys, baboons specifically. A guy (whose name I can’t remember; he was a primatologist) followed a particular troop of baboons for ten years. It was dominated by a large, aggressive alpha male and his buddies. Female baboons and less aggressive males were regularly beaten and harassed. However, the alpha was a bit of an old fart and he passed on. That made the researcher pretty sad, since he’d grown pretty fond of the group and its leader, but as he watched he noticed something odd happen. The females and beta males banded together in a more egalitarian way, and the incidence of violence in the group dropped drastically. Now and then, an alpha male would wander into the troop and try to assert dominance, during which case the females and beta males would basically gang up and beat the crap out of the new guy until he learned his place.

    The baboons didn’t move to a new area; there wasn’t any change in their habitat or resource availibility. It was a cultural change, something akin to the French Revolution with less powdered wigs and more poo flinging. It goes to show that the people who believe gender roles and what not are genetic are not necessarily correct. If monkeys can do it, I’m certain a bunch of naked upright apes could get it figured out.

    June 5, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    • Wow, what a great story. I wonder what it would take? Maybe poo-flinging is actually the key! I’m willing to try anything.

      June 5, 2013 at 7:33 pm

      • haha who knows!

        I think it’s funny when people use nature to justify their sexism. Like the people who say that in nature males are naturally the providers (some senator said that recently I think). They neglect the fact that in many species males are little more than parasites and sperm factories. The angler fish is an example: nobody could figure out how they reproduced for awhile there because no males were observed, until they noticed a little lump on the much larger female, which turned out to be the male. Males of that species depend entirely on the female for sustenance, essentially becoming like a parasite. Zombie worms are similar, where the males live inside the much larger females, continually fertilizing her. Then there are the lesbian lizards, who are all female and reproduce asexually (strangely enough they still engage in mating rituals even though they can’t actually mate, which means there probably were males at one point). I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea by now, haha

        June 13, 2013 at 3:29 pm

  8. Well said. I’m sorry it wasn’t published but I’m not surprised, given the general, over-all nature of the rape culture we live in. Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood? It helped me understand a lot about the control and domination of women by men..

    June 5, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    • I have it on my Kindle and I have not read it yet. I must make it a priority. Thanks.

      June 7, 2013 at 8:07 am

  9. Julie Bernett

    I think your brave letter was excellent. Sadly and annoyingly, it’s not surprising it wasn’t published. I speak from experience. The subject of rape even amongst “intelligent” and educated folks is still to this day a taboo subject. It makes people uncomfortable and so they’re afraid to critique rape culture. Patriarchy definitely is the root cause for most if not all rapes and violence against women. Patriarchy is so immersed in our world that we don’t even see it. If we could only get our ancient history back…without patriarchy’s distortions, omissions and downright denial, we would discover that 5,000 plus years ago matriarchy was the norm and humans worshipped God as Mother. Goddess statues have been found to prove it, but little to nothing is said of these ancient beliefs and cultures because PATRIARCHY somehow developed and the Patriarchs, whose mission was to rule over nature, took over the world with its goal of conquer, rape, control. Even men aren’t safe under this system. When matriarchy was the norm, women didn’t dominate men! Maybe when men discovered they could control animals, they decided why not control their women? Was it jealously that patriarchy developed? Did men not feel validated for their part in nature and procreation? Some people today associate sex with women as “dirty.” Are women’s bodies, which bleed monthly and are able to give birth (with lots of blood) associated with raw nature? Did men think they were “above” this at a certain time period that made them band together to form their “boys clubs?” Who knows? Something caused Patriarchy to develop. If we could start with a critique on Patriarchy I think we might discover many answers to the systems of slavery, colonization, oppression, violence, wars, and the raping of the most important mother of all, Earth.

    June 5, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    • Great points, Julie. Thank you.

      June 7, 2013 at 8:07 am

  10. Amen. And it’s not JUST that this is hate speech, but that they’re sanctioning this type of speech while at the same time banning speech and images that aren’t at all hateful. They’re already censoring people, just not the RIGHT people, if you want to look at it like that.

    And it’s language like this that make guys think it’s socially acceptable—if not encouraged—to abuse women. There is absolutely nothing okay about that. If measures aren’t taken to say “This is NOT okay,” then it won’t ever stop.

    June 5, 2013 at 11:03 am

    • Yep. We just asked them to enforce their existing standards. The ACLU guy seems not to understand that at all.

      June 5, 2013 at 11:46 am

  11. yourothermotherhere

    Where, or how, do you think “rape culture” originated? (This is a serious question.)

    June 5, 2013 at 10:43 am

    • It’s a very good question and I don’t have a great answer for you. Honestly, I think it has to go back a long, long way. Rape has been a weapon of war for so long. I think it goes hand-in-hand with patriarchy, teaching us that women are subservient to men. I’ll think on it some more, and hope others jump in with ideas.

      June 5, 2013 at 11:06 am

      • yourothermotherhere

        Yes, rape has always been around, but it seems to me that within the past 5 years or so, it has really increased.

        There are many atrocities committed against women around the world. I read about genital mutilations, beatings, deaths, forced abortions for having too many children in a family or because the the baby is female, and of rapes being treated as normal behavior.

        I want to say that I first became aware of all this with rap music, particularly Eminem, but I don’t know if that’s the case or not, but rap music is definitely a contributing factor. But where and when did rap start incorporating that women were bitches and whores? Writing and illustrating along those lines in FB is an extension of that kind of thinking. It is trying to continue that growing belief that it is all acceptable.

        There ARE women that truly believe their place is as property to males, that they are to shut-up and accept their fate. There ARE women who truly believe that it’s right to abort female babies. There ARE women who feel that female girls should have their clitoris cut out along with their labia so they don’t feel pleasure. It is a sad thing to say that in order for global practices of treating women as objects must be fought against other women as well as mentally stunted males.

        The only way to change this is to change these beliefs in the home at an early age. Women, as mothers, as sisters, aunts and grandmothers, MUST teach their children that women have just as many rights as males, that they are indeed equal. Women do have the power to make this change, but it has to be a global change.

        June 5, 2013 at 11:29 am

        • Larissa Lee

          I have to point out that everything you mentioned has existed much longer than the past 5 years, and unfortunately longer than the internet. Having the ability to hear about atrocities in a foreign country for the first time doesn’t mean it’s the first time they’ve happened. I agree with your suggestions for change, that it has to start young and at home.

          June 5, 2013 at 12:20 pm

          • @Larissa Lee; I agree and especially with all starting young and at home. I feel all education starts at home. Unfortunately not all kids have good home environments. Also as good as parents teach their kids, there are many outside influences, such as the “wrong crowd”. And then there are video games, movies and to some extent TV. Now we do have a 1st amendment that ensures free speech for all of us. And if government starts banning certain video games and or movies, we’ll be no better than Red China or North Korea. However there is hope. Way back in the day it was acceptable to drive drunk, but as fatalities grew the culture started to change. The same would have to happen to rape culture, drug culture and the culture of violence. This can not happen overnight, but there is hope.

            June 6, 2013 at 8:59 am

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