As you may or may not have heard, Instagram has banned the hashtag #Goddess. While this move was allegedly to cut down on explicit content posted under the hashtag, Instagram has inadvertently stepped onto a landmine of sexism, ethnocentrism, religious discrimination, and censorship. Instagram previously tried to ban the hashtag #Curvy for the same reason and reversed the decision after the backlash they faced. Somehow, nobody at Instagram thought that “Goddess”, an arguably way more loaded term than “Curvy”, would have the same issue.
Yet issue there was. Immediately upon noticing the ban, myself and others took to Instagram and other social media platforms to protest. Hashtags like #Goddess, #BringBackTheGoddess, #BringBackGoddess, #GoddessTribe, #GoddessRising, and others took off on both Instagram and Twitter, some with thousands of posts already. There is also a Change.org petition to reverse Instagram’s ban on #Goddess. Articles about the ban can be found on The Mary Sue, The Daily Dot, Bustle, MTV, Seventeen, Daily Mail, eonline, and other sites. Religious news outlets such as The Wild Hunt also covered the issue and religious organizations such as CUUPS (the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans), The Asatru Community, Wicca Spirituality, and many others have also sounded off on Twitter. People are angry and with good reason.
For starters, there are numerous world religions that worship actual goddesses, including Hinduism (oh, you know, just the third largest religion in the world), Buddhism, Shinto, Heathenry, Asatru, Wicca, various folk religions and indigenous religions, and all manner of religions that fall under the umbrella term of Paganism. Some of these religions are reconstructions of ancient religions, some are an unbroken line of tradition going back thousands of years. Some followers of these religions believe in a literal goddess or goddesses. Some use it as a metaphor to celebrate the divine feminine, remember and revere female ancestors, and/or empower themselves and the women around them. Some leave daily offerings at temples, some have never set foot in a place of worship but nevertheless consider a goddess or the goddess to be an integral aspect of their lives.
Whatever the case may be, these religions exist and have existed since religion began. Since #God (which currently has almost 20,000,000 posts on Instagram), #Jesus, and other religious figures and terms have not been affected, banning #Goddess is, intentionally or not, an act of religious discrimination that marginalizes multiple world religions and a large swathe of Instagram’s users. As many of these religions, cultures, and traditions have been historically marginalized and endured Inquisitions, forced conversions, genocide, diaspora, persecution, and centuries of censorship and biased/ethnocentric/whitewashed history, this makes Instagram’s decision all the more controversial and problematic. Polytheism and goddess religions do not deserve any less of Instagram’s consideration or respect than Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any other world religion.
Again, I don’t think this was Instagram’s intent, but they are sending a message loud and clear that some religions don’t matter as much as others. I have also heard personal anecdotes of Instagram users who claim that images of their altars or other pagan iconography were removed prior to the #Goddess ban. While I can’t speak to this, as I have no statistics and have always been able to use pagan hashtags without issue, it does not surprise me in the least. This kind of stuff happens all the time, even when people aren’t confusing the terms “Pagan”, “Wiccan”, “Witch”, “Heathen”, etc or perpetuating the ugly lie that goddess worshippers are Satanists.
This double standard of “Our Religions” and “Their Religions” and the classification of Religion vs. Mythology and what is and is not allowed to be blasphemed, insulted, censored, or creatively appropriated is not unique to Instagram. It’s something I have discussed in several other posts on both of my blogs. Our biases towards the dominant religion or religions, whether in our community, in our country, or in the Western world, is something we all need to be aware of, as it all too prevalent an issue and a kind of discrimination and erasure that often goes unnoticed, unseen, or trivialized.
Beyond alienating followers of numerous religions, banning #Goddess ignores the innumerable areas of academia goddesses have left their mark on, including world history, archaeology, anthropology, art history, feminism, cultural studies, gender studies, women’s studies, religious studies, literature, performance arts, mythology, and storytelling. Could a religion major or a myth/folk major not share a pic of their textbooks or a stack of books used for a research paper? Could a dancer not share a video of a traditional dance that venerates or invokes a goddess? Could an art major not share a project using goddess imagery? Could a history major not discuss how the mass conversion of Europe or the Americas to Christianity shaped the modern world?
Goddesses also feature in a huge swathe of fiction and non-fiction, from fantasy novels (everything from The Mists of Avalon to Tamora Pierce) to comics (whether Wonder Woman or Devi) to historical fiction to modern fiction to history books to self-help books to art books to cookbooks to travel books. They are a part of pop culture. They are an archetype that has been used in a thousand ways and will no doubt be used in a thousand more. They are a culturally resonant image used by feminist movements, body positive movements, environmentalist movements, dietary fads or lifestyle choices, attempts to curb or bring awareness to domestic violence and rape, and attempts to reclaim or declare one’s ethnic/tribal/national heritage or identity.
The term goddess and it’s associated hashtags are also used by countless businesses, professionals, makers, and craftspeople. Instagram’s ban is limiting how they reach their customers. Can an alt clothing company not use Goddess sizes anymore or describe a sundress or pixie top or flowy skirt with #Goddess? Can a jeweler not use it to correctly identify a triple moon or crescent moon or venus figure necklace? Can an artist or a writer not use a hashtag to reach their customers in a targeted way? What about a museum like the Salem Witch Museum or one trying to promote an exhibit on Hindu goddesses in contemporary art or the role of fertility goddesses in the ancient world? What about tourist sites like wells dedicated to the Goddess Brigid in Ireland or an Ancient Egyptian temple or shrines dedicated to a goddess or dedicated to the Virgin Mary but with a history of previously being associated with indigenous goddesses?
I myself have been annoyed in the past by how many yoga teachers, yoga enthusiasts, and self-help retreats there are using #Goddess, but they all likely rely on it and similar hashtags to reach new customers or compare tips with other people who share their passions. I’ve also had to scroll through lots of people making, selling, or promoting jewelry, talismans, idols, candles, handfasting services, crystals, runes, aromatherapy items, smudging sticks, spoons, brooms, tattoos, clothing, blogs, festivals, dreamcatchers, and other pagan/Wiccan/Heathen/spiritual/goddess iconography or paraphernalia when trying to connect with other pagans, UUs, or interfaith families on Instagram and other social media sites.
Sometimes I stumble on amazing artists and products I really want. Sometimes I’m frustrated that my cultural and religious heritage or that of others is being comodified. But I’ll gladly scroll through it so that those businesses and craftspeople can continue making a living and we can both continue to use Instagram in the ways that help us without being infringed upon or censored due to arbitrary and discriminatory bans. And, yeah, I have occasionally seen porn or erotica on pagan hashtags. Sometimes it really pisses me off, especially when said NSFW content is exploitative or exoticizing. Or inaccurate. Oh gods, the inaccuracy.
However, nudity and women’s bodies have been associated with goddesses and the divine feminine since time immemorial. Just think of all of those curvy naked lady figurines from archaeological digs the world over and going back thousands upon thousands upon thousands of years. Take an Intro to Religion or Archaeology or Art History or Anthropology or Hinduism course and you, like me and all those before you, will see and read about a lot of naked female figures and genitalia. If Instagram has a problem with porn, erotica, or nudity, it should take it up with the users posting porn, erotica, or nudity.
The fact that so many explicit or hate-filled hashtags still exist, yet “Goddess” and “Curvy” is what they choose to target has not escaped scrutiny. It’s like the principal who tries to enforce the dress code and harasses the girls with minor infractions he knows he can control or whose bodies are more mature while ignoring other, far more blatant breaches of said dress code. I don’t envy Instagram’s struggle. We all know the internet can be a scary place and trying to control explicit, offensive, threatening, or hate-filled content has to be a hard job.
But selectively shafting women and religious minorities (or majorities, if you’re in a country like, say, India) is not helping anyone. Once again, I highly doubt that any amount of porn would even get them to consider banning #God, #Jesus, or the oft-reviled #Blessed. If Instagram banned a term so intrinsic to Christianity, I am certain more news outlets would be covering it and Fox news would be screaming about it. The fact that #Skank, #Hoe, and #Bitch are still usable hashtags on Twitter have some wondering why Instagram takes issue with empowering terms that may attract explicit content but not denigrating terms. Others have already pointed out that #HotGirls and #SexyGirls are banned on Instagram while #HotGuys and #SexyGuys aren’t.
This double standard on gender and religious lines is no doubt what’s making this such a hot button issue for some people. There is a lot of unintended but very real baggage, triggers, and a complicated and loaded historical legacy involved. There are so many reasons why a selective ban on #Goddess is not okay. Not to mention, the ban likely censors people using the hashtag for non-porn reasons far more than those posting porn. Porn will find another hashtag. Don’t use it as an excuse to throw goddesses, their history, their legacy, and their followers under the bus.
This whole thing has me seeing red (I’m sure there’s a The Red Tent pun in there). I am offended as a woman; as someone who grew up in a wonderful community of pagan and UU women (and men); as a religion and mythology major; as a fantasy writer and reader; as someone who runs a blog on banned books and censorship; and as a person who thinks that female deities (and the history of suppression therein) are kind of important, in that they predate, oh, pretty much everything in the history of human civilization. Goddess worshippers and traditions have outlasted oppression, erasure, and violence for millennia. Do you really want to play chicken with us, Instagram?
Instagram’s decision is also especially ironic, considering some believe the aforementioned nude female figures may in fact be the world’s first selfies. Hear that, Instagram? Venus of Willendorf was doing selfies 30,000 years before selfies were cool. #BossBitch #CantTouchThis #BringBackTheGoddess