Breasts or Beheadings: What’s Your Pleasure?

In the nearly sixty years I’ve been alive, attitudes toward acceptable language and imagery have evolved. The word pregnant is no longer considered vulgar on television. Cuddly cartoon bears walk around with toilet paper on their butts after taking a dump in the woods. Penis jokes are rampant in movies and on television. Fart jokes explode across the airwaves. Frigging, a euphemism for the F-bomb or masturbation, rolls off many tongues. Models in skimpy underwear and feathered wing float down the runway in prime time.

Yet a breast, a simple mass of tissue on a woman’s chest designed to give sustenance to babies, remains at the top of the list of the verboten, even if not shown in a suggestive or offensive manner. The brief glimpse of a nipple at a football game can result in mass hysteria and congressional investigations. Who can forget how AG John Ashcroft ordered the statues in the Great Hall of the Department of Justice building be covered in drapes lest an aluminum breast appear in one of his head shots during press conferences.

Today, Facebook (FB), of which I am a regular and semi-addicted user, announced that it is acceptable to post videos of beheading and other violence—but it still prohibits images of breasts, especially if the nipple is visible. Explain that to me. FB issued a statement saying

People share videos of these events on Facebook to condemn them. If they were being celebrated, or the actions in them encouraged, our approach would be different.

Does that mean it is okay to post a snuff film on FB if the aim is to protest pornography?

A thought provoking article by Shaun Hides on discusses FB’s policy towards beheading and breasts—Facebook: Why beheadings . . . and not breasts. Hides points out the contradiction, to put it mildly, in FB’s policies.

Facebook sees it as a legitimate service to allow its audience to see a woman being brutally killed and then host discussion of that content, but will not allow its users to see exposed breasts — for fear of causing offense.

Only recently, following a petition drive by the organization The SCAR Project, has FB clarified its policy on posting photos of women’s and men’s mastectomy scars. While now allowing mastectomy scar photos, many of which it had previously censored, FB’s policy states 

However, photos with fully exposed breasts, particularly if they’re unaffected by surgery, do violate Facebook’s Terms. These policies are based on the same standards which apply to television and print media, and that govern sites with a significant number of young people.

One of my younger sisters is a breast cancer survivor. Her scars are a testament to her survival.

According to FB, it is acceptable to show a women being beheaded, based on the rationale it is spurs debate against violence, but a breast might violate standards of what young people should view. How is allowing young people to view a beheading less offensive than the sight of a breast? Fifty percent of the world’s population has breasts. It’s not like breasts are a secret. Just go to the beach.


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