Dr. Jennifer Gunter isn’t just any gynecologist. She’s “Twitter’s resident gynecologist.” She’s one of the fiercest women’s health advocates out there, and has made it her primary mission to clean up that pseudo-medical corner of the internet that tells you it’s good to cleanse your colon with a coffee enema, or that it’s “empowering” to stick a rose quartz egg in your vagina.
Nonetheless, Twitter allegedly didn’t allow the Canadian doctor to promote her new book, “The Vagina Bible,” because it has the word “vagina” in the title.
Earlier this week, Gunter’s book publisher said it tried to run paid advertising for her new book about medical misinformation, only to be blocked by Twitter’s policy against “the use of profanity and adult products” in its promoted content.
“We aren’t allowed to say the name of this book in the ad,” Gunter’s publisher tweeted, attaching a photograph of the book, “but trust us, you want it!”
Gunter quote tweeted the message, directing it at Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO: “Vagina is an anatomical term and not a ‘dirty’ word,” she wrote.
Twitter’s policy for paid ads prohibits things like “adult sexual content” and “inappropriate content” from being promoted. But nowhere does it state that the anatomically correct term for a perfectly normal body part is classified as either.
“Our societal inability to say vagina like we say elbow is one reason I insisted on VAGINA in the title,” Gunter wrote on Twitter, in a thread. “When we’re not allowed to say a word the implication is it’s dirty or shameful. Not being able to buy an ad because of the word vagina for a book about vaginas is ridiculous.”
Ridiculous, yes, and also ironic. The point of Gunter’s book is to combat the dangerous brand of wellness misinformation that thrives on sites like Twitter.
“We did not take action on Promoted Tweets from this account because of references to sexual organs as those are permitted within our rules,” a Twitter spokesman told The Independent in response to Gunter’s thread.
“The rejection of some of the promoted content from the account was due to a combination of human error and violations, including the use of profanity and adult products. We have reinstated the tweets we took down and have informed the account owner of the reasons why we blocked the content that violated our ad policies.”
Hundreds of people on Twitter, many of them women, were quick to point out a number of problems with Twitter’s ban on the word vagina. Some asked whether the same censorship would be applied if the book were instead called “The Penis Bible.”
Others noted how the problem lends itself to widespread ignorance and mystification about the vagina, and the importance of using the right words when referring to the body.
Others just tweeted “vagina” a bunch of times, or other forms of innocent protest.
Several users also noted another weird thing about Twitter’s ban of Gunter’s book promo, which is that the use of the word “vagina” in paid ads should be a small concern for a website that told Vice earlier this year that it was consulting researchers about whether it should ban white supremacists from its platform.
The whole situation is reminiscent of something that happened earlier this year, when a tweet promoting Kourtney Kardashian’s new vaginal product, “Poosh,” opted for the word “hoo ha,” which is apparently better, by Twitter’s standards, than the word “vagina.”
Other social media websites have come under fire for mistakenly censoring things that are not in the least bit offensive. Several Canadian moms on Facebook have reported having problems selling breast pumps on the website’s buy/sell groups.
“Self-advocacy, to me, means having the words to use so you can communicate effectively, so you can be heard, so you can get your provider to listen to you,” Gunter told HuffPost Canada in a conversation about her book.
“I really felt that if I could give women the words that doctors use, give them more of an insight into how all of that happens, that they would be able to communicate better with their providers. Kind of like a manual for how medicine thinks about the lower reproductive tract.”
Hopefully, Twitter can get on board with that. But first, it’ll need to untangle its complicated feelings about the word it can’t muster up the courage to say.