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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dear Sheryl Sandberg, we could use your help...


Dear Sheryl Sandberg,

I'm posting this as an open letter (in addition to attempting to send it directly to you) because I know you have a lot of folks trying to whisper in your ear at the moment, and I'm sorta hoping this will go viral and come across your screen.

First, I want you to know I admire your courage in at least starting a conversation on the importance of feminism to society. Woman or man, declaring oneself a feminist isn't always easy, let alone for a woman in the male-dominated corporate world, let alone for an executive at one of the most recognized brand names on the planet.

You know all this, of course, but I personally appreciate your willingness to speak up.

Your new book, Lean In, isn't perfect (no social commentary is perfect), but it is absolutely important, and I believe you're doing a tremendous service for women (and men) by invigorating the conversation on women in the workplace and equality for women, in general.

Unfortunately, you've had an enormous burden placed on your back by many folks. Because of your success and influence, some have expected you to be all things to all women on all issues.

I will never know how that feels, and I am certainly not expecting you (or anyone) to single-handedly save feminism and lead a movement of progress for women.

We do what we can with what we have.

I'm a 26 year-old Army Vet still working on my undergrad, I have a limited understanding of feminist theory (on which I am slowly improving), and I don't have much influence. But with these limitations, I still try to do what I can. I call out sexism when I see it, I write this blog, I run a Facebook page called "Equality for Women", and I try to be supportive of both women and men who are doing far more than I am for women's rights.

You have an enormous microphone, and I think you're giving a considerable effort to using it wisely for progress.

May I make a small suggestion on a problem that desperately needs attention? A problem I believe you could easily help fix with your influence at the very company for which you work?

At the moment, on Facebook, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of pages that openly glorify or celebrate violence against women, sexual assault and rape, and child abuse.

Your immediate answer to this might be that there's a reporting system that was created to address abusive content like this, but the problem is that reporting pages or comments or users that promote violence against women and "rape culture" are rarely pulled off Facebook or punished otherwise.

I wish I were exaggerating, but I'm not. Content that I, alone, have flagged as extremely abusive or hate speech towards women has yet to be removed, to say nothing of the myriad of woman-hating content that remains even after so many other users have reported it.

Meanwhile, feminist pages seem to be quickly suspended or removed without delay. My own page was suspended for posting a photo of a performance artist who was topless. That's it. It was clearly not sexually-charged, but within an hour of posting it, Facebook removed the content.

This isn't just my page. Other feminist pages have had a similar experience, including content removed for "hate speech" because it supposedly bashed men, which couldn't be further from the truth.

And yet, pictures that objectify women or clearly promote violence or rape or sexual assault against them (many featuring nude women) are reported and completely ignored.

I (and others) can't help but think that the Facebook employees assigned the task of reviewing reports are intentionally removing feminist content based on no evidence of wrongdoing and leaving up misogynistic content that is clearly violent and abusive in nature.

We're not talking supposedly "mindless" feminist ranting here. We're talking pictures of bloodied and beaten women with captions like "That's what you get for venturing out of the kitchen..." or women tied up and a caption that promotes raping her.

An excellent page called "Rapebook" (www.facebook.com/StopRapebook) has spent some time attempting to organize online users in an effort to report this content en masse to little action from Facebook's reviewing department. The admins finally gave up, their story received some media attention, and the response from Facebook was quite tepid.

I don't feel there are two reasonable sides to evaluating content like this. I believe your reviewing department is getting away with callous and harmful behavior and failing to enforce the standards of safety and respect Facebook supposedly prizes on its site.

And I believe you, Mark Zuckerberg, and the rest of your leadership team believe in those standards, but I also don't think you and the other executives at Facebook understand what is occurring here.

These images promote violence and sexism against women. They make it easier for boys and young men (and older men) to treat women like dirt. They make it easier to harass and assault girls and women. They make it easier for men (and some women) to subconciously support misogynistic ideals, including those that would maintain you have no right to the success you have painstakingly earned over your long career and current work as Facebook's COO.

As you very well know, sexism is often incremental. It starts early and is ingrained through coerced gender roles and a societal belief that women are naturally less than men. Addressing the sexist and violent content against women on Facebook will be an incredibly effective effort in alleviating the cultural harm that is done to women on a daily basis.

We need your help. We believe that you could do so much good simply by reforming how Facebook reviews abusive and offensive content.

Please consider looking into this. There's so much to be gained here with so little effort on issues that are monumentally important to everyone, especially women, whom you have clearly shown you want to see succeed in the future.

v/r

Charles Clymer
cmclymer@gmail.com

4 comments:

  1. Citing scientific research showing that sexist humor does indeed cause harm will strengthen your letter. Numerous laboratory studies (such studies permit causal inference) have shown that exposure to violence against women results in more permissive attitudes toward rape and DV.

    Below is a Google Scholar search with the terms "violence against women caused by the media"

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&q=violence+against+women+caused+by+the+media&btnG=&as_sdt=1%2C33&as_sdtp=

    I also did a search on PubMed for laboratory studies demonstrating the negative effects of sexist humor and I found three relevant studies:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18056796

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20042541

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17179405

    The last study is an evaluation of an intervention that relied on empathy training that had positive results in a sample of fraternity brothers and male student athletes.

    Hope this helps!

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  2. I absolutely agree! I report each of these offensive pages every time I come across one, but they are NEVER taken down. Facebook needs to be held accountable for this.

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    1. DLZ, perhaps if you looked into what the tenets of feminism actually are, you would realize your point is moot. My point being that we already have laws which make rape and violence illegal and that our society deems these things bad. But, that thousands of years of the domestication and subjugation of women has lead to disproportionate enforcement of said laws and attitudes when that violence or rape is directed towards women. When women are objectified and/or treated as less than their male counterparts it creates an attitude that allows for women's bodies to be taken, used or abused as men (their supposed superiors)see fit.

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