Monday, February 6, 2012

In Response to Facebook's Harassement of Nursing Moms

Dear Facebook Management,
I have gone round and round in my head trying to compose a letter to you that will address, in some meaningful way, the confounding behavior of your staff towards women on Facebook. What eludes me is any rational motivation for your actions that I might intelligently address or debate. The contradictory actions of your staff, when addressing issues that are of significance to the women who use your site have an almost arbitrary, adolescent tone to them. 
Given that 58% of your users are women and that women use social media far more actively than men, one might think you would have an interest in treating women with respect and dignity. Yet, based upon the actions of your staff, there appears to be an unwritten guideline that it is perfectly acceptable for images to be posted on FB that display womens’ bodies as objects of male sexual desire, commentary and misogynistic denigration. Images of women whose bodies are displayed solely for the pleasure of men can be found effortlessly on FB simply by typing in keywords that are commonly used by prepubescent boys to describe women’s breasts. 

By contrast, your staff appears to have taken quite the opposite attitude when women share images of themselves nursing their children. Pages that are designed to support and educate nursing mothers, allowing them to gain confidence, reflect their pride and even communicate their pleasure in the wondrous physiologic purpose of their own breasts are hassled, harassed and shut down. Even on personal pages, mothers are harassed for posting images of their children at breast. 

An obvious conclusion one might draw from the actions of your staff, actions which appear to contradict your own policies, is that the eight-member all-male Board of FB is uncomfortable with images of women taking pleasure in the nature of our bodies, our babies and our selves as mothers. A pleasure that does not include you. A pleasure that reflects our sexuality but is in no way sexual. Perhaps the idea that women truly delight in feeding and nurturing our babies at our breasts is disconcerting to you in some way. 

Whatever might be going on in your own minds about this, I would like to suggest that you…for lack of a better way to say it…grow up. Having stewardship over one of the most significant social tools used in the world today is not a role for adolescents or condescending bureaucrats. It is a role that ought to reflect intelligence, leadership and the forward-thinking creativity that put FB on the map to begin with. Like it or not, you are in the position to effect great change or inflict ongoing harm. 

The normalization of breastfeeding is surely one of the most significant public health issues of this century and you are uniquely positioned to catalyze a shift in the right direction by doing what all of us should do, and ignore images of nursing mothers, unless they are personally meaningful to us, just as we do with the millions of other ordinary images we see every day. The posting of a nursing photo is no different from the posting of an image of a child being fed or nurtured in any other way. It is no more significant to FB than a child at a birthday party, at the beach, in a swing. It is just life, the normal, everyday life of millions of women and children. By instructing your staff to simply react in no greater way to images of nursing children than they do to any other ordinary photo, a very important shift will occur. And the staff of FB will have grown into their stewardship in a responsible and meaningful way. 

Best Regards,
Jennifer Tow, IBCLC, USA & France
Intuitive Parenting Network, LLC

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