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Boobquake: A Recap and Response

It seems I am incapable of resisting writing something about this #boobquake meme that’s grabbed hold of the internet in the last week, so here goes:
 

To recap the Boobquake meme:

Last week, a senior Iranian cleric blamed women who behave ‘promiscuously’ and wear immodest clothing for earthquakes:

“Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes,” Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media. Sedighi is Tehran’s acting Friday prayer leader.

Women in the Islamic Republic are required by law to cover from head to toe, but many, especially the young, ignore some of the more strict codes and wear tight coats and scarves pulled back that show much of the hair.

“What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble?” Sedighi asked during a prayer sermon Friday. “There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam’s moral codes.”

Read the full article.

Jen McCreight, skeptic, athiest and Blag Hag, responded to his claims with an, ahem, ‘immodest’ proposal:

“On Monday, April 26th, I will wear the most cleavage-showing shirt I own. Yes, the one usually reserved for a night on the town. I encourage other female skeptics to join me and embrace the supposed supernatural power of their breasts. Or short shorts, if that’s your preferred form of immodesty. With the power of our scandalous bodies combined, we should surely produce an earthquake.”

Read her full blog post.

She created a Boobquake Facebook event which in one week went massively viral, resulting in over 200,000 people as ‘confirmed’ guests of Boobquake. She also coined the Twitter hashtag #boobquake which has been trending in Canada on and off for the last week, and has amassed some 17,000+ tweets in the last seven days. ETA: as of 11am on Tuesday, we’re at 21,000 tweets.

Mainstream news outlets (like cnews, The Vancouver Sun, CNN, and The Examiner) got ahold of the meme, and then we were really off to the races.
 

The Boobquake Response:

Having never anticipated her little blog post would spur such a massive explosion, Jen McCreight posted a quick followup, addressing some of the concerns being expressed about the event, both in terms of the sexualization inherent, the specific call out to breasts as the method of immodesty, and the science involved.

“I just want to apologize if this comes off as demeaning toward women. To be honest, it started as silly joke that I hurriedly fired off since I was about to miss the beginning of House. I never thought it would get the attention it did. If I would have known, I would have spent more time being careful about my wording.

That being said, I don’t think the event is completely contrary to feminist ideals. I’m asking women to wear their most “immodest” outfit that they already would wear, but to coordinate it all on the same day for the sake of the experiment. Heck, just showing an ankle would be considered immodest by some people. I don’t want to force people out of their comfort zones, because I believe women have the right to choose how they want to dress. Please don’t pressure women to participate if they don’t want to. If men ogle, that’s the fault of the men, not me for dressing how I like. If I want to a show a little cleavage or joke about my boobs, that’s my prerogative.”

Read the rest of her follow up at Blag Hag.

The response to Boobquake has been varied and somewhat contentious. A rival Facebook event called Brainquake sprouted up protesting the sexualization of the Boobquake event, the (predictable) male enthusiasm of Boobquake, and the perception that women with smaller busts lacking cleavage are left out of participating. (Oh hey, didn’t I just post about social sexualization of large breasts vs. small breasts the other day? Breast-size shame goes both ways, though it’s a different brand of shame for my small-busted friends.)

There are feminist and cultural concerns, as well as concerns about the validity and practicality of the science being proposed here, especially in light of the fact that a surprising number of earthquakes happen every day.

Heidi Anderson of The Fat One in the Middle had some thoughts on Boobquake today that resonate for me:

“EVERY DAY should be a day when you feel comfortable expressing your sexuality and seeking sexual attention. Why has this event taken off like it did? Could it be that there is STILL shame in women expressing their sexuality? Of course there is!

But you don’t need a fake protest, catcalls from supportive men, alcohol, or the approval of your friends to be sexual. If you dress in a sexual manner, some people will think you are slutty. If you dress in a modest manner, some people will not give you the time of day. But the way we use Halloween, Girl’s Night Out, and now Boobquake as holidays in which “good girls” are given permission to be sexual pisses me off. You don’t NEED permission. You just need courage, and the willingness to take responsibility for your decisions. Part of that responsibility means being willing to give up the labels of good girls and bad girls, and just be.”

Read the full post.

Her words reach to the core of my own Boobquake uneasiness: I think a lot of females are participating, not because of any desire to show solidarity or debunk a religious man’s claims, but because it’s an opportunity to justify being and feeling good about being sexual in public spaces. Because women in our society still need an excuse or a reason to embrace and display their sexuality, largely for fear of the slut shaming that often accompanies women appearing in public as sexual creatures. And even when women do get that ‘free pass’ to be sexual — at Halloween, a girls night dancing, or an event like Boobquake — we’re still subjected to slurs and name-calling, often-times from other women. The number of times I’ve seen the words ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ used in anti-boobquake comments on Twitter today is disappointing yet unsurprising.

I’m also leary about the expectations we generate around those ‘free pass’ sexual days, which push women from one extreme expectation — modesty, sexual restraint, etc. — to the other. Halloween costume-hunting last year was particularly troublesome for me: finding a costume that wasn’t sexy (insert job/role here) was nearly impossible, and going out to the clubs on Halloween without showing off thighs and cleavage is apt to get you as much ridicule as if you went out any other night with clothing of similar style. Jen McCreight doesn’t want anyone to feel pressured to participate, but the reality is women will be: men and women will mock those who choose not to participate or weren’t aware of the event, and likely many women may be coerced by peer pressure into participating. The expectation is that, since this is now a ‘free pass’ day, any women who chooses not to take the free pass is prudish, prissy, bitchy, uptight, etc., especially from men who — for obvious reasons — delight in those days when women’s bodies are on sexual display.

So, while I’m still mostly up in the air about my feelings on Boobquake, I would ask the following of all people, whether you participate or not:

  1. Be aware of your slut-shaming language. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with the premise of Boobquake, but don’t use words like ‘slut’, ‘whore’, ‘hooker’, ‘tart’, ‘tramp’, etc. in your argument. There are legitimate feminist concerns and expressing them is important, but please don’t police women for choosing to be sexual. Women are entitled to be sexual creatures when and where and if they want to be, and do not deserve to be called whores because of it.
  2. Don’t tease, mock, or pressure women not participating to unbutton that extra button or hike up their skirts. If you’d like to explain the event to those in the dark, go for it: some women upon hearing about it will join in of their own accord, and others will balk at the idea. Do not expect either, and please don’t coerce or cajole the ladies around you into doing something they’re uncomfortable with.

And so endeth my epically long post on Boobquake.

9 Comments to post “Boobquake: A Recap and Response”

  1. Nancy says:

    “There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with the premise of Boobquake, but don’t use words like ’slut’, ‘whore’, ‘hooker’, ‘tart’, ‘tramp’, etc. in your argument.”

    SO MUCH THIS.

    Fun fact: My captcha was 3TUT which I misread as Slut.

  2. Thank you so much!! I struggled with what was really bothering me about this for a long time.

    And then it hit me that it reminded me of Halloween, when Sexy Sanitation Worker is one of the choices.

    Nice to meet you! Canada sure is full of awesome people!

    • afterthree says:

      Little known fact about Canada: we are, in general, made of awesome. ;)

      Your post was really excellent, and it wasn’t until I read it that I realized what was really bugging me about the whole thing and could articulate it properly. So thanks! :D

  3. idoubtit says:

    I didn’t participate because it was juvenile and not helpful.

    Earthquakes happen EVERY day. If people are dense enough to gawk at women as some kind of experiment, they won’t notice that it resulted in “no statistical difference”. But, they did notice that there was an actual earthquake that affected Taiwan.

    • afterthree says:

      I have noticed the results today have gotten almost no mainstream note. The mass media was clearly only interested in the sex angle of all this. Again, I am not surprised. Eternally disappointed, but not surprised.

  4. Podblack says:

    It has, by the way, now hit sites like Playboy and Coedmagazine.com. They think it’s just great. :/

  5. Podblack says:

    http://tokenskeptic.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=610629 – I interviewed both Michael McRae, a science communicator employed by Australia’s government body for science and technology, and Desiree Schell, a community outreach worker who specialises in protests and rallies. Both skeptics. Enjoy! :)