Today’s piece looks at gatekeeping and the way Tumblr’s ban on adult content directly affected marginalised users including those who are LGBTQ+ and/or women and posited women’s bodies as sexual as compared to men’s.
A coffee shop, December 2018
“Female presenting nipples?” Josh laughed, leaning back in the booth with his coffee in one hand. “It sounds like a really weird conference. Or modern art piece. Or a one hit wonder pop band.”
Rachel nodded. “It’s ridiculous.”
“Look I only do Instagram and barely that these days. You’ll have to explain this Tumblr thing a bit more. They’re banning porn?”
“Yes but it’s the way they’re going about it. It was a big thing for some subcultures. A safer place than porn sites for many queer people to explore sexuality. And the way they’ve singled out women. Why should a woman’s body be deemed inherently sexual in a way a man’s body isn’t?”
Josh frowned. “I can go shirtless on the beach but you can’t. Is that sexism too?”
“I’d argue yes. But Tumblr isn’t a public space. It could have raised the minimum age you need to be to join the site. It could have put in place better ways to filter out adult content. There were other ways to go about making the site safer for young teens than this sledgehammer.”
“Teens need protecting,” Josh repeated and smirked. “I was reading Playboy at their age. Teens are curious. Anyway, I’m on your side about nudity not being sexual ever since that woman tried to censor the half-scale replica of Michelangelo’s statue of David at the local art gallery. So, this female presenting nipple thing; I don’t get it. Instagram’s the same but I don’t look for that kind of thing – not there anyway – so I’ve never much thought about it.”
Rachel took a sip of her cappuccino before she replied. “Most people don’t get it. It’s not just women’s nipples are bad. Anything that looks like a female nipple. Male nipples in some cases. Mountains.”
“The algorithm is already flagging all sorts of false positives. And while genitals are banned, naked buttocks aren’t or at least aren’t getting flagged. Artwork isn’t supposed to be, so your David statue should be okay, but it’s still getting flagged often. And nipples are okay if it’s a post about breastfeeding or a mastectomy. I find it creepy, hey your body is offensive unless you’re doing your womanly duty to feed a child or you’ve suffered a terrible illness.”
Josh finished his coffee. “What about transitioning? I think I heard Twitter had a thing about that once, a trans woman posting regular updates during their transition and seeing when the ban kicked in?”
“I guess we’ll see.” Rachel sighed. “I like some of the social commentary on Tumblr, the cute animal pics, the music discussions. I don’t even go there for porn but I know some artists are leaving and it’s having a knock on effect. The ban isn’t supposed to be for text posts but one of my posts about an LGBT hotline offering advice on sex and relationships got flagged because I had it tagged ‘gay and lesbian sexuality’. LGBT blogs with no porn on them are getting deleted en masse, while actual porn blogs are still showing up. It’s a mess.”
“That’s social media,” Josh said. “Or capitalism. When all social media is privately owned they can censor whatever they want. You’d need a non-profit committed to freedom of speech with a clear understanding of where the definition of hate speech and abusive content lies. One that doesn’t think a nipple that’s maybe attached to a female body is evil. Seems unlikely right now.”
Rachel finished her drink. “You’re right. Can we walk back past the library?”
“Sure.” Josh got to his feet. “It’s a nice day. Maybe I should take off my shirt and show everyone my nipples.”
Rachel laughed. “In this weather? You were still wearing jumpers in June.”
“In my defence it was a very cold start to June!”
They left the cafe, continuing to gently tease each other, the subject of censorship soon forgotten.
Notes and further reading
The incident with the statue wasn’t a direct reference to a real event but I did google for similar examples and found this which is exactly what I referred to, though taking place in Russia https://news.artnet.com/art-world/russians-dress-michelangelo-david-328717
The Tumblr ban came into effect in December 2018. It has been heavily criticised by many.
https://www.themarysue.com/tumblr-will-ban-all-adult-content/ looks at the ban “this sort of adult content is frequently generated by women, marginalized people, and all sorts of creatives struggling in our vicious “gig economy.” They’re going to be hurt the most by the ban.” and includes a tweet from someone talking about transitioning ” where i post pictures of my bare chest every day while i’m on hrt and wait for the exact point they become illegal”
Tristan Greene at https://thenextweb.com/opinion/2018/12/14/tumblrs-female-presenting-nipples-language-isnt-semantics-its-oppression/ highlights the hypocrisy “if you’re a woman – or any human with “female-presenting nipples” – and you pose for a nude fine-art photograph, and someone wants to share it on Tumblr: forget it. No girls allowed.
This is beyond stupid. There is no relationship whatsoever between images of women without a top on, and images that are criminal by their very existence.”
This woman’s story https://www.quora.com/What-message-is-Tumblr-sending-by-banning-female-presenting-nipples-from-user-content-Why-is-it-so-controversial/answer/Gabriel-Bell-18 shows the ban contributes to sexualising of any woman’s body by singling female bodies out as sexual and she writes “By classifying “female-presenting nipples” as explicit material, Tumblr has taken a stance that any chest or breast that differs from a male default is worthy of shame and unavoidably sexual. The idea that breasts are shameful and unavoidably sexual is exactly what fucked me up for so much of my life.”
The title is given here with an 8 replacing the i; there are many workarounds for writing words that might get flagged including replacing vowels with other symbols and deliberate mis-spellings, hence the rise of the internet slang term pr0n.