I Know It When I See It (“It” Is Sexism)

When discussing obscenity, one Supreme Court Justice whom I am too lazy to look up right now* said that he would “know it when [he sees] it.” Like most moralistic crusades, rules against obscenity, sexuality, and sexually suggestive dress/behavior are usually left vague, opening them up to a lot of subjective interpretation. And wouldn’t you know it, that interpretation almost always winds up punishing women worse than men. Isn’t that just so weird?

Everything from school dress codes to online nipple bans tells women that literally everything about their bodies is sexual or sexualized. Female nipples? Indistinguishable from a male nipple in a closeup picture, but super sexy. A two-inch gap of skin between the end of your skirt and your knees? Super sexy. A bare shoulder? Oh baby, oh baby. A wedgie in your swimsuit? Sexy enough to disqualify you in a swim meet. (Google it, I swear to God.)

Twitch, the popular streaming platform, forbids “sexually suggestive content or activities.” And how they define that seems to be…. broad. And sexist. And subject to pressure from online harassment campaigns. Last week, streamer Quqco was suspended for three days for just such a crime for cosplaying on her stream as Chun-Li, a popular character from Street Fighter whose qipao involves a thigh-high slit. Now, again, this is cosplaying as a character from a game. A game that you can stream yourself playing on Twitch. But not, apparently, stream yourself dressing as.

Twitch’s guidelines seem to be purposefully vague. Cecilia D’Anastasio outlines this vagueness in an article:  

“Attire intended to be sexually suggestive and nudity are prohibited,” Twitch’s community guidelines read. For streams like Quqco’s, they “recommend attire appropriate for public settings, such as what you would wear on a public street, or to a mall or restaurant.”

As anyone who has ever been in public can tell you, “attire appropriate for public settings” covers a very, very large swathe of clothing. Like, all clothing. And Twitch seems to have banned just about all clothing at one time or another, at least when it is being worn (or drawn) by women. Nathan Grayson illustrates a few more recent bans that show that there is actually very little rhyme or reason to the way Twitch enforces its policies:

In addition to Quqco, several other notable streamers have received suspensions or warnings from Twitch about sexually suggestive content in the past few days. Late last week, IRL streamer Bridgett Devoue was given a three-day suspension for “sharing or engaging in sexually suggestive content or activities,” but Twitch did not elaborate any further. Over the weekend, Overwatch streamer Fareeha got hit with a warning (and a 90-day probationary period) after wearing a sports bra and baggy shorts at the gym. Also over the weekend, art streamer Saruei found herself on the wrong side of a warning for drawing “nudes,” despite the fact that her characters—while hentai-inspired and scantily clad—are clothed. Today, Twitch suspended her for three days.

Twitch has given the people it has punished very little in the way of explanation, and the victims of their vague guidelines worry about speaking against the platform for fear of further punishment or deplatforming. A few of them do point to online drama with the subreddit Livestreamfail, and YouTube or Discord channels aimed at harassing streamers, who often mass report streamers they don’t like, increasing the chances that Twitch will do something in response.

It’s my personal belief that much of Twitch’s eagerness to police women’s bodies is due to fears of retribution from FOSTA/SESTA, which would hold the platform accountable if certain vaguely or explicitly sexual content was hosted on it. But while I have empathy with this fear (because FOSTA/SESTA is garbage legislation that is actively harming women and other groups) it doesn’t excuse Twitch for its vague policies, inconsistent enforcement, gendered focus, and willingness to follow the desires of an online mob.

Signed: Feminist Fury

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*Justice Potter Stewart of the United States Supreme Court, in the case Jacobelis v. Ohio, famously said “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that. “

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Featured image is a screenshot of the “Chun Li vs. competitor” screen from the game Street Fighter II for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, with the competitor as the Twitch company logo.

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