Ever since the Breast Cancer Support group on AOL got shut down by the parent company for using the word "breast," it's been clear that women's health, bodies, and sexual politics are "Not Safe for Work," and beyond the pale of decent conversation and discourse.
How far does the insanity extend? Well, here's the latest gem.
You know Google. They have "safe" filters on their search engine so you can avoid seeing obscenities if you choose the "safest" setting.
In many workplaces and schools, that safe setting is chosen for you, so you don't fall out of your crib over a four-letter word.
Well, get this:
If you set your Google SafeSearch filter on "strict filtering" and search for clitoris, you get zero returns.
But if you try a Google SafeSearch "strict filtering" search for penis, you get...
That's because "clitoris" is on Google's list of naughty words which are never, ever "safe."
(Comstock Films has more on what it's like to be dragged into Google's Sex Ghetto, kicking and screaming, and I thank them for this amazing find).
The self-imposed censorship of language and topic taboos on the Web is the most parochial, stifling, and bigoted aspect of Internet journalism. A daily city newspaper has a more grownup attitude toward sex, reproduction, health issues, and artistic license than any major Web search engine or news group.
As I wrote in an earlier post, "Not Safe for Prudes:"
The great majority of NSFW warnings are the result of unconscious class and gender bias, with the conceit of American ethnocentrism. It's made a mockery of out of journalism and the First Amendment.
It's as if the First Amendment exists on paper, but not out here in cyberspace where you can be a dog.... but not a female with primary and secondary sexual characteristics.
I recall the 1970s abortion rights poster that read "If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament." The sexism of the Internet infrastructure is the same joke. There is no way that men would consider "prostate cancer" an inappropriate search or conversation item. They would never for a moment consider that their "penis" was a word that couldn't be allowed in a respectable business or learning environment.
But women's bodies? Oh, you're familiar with the filthy and unspeakable territory those will lead you into. It's in the Bible, right?
Let's stop coddling Internet censorship as if it were an etiquette or a "children's" issue. The people suffering from being firewalled and banned aren't commercial porn-makers designed with hardcore prurient appeal — they're educators, healthcare professionals, midwives, nurses, doctors, researchers, artists, writers, filmmakers, political activists, critics and analysts— all of whom find their interest in women's lives to be shrouded in the great Internet burqa of "safeness."