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Women and Censorship

Posted on 24 May 2016

Technological advances in modern communications opened up the opportunity for mass communication and the potential for mass surveillance of the pubic. Although we trusted our mobile carriers, internet providers, social media networks and government not to spy on us. As this would be a blatant breach of our human rights protected by law.  A violation of our personal privacy, freedoms and security.
In 2011 David Cameron said the internet was "a powerful tool in the hands of citizens, not a means of repression. It belongs to the people who've had enough of corruption..." He criticised internet censorship and surveillance carried out by other countries across the world, "Governments must not use cyber security as an excuse for censorship or to deny people their opportunities that the internet represents."
However, in 2013 Edward Snowden revealed the extent to which our government was illegally spying on its civilians, without our knowledge or consent. Cameron has also gone back on his words: "Do we want to allow a means of communication... that we cannot read?" Since then its been proven that mass surveillance is an attack on our fundamental human right to privacy, freedom and unjustly treats us all like we're criminals. So we recognise that mass surveillance is wrong. However, this is the way women have been treated for centuries.
The female body is scrutinised, monitored and censored with an Orwellian level of surveillance. As a society, we do not respect women's human rights to bodily integrity and autonomy, personal freedom, privacy or safety. Across the world, women are more often affected in gender-based violence, sexual assault, domestic abuse and genital mutilation.
Historically women's sexual freedom and expression is seen as subordinate to men's and as something to be controlled through restricting women's behaviour. Women are pressured to behave sexually 'modest' and to dress in ways deemed 'appropriate', otherwise face threats of violence, such as rape and honor killings. Women's right to sexual health is also undermined across the world, access to contraception is restricted and so are safe abortions.
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Public harassment, including unwanted comments, following, leers, cat-calling, sexual gestures, public masturbation, groping, is a common occurrence for women. Our bodily appearance is constantly scrutinised and monitored. Pressured to fit patriarchal expectations of beauty. We're taught our appearance has to please men. We're pressured to diet, have pert and big breasts, wear 'natural looking' makeup or none at all.

Its easy to draw parallels between a surveillance state and the way women's bodies are put under surveillance, treated as property of the public and the government. So, not only is being monitored, having your privacy and freedoms violated the norm for women, its now an issue for everyone with mass surveillance through the internet. However, we are still finding that women are clamped down on more so than men online. They're targets for censorship because of their gender.

The internet was by design egalitarian, it offered anyone and everyone the freedom to express themselves, regardless of gender or sexuality. It enabled new forms of empowerment, interaction and self expression, women were able to determine for themselves how they want to be seen, outside of oppressive mainstream culture. Yet we are seeing the freedom women have on our fundamental communications infrastructure being slowly eroded away.

Instagram, has a long history of banning images of women's body parts that don't fall in line with a patriarchal and sexualised view of women. Images of women breastfeeding, menstruating, their stretch marks and public hair, have all been the focus of censorship, for violating 'decency' policies. The thing is, more often that not, these 'body parts' belong to the women sharing the image. When you censor someone's body, you censor them, they cease to no longer exist.

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Instagram also gives users the power and control to actively censor women with no accountability, like an all-seeing eye that lurks waiting to swoop in. There is an obvious power structure at play here: they can see us but we can't see them. Creating a sense of fear around self expression and showing of the female body. It encourages the idea that strangers are entitled to police women, tell them what they can or can't do with their own bodies. Violating women's freedom of expression and autonomy.

Similarly, Instagram censors women's nipples but men's are 'free', with the excuse they are 'sexually explicit', reinforcing the patriarchal view that women's bodies are inherently sexual. What happens when a woman decides to break the rules and refuse to 'cover up'? She's slut shamed, sent abuse and attempts are made to 'put her back in her place'.

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Furthermore, Instagram censored the tags 'curvy' and 'goddess', words that are used specifically by women to represent self empowerment. Meanwhile, tags such as 'bitch', an insult used against women, goes unchallenged. So does abusive misogynist trolling. Not only are private companies such as Instagram censoring women, governments are interfering with women's sexual freedom.

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Last December The British government secretly passed new laws that censor internet porn. They arbitrarily banned a list of sex acts that they deem 'offensive' and 'obscene'. The sex acts they banned, take aim at expressions of women's and LGBT sexuality more so than male straight sexuality. Reinforcing a heteronormative stance on sexuality. The double standard is that when the same acts are performed by a man instead of a woman, they don't censor it. For example, female ejaculation is banned but male ejaculation is permitted.

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Banning these acts adds fuel to the idea that female sexuality is offensive whereas male sexuality is ok. Men are free to express their sexuality in a way women aren't. Sex is an private part of our personal lives that shouldn't be regulated by a government body. Its an attack on the personal liberties and sexual freedom. They want to ban sex acts that they deem coercive, as they believe in consent, yet they don't want our consent or say in what is deemed 'offensive'.

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David Cameron also supported the introduction of a 'porn filter' to be switched on across the internet. However, this 'porn filter' restricts access to much more than just porn. Sex education, self harm, domestic violence, drug abuse, gay and lesbian, eating disorders sites have all had access restricted to. The fact that you can ban 'gay and lesbian sites' but allow heteronormative sites, insinuates that LGBT sexuality is offensive.

'Ban This' explores the relationship between women and censorship, especially the policing of their sexuality. Censorship bothers me because its oppressive and undermines our freedom of expression. We have reached a tipping point, either we can continue down this road of living in a surveillance state or stand up for our personal liberties.

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