UPDATE: Apple has now reversed the ban on Hinder and it is available on iTunes for no charge.
Not all apps are created equal—something comedian Lizz Winstead learned the hard way. This month Apple banned her political satire app for women, comically called “Hinder,” saying it violates the rules on personal attacks. The same rule includes a section exempting “professional satirists and comedians” from the rule. Winstead, who co-created The Daily Show, didn’t make the cut.
“It’s shocking,” she tells The Daily Beast. “It never occurred to me that my app would get rejected. We knew the rules but we saw the exemption and we’re like: Oh, right.”
Apple’s failure to classify Winstead, one of the inventors of brainy political satire, as a professional, stings. “Women are erased enough,” she says. “I’ve been an integral part of projects in the satirical political space. To have them not know that—not do any research on what I do for a living is pathetic.”
What she’s been doing since The Daily Show, among other things, is channeling her comedic genius into reproductive rights. Most of it on a humor website she created to educate women called LadyPartsJustice.com—where she’s posted a link for people to download Hinder.
Hinder’s slogan is “expose anti-choice douchebags with a swipe!” A spoof on Tinder, it swaps date options for political candidates, and replaces bios like “finance guy” with their stance on women’s rights. Some are direct quotes, such as South Carolina State Sen. Tom Corbin’s bio: “I think women are a lesser cut of meat.” Others are funny paraphrases, like that under Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant: “Thanks to me, Mississippi only has one abortion clinic #humblebrag.”
What’s funny isn’t that the statements are made up—it’s that they aren’t. So while the nature of the app—learning about politicians like you learn about potential matches—puts it in the comedic category, with a few minor tweaks it could fall under education. “You can check the facts on the app for people we’re calling out,” Winstead tells me. “Ninety-five percent of the stuff on the app is made up of things politicians believe and have actually said,” she adds.
Flipping through the candidates, it’s hard to fathom that some of them are real. “I sponsored a bill that would have made it legal to kill abortion doctors,” reads the true bio under South Dakota State Sen. Phil Jensen. Topped only by Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s, which recalls the time he said those impregnated accept “the gift of human life and accept what God has given to you.”
It’s the sheer ridiculousness of comments like these that really makes Apple’s decision to call her app “offensive” anger Winstead. “You think it’s offensive? Yeah, we think it’s offensive too,” she says. “The guy in the onesie who owns the domain ‘Blow-Me.Org’ exists. He’s real. I didn’t make it up. I’m not the one who sexually harassed my workers. All this shit’s real—and it’s funny, and shareable.” The guy in question is Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold, one of at least 100 politicians with a profile on Hinder. Winstead and her team have at least 200 more they haven’t released.
Apple used the personal-attack rule in June of this year to remove apps that featured the Confederate flag—some of which it reinstated the next day. If it’s been used on satirical news apps, it hasn’t reached the public. Based on the political satire apps that do appear on iTunes, the rule is usually more relaxed.
Among the more popular ones is “Whack a Leader,” described as a “brutal yet entertaining” game that allows users to “take it out” on major candidates with a hammer. Another is “Flush-a-Pol,” which—much like it sounds—allows users to flush their least favorite politician down the toilet.
Apple’s decision, while controversial, is protected by law. “When Apple decides to keep something off of its private service (even one as popular as the App Store), it’s private action that is not restricted by the First Amendment,” Gregg Leslie, legal defense director for Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, tells me.
That hasn’t stopped women’s advocacy group Ultra Violet from posting a petition on its website asking Tim Cook to lift the ban. “At a time when women’s health is under unprecedented attacks, we have a right to know where our elected officials stand,” the page reads. It’s a sentiment that Winstead shares, a large part of the reason Apple’s ban seems so destructive.
“Women are short-shrifted constantly,” she says. “The fact that we can’t have an app that’s funny and smart and showcases actually what’s happening is absurd.” Her app, now only available on LadyPartsJustice, would likely interest a large audience. According to Rutgers University, female voters have outnumbered male voters in every election since 1964, and have outvoted men in every election since 1980. Fifty-four percent of them, the highest in seven years, are pro-choice.
Winstead is hopeful that Apple will change its mind about her app, but not banking on it. She’s happy that the app exists in the first place, and even happier that people are sharing it. “There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people doing really offensive things in the name of ‘keeping women safe,’” she says. “It’s patronizing, it’s dangerous, and we need an app to tell people about it.”
Apple did not respond to The Daily Beast's request for comment.
You can download Hinder here.