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.

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.

Ban? I don't think that means what you think it means.

Gamestop has done an excellent job of setting up a strawprostitute in its recent article, Prostitutes call for ban on GTA. Tim Surette, the author, is pissed off that SWOP, the Sex Workers Outreach Project, has spoken out against Grand Theft Auto [GTA]. Pissed off enough, it seems to conflate the words ‘ban’ and ‘boycott’.

From the first paragraph of the article, he says [emphasis mine]:

The Grand Theft Auto franchise is getting attacked from all angles. Joining the ranks of politicians, policemen, and attorneys in their crusade to see the game lifted from shelves are the nation’s sex workers. On its Web site, the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA is asking parents to assist them in calling for a ban of Take-Two Interactive’s controversial game.

The two parts I have highlighted give the mistaken impression that SWOP is out to enact legislation that would bar GTA, and games like it, from being made and sold. He later on dismisses the repeated assertion from SWOP that it is “adamantly opposed to any and all forms of censorship” because they express the wish to speak out to parents. Given the tone of the article, this only serves to further conflate boycotting (and, dare I say, criticism) with censorship and banning.

So what, exactly, does SWOP say on this matter? Well, here’s the first paragraph from SWOP-USA Statement Regarding the Video Game Grand Theft Auto created by Take-Two Interactive:

Although SWOP-USA will always be adamantly opposed to any and all forms of censorship, as concerned parents ourselves, we wish to inform other parents of the potential danger extremely violent video games pose to children. And in the interest of furthering sex worker’s human and civil rights to life and personal safety, we object to any media which represents sex workers as legitimate targets of violence, rape and murder. Censorship is a blight on the freedoms we hold dear but we wholeheartedly encourage citizens to vote with their dollars by refusing to purchase products which encourage the denigration and destruction of prostitutes. Since the video game Grand Theft Auto accrues points to players for the depiction of the rape and murder of prostitutes, SWOP-USA calls on all parents and all gamers to boycott Grand Theft Auto.

Notice the word ‘boycott’ and the conspicious absence of ‘ban’ or any call to legal action. This is a very, very important distinction that Surette (intentionally?) glosses over in his post.

I share the concern about the sensationalist backlash to video games, and other popular culture, but, and this is a big but, that’s not what SWOP seems to be aiming for. Do I necessarily agree with their cited research? Well, no. I haven’t read it, but I don’t need to because my agreement with their premise or not is immaterial. They aren’t advocating a ban, or anything like it; they’re advocating an informed boycott based on what they perceive to be a tangible threat to themselves. They have, and should have, that right.

Via feminist.

We're Here, We're Green…?

Old Versus New
I’m not just a good girl; I’m one of those girls, too.

I have always had a kind of “girl next door” look. With my brown hair, brown eyes, and slim build I was constantly being told that I looked like so-and-so’s sister/cousin/relative. In addition to my looks, I did my homework, got good grades, didn’t drink/smoke/do drugs, hung with a good crowd, etc. Outside, I was a normal girl. A good girl. Not one of those girls.

Inside, I was anything but. I wanted to be different, to not blend in with everyone else. My personality – that of a strong-willed, outspoken, fantasy-loving, game-loving, anime-loving feminist – was enough to satisfy me for a while. But, I longed for my appearance to match who I was inside.

I. From “Good Girl” To… Not As “Good Girl”

Why was there such a seeming mismatch between my exterior and interior? Well, a few reasons. The first is that I am that good girl, but it’s not all of who I am. Then there was going to a private school where I could get kicked out for having any non-natural colour for my hair, or have any “inappropriate” piercing removed on threat of expulsion. There was also my aversion to modifying my body even a little bit to fit a standard of beauty, even if it was my standard of beauty. And, finally, when I was just starting to get a handle on what I wanted for myself, my abuser came along and demolished everything I had started to build. When I finally was at a point to start regaining it, all of my friends were so vanilla that I ended up being vanilla, too.

But, I’m not vanilla; I’m mint chocolate chip. I’m not just a good girl; I’m one of those girls, too. I had a lot of false starts, but staring to find a style that I – not my family, not my friends, not my abuser – wanted was the first step. Hell, not being afraid to wear clothes that hugged my body or showed my shoulders was hard enough, but with my boyfriend-at-the-time’s encouragement, I was able to focus on what I did and didn’t like. It’s a process I’m still going through, but my recent experiments with layering have gotten positive feedback and I feel like I’m closer than ever to expressing me in my appearance.

Finding a hair sylist that clicked with me was another big step. First came the haircuts I loved, then I ventured in with some highlights – brown/blonde at first, then red. And then one day I asked her if we could do green.

“Green??!” she asked incredulously.

“Yeah, green,” I affirmed. “I want to go green for graduation.”

So she ordered the colour and the next time I went in, she put green in my hair. “Punky,” she called my look.

I like that word. Punky.

II. Where I Stand, Who I Am

I tread an odd middle ground between respectable and rebellious. I’m “punky” not “punk”. I’m not goth, but I like the goth scene – fashion, music, people, and all. I’m a girl, but not “girly”. I’m a thousand and one things, none of which can be used to pin down an accurate picture of me. And, despite having green hair and a cartilage piercing, I am “normal” enough that I think it’s a special occassion when I get stares from people.

I’ve never been called a poser, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some people from the subcultures that I dabble in would see me that way. By skirting the lines, I haven’t had to deal with a lot of the ridicule that they do. Having to listen to my family say nasty things about tattoos (despite the fact that my eldest sister has one, the fiance of my middle sister wants one, and I’m definitely going to get at least one) or constantly think the worst when I mention an interest in piercing, kink, or whatever other out-of-the-norm activities simply can’t compare to the kind of shit I’ve seen others go through. As a small example: one of my high school friends dresses gothy – has long black hair, wears all black, etc – and because of that, and only that, one of my other friends was scared of her for like a year before he realized what a sweetheart she was.

But, honestly, all I’m doing is trying to be who I am. I want to be the good girl, the punky girl, the gamer, the feminist, the geek… I want to be all those and more, but still be me. And still have people see me for me. I like not being boxed into one idea, and I chafe when someone starts seeing me as one thing and not any other (The Feminist, not surprisingly, is one of the most common boxes I’ve been put in).

Sure, not fitting in can be uncomfortable sometimes. The idea of changing yourself and having an instant friend group to fall into is appealing. But I know it’s not realistic because even those of us who fit a role to a “T” aren’t defined by that role. The “instant friendgroup” may not be a myth exactly, but it’s not as perfect as it sounds.

III. Making Myself Palatable

One of my main complaints with mainstream culture is that I can’t do a lot of the things with my body that I want to. I have to keep my piercings to mostly non-visible places (I tread the line with my cartilage one) and when I get a tattoo, not only do I have to find places that will age well, but also ones that won’t compromise my ability to get a corporate job. Sometimes it really grates my nerves that I have to be so careful with how I express myself. But, by walking this road, I become one of the people who makes piercing, tattoos, and non-natural hair colours less “scary”.

It’s easy to judge goths, punks, or people in like subcultures as “scary” or “weird” or “not like us”. It’s not so easy to judge me, the “girl next door” type as that. Even when I’m a green-haired punky freak. In fact, I get compliments from people of all stripes on my look. My mother, who is the first to worry when I tell her about what piercings I want next or whatnot, loves my hair. She thinks that I not only wear it favourably but I make it, well, normal. For every teenager, child, or even adult who goes out of their way to say something nice about my hair, glasses, piercing, etc, that is one more person who might not be against a broader definition of what constitutes “appropriate” appearance.

I mean, the more people who think like that, the better the chance that I won’t have any problem walking into a board meeting with green hair one day. Or maybe an eyebrow piercing. Or a visible tattoo. And that, to me, would be a personal victory.