Monday, 26 April 2010

Boobquake a comin'

Emma considers the pros and cons of the Boobquake shaking the world today in response to the Iranian cleric who reckons earthquakes are caused by adultery and adultery is caused by women's fashion choices. Here's my favourite part of Emma's post:
Firstly, they're about a woman's right to choose her own clothing. This is a feminist issue. Associated with it is a blatant refusal to accept responsibility for supposed consequences of those clothing choices, from sexual assault to earthquakes. We are refusing to make our choices on the basis of what men might do or feel, because we are NOT responsible for those actions or emotions.

Secondly, it's about women taking pride in their bodies, feeling comfortable in their own skins. This is a feminist issue. And please note, because I don't think it's unobvious, that both events were explicitly about women dressing 'provocatively' within their own comfort levels. Now, we're told (sometimes explicitly) that we shouldn't show pride in our own bodies because that makes other women feel bad. I'm not buying that, because I think it's predicated on a false assumption: that the only women who feel that comfort and pride are young, skinny, large-chested conventionally-attractive women. And that's bollocks.

People signed up for Boobquake include women my age (and even older ZOMG!), pregnant women, breast-feeding women, lesbians (only interested in getting attention from men, of course), and at least one post-operative transsexual. I think it's at least possible that seeing a wide variety of women being comfortable with their own bodies might be helpful for other women.

The final criticism I want to deal with is that these events are frivolous. To which the only response is: of course they bloody are. They are a response to criticism so stupid it shouldn't be dignified with an intelligent reasoned response.
Go read the whole thing, if you feel that way inclined.


Anonymous said...

My initial reaction was that this was a great idea. Then I thought about it more. I am a pro sex feminist but for some reason I still don't feel completely comfortable with this idea and how it is being lauded as feminist. Perhaps that has something to do with the numerous sexist comments on the facebook group.

Apparently the woman who organised it is now saying it is not a feminist event but a science experiment. I like the idea in theory but I find the reality of it a little perplexing.

Hugh said...

I'm presuming the vast majority of sexist comments come from guys who are not intending to participate.

I agree these are terrible, but it seems that allowing these to colour one's views of an entire event is going a bit far.

I've seen men making sexist comments about Thursdays in Black; doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with that event.

Or is it the quality of the comments? Is 'phwoar, boobs' more of a concern than 'get those bitches back in the kitchen?'. If anything I'd say the opposite.

stargazer said...

that the only women who feel that comfort and pride are young, skinny, large-chested conventionally-attractive women. And that's bollocks

and yet there is also this:

Reviewing the hundreds of comments that continue to pour onto the Boobquake FB page, many women apologetically replied, "Sorry, I don't have enough cleavage to show" or "I'm as flat as a board...sorry!"

(from the link in comments "shaken not stirred" post). which sounds like there are many women who aren't comfortable in their own skins, and whom this isn't going to help.

i just wonder: if the practical results of your actions are the opposite of your intended outcomes, is it time to reassess?

Anonymous said...

Stargazer, I also wonder about this.

Carol said...

Emma's piece is interesting and clever, and while I agree with many of her points, overall it makes me uneasy.

It seems to be adopting many of the criticisms aimed at feminists traditionally - lacking a sense of humour & fun, putting other women down if they don't agree with them etc. At the same time it seems to collude with many of the ways women have long been objectified by mainstream media, while making it seem that women are doing this to take control of their own bodies.

For myself, I've never been into dressing in a way that draws attention to my boobs - a matter of style I guess. I'm more into androgyny. I have nothing against other women doing it. However, I do have some unease about mainstreaming it as a feminist approach.

And isn't it just repeating the patriarchal form of objectification where women's bodies are reduced, to or fragmented into, one body part?

Hugh said...

Stargazer, the question is whether these women expressing lack of confidence in their bodies have had that confidence damaged by Boobquake. The fact that they're expressing that lack of confidence in a forum devoted to Boobquake might offer a prima facie case that they have, but the support they've got from others in the same forum might argue otherwise.

It has to be said, though, if we are going to say Boobquake is bad because it makes women with small breasts feel bad about their bodies, we seem to also be saying that all cleavage displays, organised or not, will make them feel similarly bad. Which seems like a long bow to draw.

stargazer said...

you can draw long bows if you lik hugh, but that's not what i did. i agree with carol's concerns and i think that they're shared by many women.

homepaddock said...

One of the reasons I have concerns over religions which require women to cover up is the message that women must be constrained because men can't control themselves. That's uncomfortable and potentially dangerous for women and is an awful -and largely unfair - reflection on men.

stargazer said...

and i feel uncomfortable with people who might take what an extreme cleric says and extrapolate that to think that everyone in that religious group shares this particular belief. instead of trying to find out from the women who cover up why they do it and what it means to them. they might then find out that for many women, the reason they do so isn't about men's lack of self-control.

Hugh said...

Well Stargazer perhaps you'd care to explain why you worry about the way women wearing low-cut tops as part of Boobquake will make other women feel bad about their bodies, but don't have similar concerns about women wearing low-cut tops for other reasons?

stargazer said...

hugh, if you actually bother to read my comment, i was taking a point from the post and showing that it didn't seem to hold in practice. that's all i said.

now you can explain to yourself about statements that you make up yourself. it's certainly not my responsibility.

as for those who are actually interested in reading about muslims women's views about themselves and the world around them, i'd strongly recommend this site:

Megan said...

"For myself, I've never been into dressing in a way that draws attention to my boobs - a matter of style I guess. I'm more into androgyny. I have nothing against other women doing it. However, I do have some unease about mainstreaming it as a feminist approach."

And that's fine for you. Great even. But as I have said over on Emma's post, and will say in a follow-up one of my own, it's not up to anyone else to tell me how to dress. it is my body, and I will clothe it, with appropriate respect to cultural values, as I see fit. And if that means a some cleavage, that's my right. Today, it also means bright red lips. Cos I can.

Anonymous said...

For me supporting Boobquake is part of the same thinking as supporting Muslim women who want to wear their traditional head coverings. People need to have the freedom to dress in whichever manner is right for them without fear of other people's reaction.

Carol said...

Well, then Megan, if you read what you quoted from me, you'll see we are pretty much in agreement.

IMO, the issue is about allowing for diversity in the way women dress, and letting us make our own choices, without undermining our reasons.

But I am uneasy about making a focus on dressing to display boobs, and/or cleavage as some big feminist strategy. It seems like an attempt to try to encourage as many women as possible to dress like that, which can have a marginalising effect on women who don't choose to dress that way.

Also, as Stargazer pointed out, it may not be very effective as a strategy and may have some dubious and unintentional consequences. For instance, I'm sure it'd get the attention of many mainstream news media outlets, but they'd probably focus on it in a failry spurious way that objectifies women etc.

Also I have a niggling feeling there will be many journos wwho ill fit it into their existing distorting & over-generalised meme of Islamic cultures being oppressive to women, while western cultures are liberating.

What I feel feminism should be aiming for as a strategy, is to encourage diversity of approaches to women's bodily presentation - and not in a way that will be likely to reinforce strong tendencies to fragment women's bodies, and fetishize particular body parts like breasts.

stargazer said...

well megan, i guess you really told us... except that no-one on this blog is telling you how to dress, so not sure exactly who you're arguing against. if it's the iranian cleric, well unfortunately, i don't think he reads this blog. oh, and happy to hear about the lippy. i don't even know how that came up or why, but whatever.

and hungrymama, i think there's a whole heap of difference between the state legalising what women can or can't wear, and people here giving their opinions about an event. it's not like anyone here has said "don't do the event" or "it should be banned" or even anything derogatory about the women taking part. all that has happened is a few of us questioning whether or not it will achieve what it aims to achieve, whether the actual impact is what the originator of the idea had intended, and how the event fits into wider societal narratives. all which leads to the valid questioning of this as a feminist act.

i have no problem with people disagreeing with the concerns that have been put up in that regard. but it would be nice if they would engage in what was actually said, rather arguing about issues that were never raised.

Anonymous said...

Stargazer and Carol,
Your posts really articulate what issues I have been struggling with here but seem to have trouble putting into words!It's good knowing i'm not the only one who isn't completely comfortable with this idea.

Anonymous said...

***Or rather not the idea itself but what how it is being understood.

Julie said...

I think this situation is a perfect example of one of the tensions within feminism about not wanting to restrict the choices of women, as a group or individually, wanting to respect that women will make different choices, and also having an opinion about the values of different options but needing to find a way to express that opinion without getting judgy about other women's choices. Does that make sense?

I've got a post percolating in my head about this, must speed up the fermentation process.

Megan said...

Yeah, guys, I wasn't trying to TELL you anything. I was merely trying to explain why, and how, I wanted to take part.

Boobquake was meant to be fun, frivolous, tongue in cheek. It didn't ask anyone to be involved. It didn't ask anyone to do anything they weren't comfortable with. It didn't say it HAD to be cleavage, it could have been legs, or indeed lipstick, or a short sleeved skirt.

If it made women feel bad about themselves, that's terrible, but kind of missing the point.

And for me, it wasn't even just about the comments of Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi. But about that anyone thinks they have to right to comment on what someone is wearing, or how she looks. Whether that is saying she causes natural disasters, deserves to be raped, or looks like a whore. I'm sick of that.

stargazer said...

thanx julie, i think that is the basic problem & i'm looking forward to your post.

and megan, the concerns some of us have is that what boobquake was "meant to be" isn't what it turned out to be in practice. i think having a discussion about the possible impacts of that is perfectly valid.

as an aside, if the event wasn't meant to be just about cleavage, then they might have gone with a different name?

as for your last paragraph, i don't see that anyone here has said anything to contradict that. in fact we argue that point all the time on this blog.

Anonymous said...

Yep my concerns about this event certainly do not relate to me judging other women. I dress in a way that some would describe as 'immodest' most days. I don't believe in the word slut, and resent it when the word whore is used as an insult. Of course women should be able to wear whatever they want without being judged for it, and I don't think anyone here has argued otherwise.

I really felt very uncomfortable with the 'boobquake' being fasioned as a feminist cause however because it seemed to be understood and promoted in a very sexist way. I still feel quite conflicted over it.

Look forward to reading your post Julie.

Megan said...

Stargazer, from Jen's follow up, that Emma quoted in her post:

"I so hate the ideal of "big boobs are always better!" The cleavage joke was just a result of me personally having cleavage, and that being my choice of immodesty. And I thought "boobquake" just sounded funny. Really, it's not supposed to be serious activism that is going to revolutionize women's rights, but just a bit of fun juvenile humor. I'm a firm believer that when someone says something so stupid and hateful, serious discourse isn't going to accomplish anything - sometimes light-hearted mockery is worthwhile."

stargazer said...

ah, the "it's just a joke" line. yeah, haven't heard that one before. but even jokes can and should be subject to critique. that's jen's response to the cleric, no-one has said she shouldn't make that response. but there's no reason why we shouldn't be giving our opinion on her response, and what effect we think it will have, given that no action exists in a vacuum. it exists in a particular social context which both influences our perception of the event and our response to it.

Megan said...

Actually, it was her response to the backlash that the event had created, not to the cleric:

And of course it can be discussed, critiqued, disliked even. All I've been trying to explain is why I thought this was a Good Thing. If it resulted in objectification, or making other people feel bad about themselves, that's not actually the fault of those of us who participated. The fault of the objectifiers.

But you know what? I'm going to leave the last word to Jen (from the link above), because she's right:

"Anyway, I'm not forcing anyone to agree with me. Maybe I am failing at Feminism 101, or maybe I'm just taking a different approach."

stargazer said...

misunderstanding again, megan. when i said "her response", i meant boobquake as jen's response to the cleric.

and now i think about it, i don't see why feminists should be in any way blamed about their reaction. after all, it was emma's post that claimed that the event was about women taking pride in their bodies, which makes it a feminist issue and therefore presumably a feminist event. jen herself seems to refute that claim in the quote you selected at 11.36am. my first comment (and many of the subsequent ones) were responding to emma's post, not to jen's protest action.

and i'd reiterate again that i don't see anyone here criticising any individual woman who chose to take part, nor asking you or any of them to take responsiblity for the reactions. again, it seems to me that you're arguing against points that were never made here.

Russell Brown said...

Emma's piece is interesting and clever, and while I agree with many of her points, overall it makes me uneasy.

It seems to be adopting many of the criticisms aimed at feminists traditionally - lacking a sense of humour & fun, putting other women down if they don't agree with them etc.

I didn't get that at all from the post.

But sadly, I'd have to say the nasty hate mail Emma has been receiving from Women Who Know Better Than Her seems to bear out those stereotypes, in this case.

stargazer said...

really sorry to hear that emma has been receiving this kind of response. i hope you don't mean to imply that it's representative of feminists generally in your "bear out those stereotypes" comment. because that would be a little unfair. as you can see for yourself, there has been none of that happening here and i can only speak for myself to say that it wouldn't be tolerated.

Russell Brown said...

I know you wouldn't do that stargazer, but the implication of the original comment seemed to be that such things were a mere stereotype.

It grieves me to see them borne out in real life, at my friend's expense.

Hugh said...

I agree, the 'oh it's just a bit of fun' comments don't really wash here any more than they ever have.

That being said Jen doesn't appear to have envisaged what she was proposing being as widespread as it's become, so I'm somewhat sympathetic to that, which may be what she intended to express with this.

I think we can all agree that everybody is entitled to discuss Boobquake and give their views on whether or not it's positive or negative. I'd be very surprised if this isn't common ground.

Deborah said...

I'm sorry - I've been MIA on this one (work, stress, home renovations, insomnia, black chihuahua nipping around).

FWIW at this stage, I thought that Boobquake was a great response to the chap who thought that immoral women => adultery => earthquakes. There is something to be said about the pressures of raunch culture, especially with respect to young and very young women (I'm thinking barely post-pubescent teenagers here), but I didn't perceive boobquake as being part of raunch culture. It's mocking the pronouncements from on high about how women ought to behave. I see it as being very similar in spirit to the Foreign Office paper about proposed activities for the pope while he is in Britain.

And there's something to be said about the extent to which if we all "choose" the same thing, then there is very little space for anyone to "choose" anything else. So if we all "choose" raunch, then it can be very difficult for women and men who prefer (for want of a better word) modesty. But that choice constraint goes the other way too.

My preferred definition of feminism is the one that recognises women as autonomous adults, capable of making their own choices, and standing or falling by them. Boobquake looks to me to be entirely within that definition.

I'm cross posting this at Emma's post on Public Address.

Carol said...

I'm sorry to read that Emma has been receiving hate mail over this. IMO, public debates should be carried out in the public forum, and that the principle should be followed of attacking the argument/debate & not the person/poster.

I have some responses to more recent posts in mind, but no time right now to write them.