Facebook, Rape Culture, and our Dangerously Low Standards

“Cosplay is Consent: If We are Dressed [sic] Like Sluts, Rape our Guts.”

I am a woman who appreciates a good joke and who often enjoys dark humor, but when I saw this image making its way around Facebook, I did not laugh, and not just because it is devoid of anything that could be called humor.

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The antediluvian thinking that leads to a person calling a woman a slut because of her clothing choices is problematic enough, but what makes this truly offensive is the call to action surrounding that thinking. So, being a member of the Facebook community, and of the group to which this image is directed, I spoke up and reported the image. It seemed straightforward: This image openly advocates violence against me and every woman who wears clothing the poster deems slutty, and, as such, should not fall under any definition of protected speech.

Facebook disagreed:

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Oddly enough, this response makes me feel neither safe nor welcomed.

I decided to do a bit of research and found myself traveling down the rabbit hole that is Facebook’s community standards policy. What I discovered is that it is perfectly acceptable to advocate violence against a group of people, one at a time, at some unspecified time in the future, because, wait — what? Apparently threats against a group of women do not violate community standards because the threat is not imminent unless it is directed at one woman in particular. Whew! I was worried there for a minute.

It is easy to think that images like this mean little and that humor is harmless, but the underlying ideas can have very real consequences in a society where rape culture runs rampant. According to RAINN, 1 in 6 women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime and only 3 percent of perpetrators will ever spend time in jail. Ours is a society where people state that an 11-year-old gang rape victim, “dressed old for her age” and wonder how their young men could have been “drawn into” the act of raping her. It’s a society where people, in response to a passed-out girl in Ohio being raped, tweet that the rapists, “did what most people would do in that situation” and attack the victim for how she presented herself.

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And it’s a society in which Facebook has become a major force, so Zuckerberg and company’s habit of looking the other way when rape jokes are made and threats are handed out are absolutely part of the problem.  

Thankfully, Facebook also has a solution: I should contact the original poster directly and ask nicely for them to remove the offensive image, thereby opening myself up to direct harassment, which, I am assuming, I can then report. This does not seem like a viable option.

I am not the first person who has had an issue with Facebook’s cavalier attitude toward violence against women, and Facebook has attempted to explain their position on more than one occasion, but they always say the same thing: Humor is difficult to judge, and they have to be careful not to trample on anyone’s rights.

I did not ask for the government to interfere and arrest these people, so their right to free speech is perfectly safe. I asked that the public forum I use not be open to speech that clearly, and unequivocally, advocates violence against the group of people into which I am categorized.

consensual-sexAt what point did we decide that someone’s “right” to speak freely trumps a woman’s right to exist in a world where joking about violently invading her body is no longer considered a community standard?

The idea that rape is humorous, or at least not all that bad, goes far beyond a meme, or fifty, on Facebook. These images merely reflect the society in which they are found, and these are our community standards:

We excuse hateful, violent, speech just because some misogynistic idiot calls it humor.

We use terms like “consensual sex.”

Our politicians talk about “legitimate rape.”

We treat any assault that does not involve a masked attacker jumping out of the bushes as rape-lite, and fail to recognize that rape is rape, regardless of who commits it.

We cheer Trump and his attorney who declare that marital rape does not exist because “by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse.”

We celebrate people like Rush Limbaugh who define consent as “No means yes, if you know how to spot it.”

We allow rapists in 37 states to sue for visitation of the children they “fathered.”

We give a teacher who preys on a 14-year-old student a slap on the hand because the student, who had by then committed suicide, was deemed by the judge to be “older than her chronological age” and “just as in control of the situation.”

We sentence a college athlete who is caught in the act of raping a woman 6-months because a longer prison sentence might have too severe an impact.

We find a rapist who confesses on tape not-guilty because the victim was wearing shorts.

So, when will encouraging the rape of half the population stop being considered a community standard? When our society stops treating sexual assault as a joke and starts treating it as the violent, dehumanizing crime that it is.

Image Credits: Antonio Guillem, Cosplay Is Not Consent
Kendra Bell

Kendra Bell

Kendra Bell is a writer, instructor, and roving sociologist whose research interests include rape culture, gender inequality, and global injustice. She is the founder of WithoutShame.org, an avid photographer, and an unapologetic geek.

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