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Small Victories

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This was a big week for Facebook feminism. A worldwide coalition of feminist groups, led by the UK’s Everyday Sexism Project and Women, Action and the Media in the US, have been challenging Facebook’s advertisers (mostly via Twitter) to suspend their ads until the platform agrees to remove some straightforwardly offensive images making hitting and raping women sound like fun. (They are depressingly easy to find on the internet. A couple is having dinner, a single rose in a vase on the table: ‘Win her over… with chloroform.’ This is the tame end.) If asking the advertisers to ask Facebook to ask whoever posted the images to take them down sounds like a roundabout way of going about things, that’s because it is: Facebook, who have censored photos of breastfeeding in the past, had already vetted the images and didn’t think they violated ‘Facebook’s Community Standard’. On Wednesday they backed down and issued a statement setting out how they were going to change their moderators’ ways.

It’s some sort of victory, but what kind? I’m still waiting to hear from Facebook’s famous ‘sort of’ feminist, Sheryl Sandberg. And while Nissan and Nationwide pulled their ads, Dove, makers of soap and shampoo for ‘real’ beauties, said they hoped simply to refine their search terms ‘in case any further pages like these are created’. A small victory, it turns out, can be more depressing than a grand failure. The campaign was fought cleverly, understanding that pitching company against company was a way to win where they had lost before, migrating from cloth-eared Facebook to more congenial Twitter when they were ignored and redirecting their anger towards companies that might listen.

A wave of angry tweets has been followed by a wave of congratulatory ones. Threatened with loss of ad revenue, Facebook have given in, though it’s still not clear they see what the problem is. The misogynists will take their rape jokes elsewhere on the internet, muttering self-righteously about free speech. Another campaign against demeaning images of women was launched this week, Lose the Lads Mags, who hope to get Nuts et al taken off supermarket shelves by challenging them using equality legislation. The argument is that workers shouldn’t have to handle offensive material. But in order to get the demonstrable win, feminists are avoiding the bigger questions: about representations of women in the wider media (after Nuts, what about the Sun and the Mail?), but also about about why men rape, why prosecution and conviction rates for rape and domestic violence are so low, why women find it hard to speak up about what’s happened to them. I miss having the conversation and I miss the wit, the poetry and the intellectual daring of other sorts of campaigning: Slutwalk, Pussy Riot, Shulamith Firestone. I’m sad that technopragmatic campaigning is the only sort that seems to work (and feel guilty about being sad), but I just can’t get very excited about tweeting @NissanUK on my lunchbreak.

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