Jen McCreight won’t be talking about Boobquake at conferences anymore.
I’ve already said no to groups who wanted me to talk about it, and suggested another topic. I think we can learn interesting things from what happened, but I’m just sick of how people see it as a green light for sexual harassment. I can only tolerate so much.
In an otherwise decent post about the effects of pervasive sexism, Josh Rosenau asks:
Which raises the question: did sexism win, or was boobquake doomed precisely because it was meant to take advantage of society’s sexism?
Now, let me think about this for a–NO!
Or maybe I shouldn’t be quite so hasty. At least one commenter disagrees with me, saying, “Nobody could have predicted that! Except, of course, for everyone who did, and got shouted down as killjoys,” and, “You can’t solve a problem using the same thinking which created it.”
So, given that argument would my answer be any diff–NO!
To make a short story longer, let’s start with the second part of the statement. Boobquake was meant to take advantage of society’s sexism? It used the same thinking which created it? Boobquake was meant to be a joke, a joke that took one cleric’s claims that “immodest” dress led inevitably to earthquakes via a chain of men’s uncontrollable lust and God’s anger over adultery and broke it apart to make the individual pieces easier to examine and ridicule.
Jen never meant or expected the idea to take off, much less “take advantage of society’s sexism.” Once it did, she did an admirable job of steering the inevitable publicity back toward the original intent of mocking the ideas that women are responsible for inciting men’s unholy lust and that such lust leads to earthquakes. She educated at least a few people on the use of statistics to illustrate these claims. She used the opportunity to allow Iranian women’s rights activists–the people actually affected by the cleric’s claims–to be heard in the West.
That some subsequent events were also shaped in part by the pervasive sexism of our society is unsurprising, but is has nothing to do with Jen’s intent, and I shouldn’t have to spell that out in response to a post on that very topic. Nor is it Jen’s responsibility to deal with the predictability of these events. That particular gem of criticism is just a form of the “she should have known” argument. It might be valid if there actually existed a choice between doing nothing, and thus avoiding sexism, and engaging in activism, during which some women are subjected to sexism. That women aren’t offered that particular choice is, again, not something I should have to point out when the occasion is a post about pervasive sexism. Does anyone, for example, really still think Jen would be exempt from unwanted comments and jokes on her appearance if she hadn’t thought up Boobquake?
Now for the question of whether sexism won. Yes, it won. Sexism always wins. It has the advantage of numbers and entrenched power.
However, sexism also lost, and it keeps on losing.
The Iranian cleric in question changed his stance in response to Boobquake. It isn’t much better than it was before, but he changed it in response to questions from those within his country and his religion. His authority was undermined enough that he had to react.
A large number of the women who participated explicitly rejected the conflations of sex and sin, sex and shame, their clothing and “uncontrollable” male lust. It may not stick, but they’ve done it at least once. That makes them less vulnerable to the coercive messages that surround sex in our society. If Boobquake was a failure in this respect, then so are the Slutwalks that have been spreading across the globe in recent months.
Jen’s profile was raised significantly by Boobquake. That did two important things. First, it added one more good, flexible female speaker to the list of people event organizers draw from. The groups who invite her to speak about Boobquake aren’t turning her down when she wants to talk about something else. Instead, they’re hearing a different talk, frequently the one on “God’s Lady Problem.” Not exactly a win for sexism.
Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, Jen has been identified as a resource for other women in both the skeptic and atheist movements who experience sexism. She’s used her blog to promote the complaints of others. She’s modeled behavior for objecting to sexist treatment in a very public way. She’s used her tenacity to keep the pressure on until she gets an official response on the topic. She’s rallied other prominent atheists and skeptics to amplify her message. She has added substantially to the number of effective voices on the topic. She’s done it with the platform that was built, in part, with Boobquake. And now, she’s seing results.
Sexism found a way to pull a small victory out of Boobquake. The house took its cut. But it only wins if people insist that we’ve lost if we don’t get everything we want right now.