Amazon censors women and queer people

So, I’m sure everyone has heard by now, but Amazon has recently made the decision to remove the sales rankings of so-called “adult” books in order to ensure that they don’t show up in some searches (like the default search) and bestseller lists.

Their rationale? The censoring books primarily written by and for queer people (and, in the case of erotica, some non-queer women as well) was done “[i]n consideration of our entire customer base”:

“In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.”

Just to be clear, the criteria for the “adult” material that they’re using is pretty damn sketchy:

But as an online petition points out the following publications remain on the sales ranking system:

-Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds by Chronicle Books (pictures of over 600 naked women)
–Rosemary Rogers’ Sweet Savage Love” (explicit heterosexual romance);
–Kathleen Woodiwiss’ The Wolf and the Dove (explicit heterosexual romance);
–Bertrice Smal’s Skye o’Malley which are all explicit heterosexual romances
–and Alan Moore’s Lost Girls (which is a very explicit sexual graphic novel)

while the following LGBT books have been removed:

–Radclyffe Hill’s classic novel about lesbians in Victorian times, The Well of Loneliness, and which contains not one sentence of sexual description;
–Mark R Probst’s YA novel The Filly about a young man in the wild West discovering that he’s gay (gay romance, no sex);
–Charlie Cochrane’s Lessons in Love (gay romance with no sex);
–The Dictionary of Homophobia: A Global History of Gay & Lesbian Experience, edited by Louis-George Tin (non-fiction, history and social issues);
–and Homophobia: A History by Bryan Fone (non-fiction, focus on history and the forms prejudice against homosexuality has taken over the years).

There’s already a push to google bomb them by creating the phrase “amazon rank” as a synonym for being censored in regards to queer and/or erotic material (with careful attention to inconsistent logic). It’s made at least one newspaper, a letter writing campaign, and there’s even an online petition.

Here’s the letter I wrote to their customer service:

To whom it may concern,

I am one of the many who was shocked and disappointed by Amazon’s recent decision to remove the sales rankings of certain books in order to keep them from showing up on most searches and bestseller lists. As I am sure many others have said, the criteria for “adult” that the company has chosen to apply is inconsistent and ill-thought-out. Regardless of intention, the result of this decision was to further marginalize already marginalized groups such as women and queer people while leaving the explicit material of privileged groups such as men and heterosexuals largely untouched.

I find this level of lack of foresight and competence in a company unacceptable. For a web-based company, the decision to change even one part of the fundamental structure of its website is something that needs to be undertaken with great caution, thought, and care. In this case, before anything was done those in charge needed to clearly define the criteria for labeling a product “adult”, doing everything possible to ensure that said definition was as internally consistent and free of bias as possible.

By focusing on queer books (regardless of actual explicit content) and erotica (a genre with primarily female authors) while leaving clearly explicit but more normalized versions of “adult” material intact, Amazon has created an image for itself as a company that supports homophobia and sexism. I may be only one person, but I am still part of Amazon’s “entire customer base” and I do not feel that Amazon took my interests into “consideration” at all when the decision was made to make it harder for me to find books on queer theory, DVDs about the queer experience, and depictions of romance and sex written by women for women.

Before this happened I had intended to make a sizable purchase of various books, DVDs, and games from your site, but I cannot in good conscience support your site while this policy is in effect. I hope that this decision will be rescinded quickly with a full public apology given to the authors whose sales you have hurt and the customers who you have inconvenienced, and that any further consideration into the separation of adult material from non-adult material will be undertaken with much more deliberation and care than was taken with the current policy.

Sincerely,
Andrea Rubenstein

Amazon’s doing this has, obviously, pissed me off. Even more so because, living in Japan, I don’t have easy access to the kinds of English books and DVDs that I consume on a regular basis and therefore was gearing up to do a major purchase so my dad could bring it to me when he comes to visit. Now I need to take my shopping elsewhere, which will create more hassle for me than working with a company that already has my information on file. But, really, when the decision comes down to hassle versus supporting a company that obviously disdains me and my interests I’ll take the former any day.

For those of you interested in knowing more, here’s a link farm.

Via Tamora Pierce.

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This entry was posted in Anti-oppression activism, Books, magazines, etc., Censorship, Companies Behaving Badly, Gender issues, Privilege, Queer Issues, Sex, sexuality, and sexual politics, The Evil -ism's. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Amazon censors women and queer people

  1. lemurcat says:

    Ridiculous, Amazon!

    I guess we’re all clear now: cockfighting is okay but being gay is not.

  2. Pingback: Longform Links - 2009-04-15 at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

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