In Facebook's Bizarre World, Ads About Breast Cancer Are Too Sexual But Groups About Raping Friends Are Just Peachy

When Women's Media Center Online Manager Michelle Kinsey Bruns submitted an informative advertisement to Facebook highlighting the proven non-association between abortions and breast cancer, she wasn't necessarily expecting the social-networking website to approve it. She just wanted to see why they wouldn't.

Last week, Bruns received feedback from Facebook about her ad — predictably, they'd rejected it on the grounds that it was "advertising adult products or services, including toys, videos, or sexual enhancement products." Because, you know, teenagers (a.k.a. "not adults") never get pregnant, and breast cancer isn't the most common cancer among women in the United States.

So why was the advertisement rejected on those grounds? Are the "toys" used in an abortion actually used for sexual pleasure? Are breast self-exams for cancer considered "sexual enhancement"?

Not so much. It turns out this is simply another item to add to Facebook's enormous list of offenses against women and the female body. While it deletes photos of women breastfeeding or showing off their mastectomy scars after beating breast cancer, it has notoriously allowed groups like "Raping a Pregnant B*tch and Telling Your Friends You Had a Threesome" to remain in spite of numerous reports (though it has recently promised to start cracking down on such transgressions following a online protest by advertisers).

Bruns' advertisement, shown below with the rejection message, simply contained a person performing a breast self-exam — no nipple or areola shown — with the words "Breast Cancer & Abortion? The National Cancer Institute asked 100 experts to look for a connection — they found none."


While Facebook maintains its right as a private company to set guidelines that make the website safer for its visitors, deleting photos and rejecting advertisements that portray the female body in a nonsexual manner is not the way to go about it. And while there is certainly nothing wrong with women posting photos of themselves in skimpy clothing, there is an issue when these photos are the ones that are allowed to stay and their nonsexual, even educational counterparts are not.

Bruns said that the company's double standard represented "the absolute inconsistency that Facebook is willing to apply to a woman's body as an object of violence, but a woman's body as a medical object is too scandalous to be approved."

Facebook's choice to take a closer look at the gender-based hate speech and triggering images that have been allowed to run rampant on the website absolutely should result in positive change. Groups like "Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs" that are categorized as "humor" and thus protected from anti-hate-speech guidelines should be taken down. With well over 200,000 instances of sexual assault of all genders reported every year — and even more going unreported — there stands a pretty good chance that thousands of victims of sexual assault visit Facebook daily and are subjected to these "funny" group titles.

Bruns plans to test how well Facebook follows up on its new promise by submitting new advertisements containing "sideboob" and other "offensive" content that have been or should be rejected according to the website's advertising guidelines. Perhaps one day her own educational advertisement will be accepted, and activists like her will not have to worry about their own similar content being rejected on uncertain grounds.

The proverbial ball is in Facebook's court now — will it continue to glorify physical and sexual violence while marking mastectomy photos as "pornography," or will it finally realize that maybe, just maybe, the female body isn't inherently sexual?

Let me know what you think about Bruns' rejected advertisement and Facebook's groundbreaking decision on Twitter: @christinesalek.