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Facebook doesn’t want you to post this beautiful 19th-century painting of a vagina

Associated Press/Francois Mori
Where it all began.
Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Five years ago, Frederic Durand-Baissas posted an image of the 19th-century painting, The Origin of the World, on his Facebook account. The famous Gustave Courbet work features a close-up of a vagina. The 57-year-old’s account was suspended the same day.

Facebook’s community standards note: “We restrict the display of nudity because some audiences within our global community may be sensitive to this type of content—particularly because of their cultural background or age.”

Since then, the French teacher has been fighting what he believes to be an act of censorship; Durand-Baissas is suing Facebook to get his account reactivated and is asking for €20,000 ($22,500) in damages. Facebook has argued that the lawsuit is without merit as its terms of service (section 15) specifies that all users must resolve disputes where Facebook headquarter is based in California.

A French court last week dismissed Facebook’s argument, saying it was “abusive.” The ruling upheld a lower court’s decision that French users had a right to sue Facebook under French law. “This is a great satisfaction and a great victory after five years of legal action,” Stephane Cottineau, Durand-Baissas’s lawyer, told the Associated Press. She slammed the social network for its “extreme prudishness regarding the body and nudity.”

This isn’t Facebook’s first fight over the boundaries of nudity and pornography, as breastfeeding women once found out, or even the first time that Facebook has banned this painting. In that case in 2011, Facebook apologized and said the ban was only on “real-world nudity.”

The painting itself has a long history of being controversial. Debuted in 1866, The Origin of the World was part of Courbet’s private collection; displaying it would have had the artist sent to prison. One former owner would show it to guests from behind a green curtain. The picture wasn’t seen by the general public in France until 1995, when the Musee d’Orsay in Paris acquired it.

Even now, the female nude still has the power to shock. Last year, an artist reportedly sat down in front of the painting and assumed a similar pose (link in French). Bystanders applauded her performance, which security guards quickly put an end to.

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