Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The photo that was banned from facebook in July, 2007

Breaking it down for Facebook

Let’s start with a bit of history. Back in June 2007, a facebook group was created called “Hey facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene (Official petition to facebook)” after Kelli Roman (see Time interview with Kelli) had breastfeeding pictures removed from the site. The membership of the group grew exponentially, reaching 6,000 members by August 2007, 26,000 members one month later, and then all the way up to 89,971 members at the time I wrote this post. I honestly thought through the strength of that group that facebook had backed down back in 2007 or at least become complacent on the issue.
Then, on November 6th, 2008 I got a tweet from Heather Farley (@TopHat8855) saying “facebook took my profile pic down because it was of me breastfeeding. Calling in the troops (or whatever I can find)“ and later said “going to write an email. Someone is messing with the wrong lactivist “. This kicked off round two against facebook on this issue. Heather has been blogging and tweeting about it ever since her original post called Obscenities and has been involved in arranging protests and nurse-ins, as have many others.
Other than encouraging people to take part in the December 27 virtual protest against facebook, I hadn’t blogged about this issue yet because I thought others were doing a great job. But over the past 24 hours I’ve started hearing way too many things that are getting me riled up. So let me break the issues and arguments down for you.

Three reasons people may wish to post breastfeeding pictures

I keep hearing people say “I know that breastfeeding is normal and natural, but why do these women want to post their breastfeeding pictures anyway?” Ultimately, I don’t think it matters why. Each person will have their own reasons, but here are a few possibilities:

1) It is beautiful and cute: A lot of breastfeeding pictures are beautiful. They are an artistic expression of a relationship between a mother and her child. Like other art, it deserves an audience. Some of this art is photographic (like my portrait taken by photographer Annie Lance). Some are paintings, including historical and contemporary pieces. One of my new favourites is this watercolour by Vancouver artist Erika Hastings . In addition to being artistic, many of these photos are cute and parents love showing off their adorable babies to their friends on facebook.
2) They are proud of their accomplishment: Breastfeeding isn’t easy for everyone. A lot of women struggle through bad latches, poor milk supply, sore nipples, and other breastfeeding challenges and if they persevere, they want to share their success with others. Other people like to post pictures of themselves getting their university degree. Well, honestly, that was a walk in the park compared to the effort I put into breastfeeding my son.
3) Marking a milestone in their child’s life: Parents like to show friends and relatives pictures and videos of their kids meeting milestones. Especially if aunts, uncles, and grandparents are not close-by, facebook can be an ideal platform for being able to share those special moments. Whether it is breastfeeding, first solids foods, standing up, smiling, or going down the slide, these are the moments people want to share with those that are important to them.

Three stupid reasons for wanting to ban breastfeeding pictures from facebook

Okay, now let’s break down the dumbass reasons people keep using to justify facebook’s ban.

1) Breasts are sexual and breastfeeding is private: I put these together because they are linked. The only reason that people think breastfeeding needs to be private is because we sexualize breasts. People will mask this by saying something like “it is a natural and beautiful private moment between a baby and mother“. Hmm…why isn’t it private then when a mother bottle feeds her baby while lovingly holding him and gazing into his eyes. Really, breasts are for feeding babies. Perhaps they have other purposes too, but their primary function is to feed babies. Our society has turned this completely on its head. Daniel does a great job explaining this on culturefeast:
Men and women alike have abysmally poor role models in their parents, extended family, and teachers. Men are taught by example to view breasts as a intensely sexual parts of the female body. They are one of the hottest visual hotspots on a woman. Many men face a sort of sexual confusion when their wives or girlfriends first breastfeed a baby.

2) I don’t want to look at your breastfeeding pictures: People keep saying this over and over again. I don’t want to see pictures of women breastfeeding. Well good for you. I also don’t want to look at pictures of your dog with reindeer antlers, you and your drunk buddies at a bar, you and some celebrity you ran into, or your parents at their 50th wedding anniversary. It simply doesn’t interest me. So I don’t click on those pictures. Or if I’m really repulsed by them, then I can always de-friend you. It is ridiculous to censor something just because some people don’t like it and if we were going to be there, I’d have a list a mile long of things that I consider more offensive and less attractive than breastfeeding.

3) You signed up to facebook, so play by their rules: I like facebook. I like it a lot. It is a great medium for interacting with people and sharing things about my life. But most of all it is great because everyone else uses it too. If I decide not to be part of facebook and instead go to some mommy site that will allow and support my breastfeeding pictures, that won’t be much good to me because the people I want to interact with aren’t there.
The whole “if you don’t like it, go elsewhere” attitude is very typical of current American culture. If you are having problems with your spouse, get a divorce. If you don’t like your boss, quit your job. If you don’t like an employee’s clothes, fire him. If you get bad service somewhere, boycott that place.
Well I’m sorry, but I don’t go away that easily. If I am in a good relationship, but there are a few problems then I’d rather work on those problems than just jump ship. If I am getting crappy service somewhere, then I’d rather bring it up with the manager and see if they can improve. If I don’t like a company’s policies, then I’ll also raise it with them and try to get them to change it.
Discriminatory policies get changed when people fight them. Not when they go elsewhere.

Three reasons why facebook should allow breastfeeding pictures

Now finally, here are three reasons why facebook should allow breastfeeding pictures. I’m not the only one blogging about these issues. Heather Farley mentioned many of them in her letter to facebook and other bloggers have raised these too.

1) The facebook double standard - revenue generating boobies are allowed: As Chris Brogan pointed out in his post “facebook shows me boobies“, breasts (bare breasts, completely topless woman, in sexual context) are allowed on facebook and they’re served up as paid advertising to those that are in the right demographic for boobies. Beyond the advertising issue, there are plenty of photos on facebook of women in bikinis or other low cut outfits that show an awful lot more breast than I do when I’m breastfeeding. Seriously, just search on “breasts” on facebook and you’ll get plenty of examples. So what is it facebook? Breasts or no breasts?

2) Normalizing breastfeeding and protecting human rights: Breast is best. It is by far the best nutrition for a baby. Yet only 31.5% of American babies were still exclusively breastfed at 3 months (exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for at least 6 months by all major health authorities). This is not good enough. We need society to see breastfeeding as normal. Not something to be hidden or ashamed of. It is also a human rights issue, as Heather explains:
When pictures are removed of breastfeeding and not of artificial feeding, breastfeeding mothers are being discriminated against and a wrongful double standard is set. After all, a bottle is simply a plastic, prosthetic disembodied breast in size, form, and function. Additionally, many groups such as the Ontario Human Rights Commission have stated that breastfeeding right issues are human rights issues and that discrimination against a breastfeeding mother is discrimination of her rights.

3) Women and mothers are a big part of facebook’s members: People are mad. Almost ninety-thousand (yes - 90,000) people are members of the Hey facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene (Official petition to facebook) group. Right now, these are mad people that would like to continue using facebook, but that want it to change its policies. But the whole issue is causing some people like Maria Lavis to look at facebook’s policies regarding photos more closely and she is finding plenty of other things she doesn’t like about them and thinking of getting off of facebook (and taking friends and family with her) as a result. This could become much bigger than a few breastfeeding mothers and I don’t think facebook wants it to go there.

It all boils down to this

Not everyone wants to post breastfeeding pictures and not everyone wants to look at breastfeeding pictures, but the same could be said of any picture on facebook. If facebook is going to allow pictures it should allow breastfeeding pictures. HEY FACEBOOK, BREASTFEEDING IS NOT OBSCENE!

P.S. - I syndicate my blog onto my facebook profile, so this post is up there. I would encourage you to share it on your facebook profile too!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Saturday, December 27, 2008 virtual event


Facebook is accustomed to parents complain­ing about racy photographs posted on its site, but now some mothers are seething over revealing pictures it refuses to allow on its pages.

A group called the Mothers International Lactation Campaign, or MILC, is planning a “nurse-in” outside the social network’s Palo Alto offices to protest its removal of user-posted images that show women breastfeeding their babies. The demonstration, planned for Dec. 27, will also have a virtual component, as thousands of people across the Web make nursing photos their main profile picture.

The protesters say breastfeeding is not ob­scene, and Facebook’s removal of their pictures sends the wrong message to mothers everywhere.
A Facebook spokesman on Tuesday clarified that the site does allow breastfeeding photos as long as they don’t show a fully exposed breast.
MILC organizer Heather Farley of Provo, Utah, said she was surprised last month when Face-book took down two photos of her nursing her 6­month-old daughter, one of which was her profile picture.“Where I live, I can breast-feed in public or pri­vate, and there are laws that say it’s not obscene or lewd or indecent,” said Farley, 23. “If I can do it in public, why can’t I do it on Facebook?”
Censoring such images, she said, reinforces stig­mas that discourage mothers from a healthy, natural practice. Angry at the site, but not wanting to lose her online friend network by unsubscribing, she took ac­tion by joining like-minded mothers in a Facebook ­based petition called “Hey, Facebook, breast-feeding is not obscene!”As of Tuesday, the group had more than 53,000 members.
Farley isn’t sure how many will turn out for the nurse-in, planned for 11 a.m. on Dec. 27 at 156 Uni­versityAve., but she’s hoping for at least 20. She said more than 2,000 have already signed up for the vir­tual protest.
Facebook had no comment on the planned demonstration.