Illustration: Nicholas Luchak
When you’re pissing off sexist assholes, you know you’re doing feminism right.
So it is that I must tip my hat and offer an Internet fist bump of solidarity to the small group of women behind a recent act of online feminist subterfuge involving one formerly gross Facebook page called Bra-Busters.
Created in mid-April, Bra-Busters was a place men could go to look at pictures of women’s breasts — famous women’s breasts, ordinary women’s breasts; whose breasts wasn’t the point. The point was tits.
Pages such as this one are numerous. I imagine they’re especially helpful to men who can’t get through a workday without ogling women’s bodies since logging onto Facebook doesn’t attract attention from employers in the same way as would a more obvious porn site. It’s no surprise, then, that Bra-Busters attracted almost 4,000 likes in the first two weeks of its life.
Then a funny thing happened. The (male) admin of the page reached out online to a woman he didn’t know to ask if she’d like to be involved. He was looking for new content and thought she might be able to provide a different perspective.
The woman was a radical feminist.
Now, I don’t know this woman either but it happens I run in some of the same online circles and therefore was privy to her initial consideration of — and confusion about — this offer.
She was suspicious and wondered if the invitation might be a trap. And rightfully so — for speaking out against sexism, more than a few feminists have been harassed and threatened and/or have had their personal information made public.
Indeed, my initial reaction to learning this woman was debating wading into an online group of men who enjoy disseminating skeevy shots of women’s bodies and making crude comments about them was apprehension about the very real possibility of harmful retaliation.
(FYI: harmful retaliation remains a very real possibility, which is why I am keeping the identities of all women involved in this story anonymous.)
Why the hell would some dude who runs a newly created page devoted to objectifying women want a rad fem onboard?
Ultimately, this woman decided the opportunity to do a little shit disturbing was too good to pass up.* She told him she was in and, on April 29, he made her an admin of the page. Her first act was to remove his admin status. (HAHAHAHA.) Her second act was to enlist some like-minded women to help her transform the page by removing all the original content and replacing it with feminist phrases and imagery.
This is what Bra-Busters looks like now.
Of course, fans of the original page noticed the changes right away AND THEY DID NOT LIKE IT ONE BIT. Clearly, they felt entitled to look at women’s breasts wherever and whenever they wanted with impunity.
And here’s where the story gets even more interesting — and more enraging.
Some of these pissed-off men began posting their displeasure on the page, making rude comments about the new admins and generally being creepy and horrible.
The new admins responded with mockery: downloading the men’s Facebook profile pictures and adding text balloons filled with the men’s own hateful words. (Some of these images were compiled on a blog that continues to evolve, the succinctly titled Whiney Dudes.)
Here’s what happened next, according to one of the new Bra-Busters admins:
“This enraged them even further and they demanded that we take down the pictures…
We refused to comply with their demands. The next day I found out the images of these dudes had been reported as ‘pornography.’ Facebook had removed the reported images and given me and another admin a ban from posting anything on Facebook for 24 hours.”
That, dear readers, is some Grade A hypocrisy — especially when you consider that other non-sexualized, non-degrading images of women’s bodies are routinely removed by Facebook for violating its so-called “community standards.”
By way of example: in the weeks leading up to the Bra-Busters takeover, this open letter was making the rounds of my social networks. Its author co-owns a Facebook page devoted to mothering. She received a 30-day ban from Facebook after publishing an anatomical drawing of a vulva.
The whole letter is worth a read but here is my favourite quote:
I don’t know who is running things over there at Facebook headquarters, but to me it seems like a bunch of men who enjoy women, but only on their own terms.
Seriously. It’s cute and all that Facebook professes to have a
strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content
we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.
However, I’d prefer it to actually follow through on such statements. Which, from where I sit, doesn’t seem to be happening.
Back to Bra-Busters and a couple final thoughts.
In addition to attracting the outrage of entitled dudes, this one small drop of feminist resistance also attracted attention from other corners of the Internet.
Web paper The Daily Dot reported on it.
So did Al Jazeera’s social media community. (Note the use of quotation marks around the word sexist in that story’s headline, “‘Sexist’ page undergoes feminist coup.” To imply that the page targeted was only allegedly sexist — not, you know, actually sexist. MY EYES ARE HURTING FROM THE ROLLING YOU GUYS.)
And so did online community PolicyMic, which published this critical reaction piece, titled To Smash Sexism, Don’t Shame Sexists.
“As fun and empowering as this story may seem, one wonders what it means for self-identified feminists to employ the very tactics that are so often used to victimize the women they claim to represent. Are the women in this case helping to eradicate sexism by laughing at at (sic) its proponents — a kind of wonderful act of subversion? Or are they simply perpetuating the very kind of injustice that feminists fight against — namely, public shaming?”
“… Instead of jumping on the shame bandwagon, activists should question whether shaming individuals really deters them from behaving badly. This question is an especially salient one for feminist activists given that the goals of feminism are founded not only upon systemic approaches to oppression but also fostering dialogue and promoting inclusivity.”
Fans of Bra-Busters were not victimized. What happened was that a group of feminists put some men’s misogynistic attitudes on public display. Basically, they did what Jon Stewart does on his show pretty much every night. (Or is it only famous men who are allowed to use ridicule to highlight the outrageously awful things some people say?)
Furthermore I suggest that, in some situations, fostering dialogue is not possible — or, frankly, desired. (See: this post on the topic by Rebecca Watson over at Skepchick, who pretty much nails it.)
Tell me again: why must feminists be respectful and seek inclusivity when interacting with someone whose opinion boils down to “Tits or GTFO you fat cunt?”
Some people choose to behave badly and will do so even if asked really, really nicely to stop. Even if the person asking says pretty please.
Some people are sexist assholes who deserve to be called out on their shit.
* This is my assessment. Here are her own thoughts on what she did and why she did it.