Sexism, censorship and the internet

 It now seems impossible not to engage with networking sites such as facebook. As more and more family members and friends sign up, facebook offers a way to stay in touch. There are also professional reasons to join. As I discovered recently while working with Moving Stories Theatre on the play of Vanessa and Virginia, networking sites are crucial in spreading the word.

For most of us, posting on our facebook wall or following the activities of those we accept as friends are safe and positive experiences.

But there is another, more alarming side to some of these sites.

The adverse effect facebook can have on teenagers is now well documented. They may be exposed to predatory adults, and there are concerns over the amount of time some spend on virtual relationships at the expense of live social interactions. Photos are frequently posted without permission which an individual might not like but cannot remove. Sometimes these images are edited through facilities such as photoshop with grotesque results. For a novel about the devastating consequences this can have on young people, read Ali Smith’s The Accidental.

There are other problems too. Facebook has content guidelines, but these can be reactionary when it comes to sexuality and gender. Pro-rape facebook groups may form without impunity, but a mother can no longer post pictures of herself breastfeeding her baby. It seems the female body is only acceptable when it is displayed for sexual titillation. Photos of breasts can appear as long as the nipple is hidden by a scrap of bikini. A baby’s suckling mouth will not do. Pictures of gay men kissing with the word ‘censored’ stamped across them are common – even if facebook eventually removes the label in response to protest. The fact that facebook censorship is implemented by poorly-paid workers in cultures where sexism and homophobia abound does not help.

There is a Big Brother quality to the internet. I felt for the actress who tried and failed to prevent amazon from broadcasting her date of birth because of ageist attitudes to women in the media. It seems wrong that such information should be posted without consent when here in Britain employers may not ask a job applicant their age.

A year or so ago I wrote a horrified blog about the lack of women in David Fincher’s film about the creation of facebook, The Social Network. Now, though I still don’t like it, I view it differently. I think it offers insights into some of what is wrong with the internet. The film highlights how facebook was founded by a group of undeniably gifted but immature and socially inept young men. And if one recent survey can be relied upon, that under twenty-six, predominantly male demographic of facebook employees has not significantly changed.

For google, at first glance the maths isn’t too bad. The male/female ratio of those working for the company is purportedly 70:30. What this figure doesn’t indicate is the proportion who wield influence. That percentage is rather different. Only one of the eleven-strong team advising Google leader Larry Page following a reshuffle in August 2012, it seems, is a woman.

Source: The New York Times

Comments 3

  1. Reblogged this on The PhD Pimpernel and commented:
    A pertinent commentary on modern social networking and how it interfaces with feminist principles. Especially in light of Sheryl Sandberg’s (Facebook’s female CEO since 2008) recent comments about feminism and the glass ceiling.

    1. I haven’t read Sandberg’s book yet but it’s good that these issues are being raised at last. Thanks for commenting.

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