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Apr 29 2010

A Feminist Defense of Boobquake

Greta boobquake Chances are you’ve heard about Boobquake. It went viral pretty fast.

In case you haven’t: Iranian Muslim prayer leader Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was recently quoted as saying, “Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes.”

No, really. I know, you thought earthquakes were caused by plate tectonics — but really, it’s immodestly dressed women, leading young men astray.

So Jen McCreight — feminist/ atheist blogger, student leader, award-winning scholar in evolution and genetics, and all-around bad-ass — decided to conduct a fun little pop-science experiment: Encourage women to dress immodestly for one day, and see if there was any significant increase in earthquakes or seismic activity. It was meant to be a small, offhand joke among her blog readers and Facebook friends; instead, it went totally viral on the Internets, and wound up with news coverage on CNN, the BBC, the Washington Post, and all over the damn place. (Conflict of interest alert: I know McCreight, and have a friendly collegial relationship with her.)

But many feminists responded very negatively to Boobquake, calling it exploitative, demeaning, trivializing, objectifying, and a whole host of other sexist bad things. Beth Mann at Salon said, “Women on parade again … sigh. Since when did we “stick it to the man” by wearing low-cut shirts or short shorts?… Unfortunately, we live in a world that sees that kind of freedom of expression as a photo opportunity or another cheap thrill.” Jill at I Blame the Patriarchy described the event as, “encouraging women to protest oppression by capitulating to Dude Nation’s fondest desire.” Negar Mottahedeh and Golbarg Bashi created a Facebook group in response, Brainquake… describing McCreight as a “so-called feminist,” decrying how Boobquake “has aroused the evidently insatiable enthusiasm of the web community, male supporters in particular who can’t wait to see ‘regular’ girls and women, many their direct friends to ‘showing off their tits’,” and arguing that “Violence against women and girls has a direct correlation to the sexualisation of women and girls.” Etc. Etc.

So before I begin my rant, let me summarize.

A patriarchal, profoundly misogynist man used his position of religious authority to demonize and control women, and to irrelevantly blame the ills of the world on our vile, dangerous sexuality.

Women responded by saying, “Screw you. Our sexuality is not responsible for earthquakes — snicker — or any other horrible ills. Our sexuality is amazing, and we will claim it and flaunt it any damn way we choose. Our bodies, our right to decide.”

How, exactly, is that not feminist?

*

Thus begins my new piece on Carnal Nation, A Feminist Defense of Boobquake. To find out more about why I think Boobquake was feminist — and to find out why I think the feminist objections to Boobquake were essentially just more moderate versions of the original “Immodest women cause earthquakes” insanity — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy! (And yay for my new “Media Darling” gig at Carnal Nation! Watch for me there, every other week!)

17 comments

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  1. 1
    Alyson Miers

    Gorgeous. I salute you!

  2. 2
    Daniel Schealler

    As a teenager, I took a dim view of feminism. It seemed that every time I read something by a self-declared feminist author, or heard a speech from a feminist speaker, or was personally denigrated for… something by a self-declared feminist, it was always about what a bad little boy I was. I wound up at the mistaken conclusion that feminism was a synonym for misandry.
    I didn’t have the word ‘misandry’ in my vocabulary at the time. I do now. It’s a good word.
    I have at least one good reason beyond personal experience to think that most people don’t know the word ‘misandry’. The word is not part of my spell-checker’s dictionary. Misogyny and misanthropy, yes, they’re in. Feminism too, of course. But not misandry. It would seem that people don’t realize that misandry is a thing.
    It’s important to know the difference between misandry and feminist. Far too often have misandrists successfully hidden behind the skirts of feminism. The articles you’ve linked to send up some powerful red flags.
    I’m a heterosexual male (also white, middle-class, and university educated – truly, I am the devil incarnate). I’ve supported boobquake in particular, and I encourage the expression of female sexuality in general. Firstly, because it’s a good cause. Secondly, I like expressions of female sexuality.
    But until this article (thanks Greta) I haven’t read anything about boobquake from self-declared feminists that seem open to the slightest possibility of myself and those like me. When we manly menfolk get mentioned at all, we’re drooling horndogs and yahoos only. If we were good little boys, we’d keep our moths shut and avert our gaze from all that those lovely breasts, butts and thighs. We would restrict our attention and duologue to fashion-choices, shoes, eyes and hair… If we behave ourselves, maybe we’ll even be permitted, in hushed tones, to notice and talk about a woman’s lips. Wouldn’t that be a treat for a good little boy!
    Fuck That Noise™
    Yes, self-aggrandizing sexist male jerks exist. Yes, they’re going to make a ruckus over something like boobquake. This is regrettably unavoidable at the moment.
    But emphasizing those idiots to the exclusion of men who a) aren’t sexist jerks, and b) enjoy female sexuality… That’s just spouting misandry under the guise of feminism. It’s reinforcing the very stereotype of male sexuality that’s contributing to all this bullshit in the first place. Ladies – give us menfolk some fucking credit. Please. Not just for our sake, but for feminism as well. Muddying the waters of feminism with misandry reeks of hypocrisy – and that’s bad for any progressive movement, including feminism.
    And if women are going to alter how they choose to express their sexuality, it shouldn’t be controlled by concern for the opinions of an audience of men, yahoos or otherwise. Period. Controlling the sexual behavior of women to meet with the concerns of men… Isn’t that exactly the kind of few that feminism is meant to be combating in the first place? Women shouldn’t be relegated to the status of fragile little flowers that must be protected from wilting under the blowtorch of male sexuality.
    Which leads to another important point – if a woman does intend to express her sexuality, and she does want her sexuality to be noticed and appreciated by an audience of men… Shouldn’t that be okay too? I mean – are men such horrible, nasty, abusive, drooling slack-jawed horndogs that it is unthinkable that a woman might choose, for her own pleasure, to enjoy a man’s appreciation of her sexuality? The argument that this would make a woman some kind of anti-feminist skank that’s betraying the cause… that is misandry and mysogyny, wall rapped up in a convenient little package of sexual hatred. How lovely.
    Thanks for articles like this, Greta. You give me hope.

  3. 3
    jemand

    @Daniel, I’ve seen several other supports of boobquake on forums, generally among the age group of Jen herself (and me). Greta is I suppose the first ‘established’ feminist who’s agreed with us. So I say that to perhaps raise the hope that the future of feminism will be as *part* of HUMANISM and not somehow fighting against it.
    I would like to see feminism as primarily a *humanist* movement, but aimed particularly at lifting up a particular subset of humanity historically oppressed. But regardless, I *never* want to see “feminist” supposedly working at cross purposes with humanism. To me, that is completely contradictory.

  4. 4
    Kathleen F.

    Greta, I totally agree with your demolishment of the “feminist” (i.e., not very feminist) arguments against Boobquake, but I’m still not very comfortable with the idea of the thing. Sure, what Sedighi said was unbelievably stupid and offensive, but I can’t help feeling that the reason the thing went viral so quickly and got so much media attention was because the guy saying the stupid offensive thing was an Iranian Muslim and not an American Christian.
    None of this is McCreight’s fault, of course–it’s a big world out there, and there are plenty of people in it criticizing all kinds of stupid antifeminist statements by all kinds of stupid antifeminist religious leaders, and McCreight didn’t predict that Boobquake would take off more than any of the rest of them–but it did, and I kind of feel like it just emphasizes how easy it is for Americans to think of antifeminist bullshit as something that’s Out There In Those Other Backward Countries, not *here* where we are all civilized and boobified and stuff! I mean, it’s practically a spot on an antifeminist bingo card to say, “why are you whining about [insert issue here] when Muslim women are FORCED TO WEAR BURQAS?” Do we really want to be buying into that meme?
    But yes, the idea that boobs are, in and of themselves, a bad protest tool is both silly and unfeminist.

  5. 5
    Chris

    You are right. In additition to that it goes deeper: the religious try to fight a problem they created but putting repressive clothing in place. If you take for example cultures where running naked is the norm, nobody cares. I wonder if feminists try to do the same (the reprsssion and the fighting).

  6. 6
    J. J. Ramsey

    Part of the problem, IMHO, is that sexist norms are expressed in some places through norms favoring modesty, while in other places, they are expressed through media in which women are portrayed more sexily. By flouting one expression of a patriarchal norm–modesty–one risks falling into another. It isn’t exactly a no-win situation, but it is tricky to navigate.

  7. 7
    Tim Foster

    Perhaps the distinction between the developed world and backward ideas like those of Mr. Sedighi is as simple as this: Some people are dicks about how women dress. In Iran, that is women’s fault, and justifies their oppression. Around here, we call the guys dicks, and prosecute them if they cross a line.

  8. 8
    chanson

    I completely agree.
    As I said in what I did for Boobquake ( http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/2010/04/what-i-did-for-boobquake.html ), the things this cleric would consider “immodest” include the mere fact that I went to the grocery store with my arms and hair uncovered and that I work alongside men.
    And in reality, the fact that I can dress for my own comfort WITHOUT it being perceived as sexy or sexually provocative is largely thanks to women who deliberately dress sexy. I have no desire to look down on them for it.
    And the fact that some men may like what they did is not a valid criterion for dismissing the act as un-feminist. The litmus test of feminism should be the effect on us women. The effect on men is a secondary consideration — NOT the primary way a feminist judges another woman’s actions.

  9. 9
    Greta Christina

    I can’t help feeling that the reason the thing went viral so quickly and got so much media attention was because the guy saying the stupid offensive thing was an Iranian Muslim and not an American Christian.

    Sorry, but I’m not buying it. When Pat Robertson made his comments about how the Haiti earthquake was caused by the Haitians’ pacts with the devil, it went viral in nanoseconds. And it got WAY more attention than Boobquake.

  10. 10
    Joel Monka

    Did you hear that the UN has just elected IRAN to its Commission on Women’s Rights?
    http://www.foxnews.com/world/2010/04/29/elects-iran-commission-womens-rights/?test=latestnews
    Perhaps there should be a suntan contest to go along with Boobquake as well- see “Suntanned Women In Iran Face Arrest For Breaking Islamic Law”
    http://www.allheadlinenews.com/articles/7018536351

  11. 11
    J. J. Ramsey

    Joel Monka: “Did you hear that the UN has just elected IRAN to its Commission on Women’s Rights?”
    Uy! I hope that’s just Fox Noise and not real news. That kind of henhouse guarding by foxes looks like something that belongs in an Onion article, not reality.

  12. 12
    Joel Monka

    Here’s the official UN press release; the Commission on Women is mentioned about 2/3 the way down: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2010/ecosoc6419.doc.htm
    The Democratic Republic of the Congo is also a member.

  13. 13
    J. J. Ramsey

    Thanks. Looks like this is the part that’s of interest: “Next, the Council elected 11 new members to fill an equal number of vacancies on the Commission on the Status of Women for four-year terms beginning at the first meeting of the Commission’s fifty-sixth session in 2011 and expiring at the close of its fifty-ninth session in 2015. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and Zimbabwe were elected from the Group of African States; Iran and Thailand were elected from the Group of Asian States; Estonia and Georgia were elected from the Group of Eastern European States; Jamaica was elected from the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States; and Belgium, Netherlands and Spain were elected from the Group of Western European and Other States.”
    I wonder if they have to choose members from the Group of Asian States (where Iran comes from) and the Group of African States (where Congo comes from). If that’s the case, then the Commission on the Status of Women was probably hamstrung from the start, with or without Iran. :(

  14. 14
    ckitching

    J.J. Ramsey wrote: “Uy! I hope that’s just Fox Noise and not real news. That kind of henhouse guarding by foxes looks like something that belongs in an Onion article, not reality.”
    This is becoming the norm in the United Nation’s Human Rights groups. Check this list of members for each year, and then compare it against those who have the best and worst human rights, and you’ll see that the state that have some of the worst reputations have the most voices. There are reasons why the council keeps passing resolution after resolution against Israel, and against blasphemy.
    As for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, you can see the list of members here. It’s quite the group already, and I hate to say it, but I don’t think Iran’s addition is terribly notable given the other membership.

  15. 15
    spriteless

    What is needed is for guys to go shirtless too so they can be oogled equally. Because straight women have equal rights to oogle people. This is totally not only because I like to oogle both genders.
    I wish feminism didn’t attack men for sex drive, but instead acknowledged that women have sex drive. The hippies got that right.

  16. 16
    Jocelyn

    As usual, Greta, you have written a cogent & well thought out piece. Thanks!

  17. 17
    JesseW, the Juggling Janitor

    It appears that this hasn’t ever been copied over to this blog; while CarnalNation seems to still be online, it’d be good to get it copied over just for completeness sake.
    –The cheerful blog gnome.

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