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The great boob debacle

I was reading about the Open Source Boob Project a lot last night, and didn't post about it because I wanted to think more about it. Because I read the entry before I saw the brouhaha it caused, and it didn't bother me at all. I wondered whether I'd participate, decided it would depend on the situation and the people and the atmosphere, opened the comments in a new tab to read later (there weren't thousands at that point), and moved on to the next post on my friends list. I've been reading theferrett (and his wife) for years, and that probably coloured my response, because I know a lot of the things people have been assuming about him from that one post are untrue.

I've thought and read a lot more about the whole thing, and...it still doesn't bother me. I can see that it would be a bad idea to take it out into the wider world, but in controlled conditions, it sounds OK to me, though the name is unfortunate.

A lot of the people I've seen arguing against it have interpreted it very differently from me. There are a few misconceptions I've seen a lot, and if these things had been happening, I'd probably be outraged too. But:

  • A lot of people are mis-parsing the name. Open Source Boob Project is a Boob Project which is Open Source, not a Project on Open Source Boobs. So all this "My breasts are not open source" - well, no, nobody said they were.

  • It wasn't all about guys getting to touch some titties. There was manboob touching, ass-groping of both sexes, and also back rubs and snuggles.

  • It wasn't started by a bunch of desperate male geeks. It was a mixed gender group, some of whom were married or in relationships, and it was women who initiated the whole thing by touching each other's boobs. It was also women who asked the first "outsider" to join in. There was m-m, f-m and f-f touching.

  • People weren't wearing buttons saying "Yes you can touch my boobs" or "No you can't touch my boobs". The badges indicated whether you could *ask* to touch a person. Even if you had the green badge, you could still say no, and people did. The red badge was so that people weren't approached twice about the project, and for situations like "Don't ask just now, I have my daughter with me".

  • There were a maximum of 40 people participating out of a con of 1,000 - there wasn't massive social pressure to join in. There were non-participants hanging out with participants, and not being shunned or treated as spoilsports.


The argument I've seen that makes sense is that in the eyes of a lot of women, men staring at them or approaching them is frequently a threat, and society in general is immensely sexualised towards breasts, so being asked about the project makes them feel profoundly uncomfortable, or they could feel pressured to say yes in order to receive social or sexual validation. Which I can sympathise with, but I don't think that's enough reason to label it WRONG and give women special protection against it. I hate being made to feel like a victim purely because of my sex, and not because anything's actually happened to me. I don't like being shoved into a little box that says "Victim Of Societal Sexism: Extra Care Must Be Taken". I don't think it helps achieve actual equity between the sexes, either, to treat women and men so differently.

I pretty much agree with John Scalzi, who was at the con but missed the whole thing, and heard about it in a positive way from a female friend later, that it shouldn't be promoted as a project in the world in general, but that there's nothing inherently wrong with it.

(Play nice in the comments, kids, since this topic seems to bring DRAMA...)

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Comments

( 48 comments — Comment )
anonymous_greg
Apr. 23rd, 2008 09:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you for being a voice of reason on this.

I don't know theferrett, so I don't have that relationship colouring my view. Still, I did the research; I read his posts on the topic; I got factual information. And yet...I was amazed to see all the misrepresentations which others held forth, unwaveringly. Fairly mind-boggling, that. Mind-boggling and unnecessary, considering all one had to do was actually read the posts to get an accurate assessment of the situation. Oh, well.

Anyway, as is often the case, I agree with you, 100%.



Edited at 2008-04-23 09:48 pm (UTC)
pickwick
Apr. 23rd, 2008 10:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I was worried I was just going to get abuse for this :S
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redatt
Apr. 23rd, 2008 10:00 pm (UTC)
(Play nice in the comments, kids, since this topic seems to bring DRAMA...)

Sorry, sorry ... I just don't get to us this u-pic as often as I'd like.
anonymous_greg
Apr. 23rd, 2008 10:03 pm (UTC)
Holy mackeroli! [info]Pick Me was right! It did bring drama!   *ducks punching u-pic*


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rintheamazing
Apr. 23rd, 2008 10:17 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that was pretty much my initial reaction too. I still don't care much one way or the other. The whole post might have been somewhat ill-advised, though. I think it's a "you had to be there" kind of thing.
pickwick
Apr. 23rd, 2008 10:31 pm (UTC)
Yeah. I think if he'd posted it as a "What we got up to at the con" story, barely anyone would have batted an eyelid. It was the promoting it as a project that really upset people, but then they directed their anger at the whole concept.
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pickwick
Apr. 23rd, 2008 11:30 pm (UTC)
No, of course that's not drama :) I was more worried about people dropping in from elsewhere than you guys!

I don't mean this to sounds flippant, but I think they were saying hello first, in general anyway. The idea was being passed on through conversations. And people touch each other all the time - shaking hands, tapping people on the shoulder, moshing at gigs - without even asking, so it is about certain types or locations of touching, and when asking is appropriate. The project was finding out where people's lines are, and it's interesting that there's much more resistance to it in theory than there seems to have been in practise.
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kaizoku
Apr. 23rd, 2008 11:26 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I mean, I can easily see myself participating in something like this. But the way theferrett described it and the language he used creeped me out. It was so centered on breasts and how good they made him feel, which is great for him but not something that broadcasts well to the world fandom. I'm not assuming that he is a creep because of that. And the way some people were talking to his wife and other women really pissed me off.

I don't actually have much of a problem with someone asking me or me asking someone if they want to make out or whatever, if it's in a space I feel safe in and that I think they feel safe in. From reading comments, I get the impression that for some people under no circumstances is someone asking "Can I touch your breasts?" going to be okay except with a monogamous partner in private - and that's fine. But I do think there can be spaces where it is okay for some people. I see that the badges were trying to do that but the whole breast-centeredness and the way the "yes you may" or "you may not" seemed so codified leads me to "do not want" land.

On the other hand, I can't completely agree with people who say that none of this should happen in public ever, because the public sex angle has been used against gay men so much it's not something I want to promote.

Whee, long comment is long.
pickwick
Apr. 23rd, 2008 11:37 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the style he chose for that particular article really did him no favours. Once I'd seen some of the arguments I went back and re-read it, and if I'd read it out of the context of the rest of his journal I might well have thought it was skeevy too. (I especially didn't like the bit about women presenting their chests for approval.) But from reading what the women involved said, for the most part it wasn't like that.

That and the breast-centredness really sank the whole thing, I think. And the way it was implemented worked for a few people but it wouldn't work with more participants.
sloopjonb
Apr. 24th, 2008 05:53 am (UTC)
Feh. The whole thing is a storm in a D cup.
anonymous_greg
Apr. 24th, 2008 04:07 pm (UTC)
And just how long have you been waiting for an opportunity to use that one? :D
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sovietkiki
Apr. 24th, 2008 02:37 pm (UTC)
The argument I've seen that makes sense is that in the eyes of a lot of women, men staring at them or approaching them is frequently a threat, and society in general is immensely sexualised towards breasts, so being asked about the project makes them feel profoundly uncomfortable, or they could feel pressured to say yes in order to receive social or sexual validation.

This is how it made me feel. I get nervous if guys talk to me in the street. If one came up to me and asked to touch my boobs, or wear a pin saying whether they could ask or not, my immediate reaction would be to punch them and run.

I don't really understand the goal of the project. Maybe I'm thick, but a bunch of guys - with a small minority of girls, from what I've read, and most of them most certainly geeks - who go around and ask girls to wear pins stating whether they can then ask if they can touch their boobs? Um? It doesn't even seem like a very fun thing to me - and, indeed, highly sexualised.

But that's just my two cents. :)
pickwick
Apr. 25th, 2008 06:02 pm (UTC)
I get feeling like that. I get nervous if anyone talks to me in the street :D Or asks me questions in a meeting at work. Or a billion other times. And I'd love to get rid of the problems that make women - or people, even - feel like that in the first place. I don't think the way to deal with it is to decide anything that might possibly make someone uncomfortable is Bad and Wrong.

From what I've read I thought it was a pretty mixed group, and they were going around asking a few people whether they could touch various parts of their bodies. It certainly wasn't just girls wearing pins. I think that's what's freaked me out about the reaction - if the problem had been "this may make people uncomfortable", that would be fine, but instead it's "omg sexism must protect the women from these nasty men".

Edited at 2008-04-25 06:02 pm (UTC)
mind_expander
Apr. 24th, 2008 06:59 pm (UTC)
I'm probably asking for trouble here, but I feel the need to share one of my current games:

Wherever I go on nights out or parties I try to find ladies willing to let me take a picture of their boobs. Not naked or anything, more cleavage type pics. And not really for my own gratification either, the point is that I text the pics to my lovely girlfriend, knowing that finding boobies on her phone makes her smile.

I'm not saying that I spend all night harassing women, cos I don't. If I find myself chatting to someone suitable I explain the game and ask if she'd be up for it. The surprising thing is how often this request meets with enthusiastic cooperation. And if it doesn't, well, no big deal.

I should make it clear that I firmly believe in a person's right to be unmolested and free from unwanted attention, indeed I'd be willing to literally, physically fight for that right on behalf of anyone I know. But at the same time I don't think that a friendly request for touching is necessarily the end of the world. Western society is still disgustingly uptight about this sort of thing.

The entire controversy over the OSBP is symptomatic of America's rather muddled priorities, the same thinking that sees nothing wrong with blood-curdling violence on mainstream TV but goes into meltdown at the slightest hint of nudity or sexual content (Jackson wardrobe malfunction anyone?). Witness this week's upskirt photos of Emma Watson and the vast mass of comments along the lines of OMG pubes! or the way it seems compulsory for every cock in the US to be circumcised before it can be seen on screen. Talk about fucked up!

Maybe I'm just a 51st century man stuck in the 21st.
pickwick
Apr. 25th, 2008 06:06 pm (UTC)
Hee, I was thinking about that, actually, and whether people would horribly disapprove of it.

America has muddled priorities, but ours aren't that much better :S The warnings we have to put on TV programmes are really weighed towards sex and swear words - you only need a few moderate swearies to get the basic level of language warning, but you pretty much need a bloody beheading close-up to get the basic violence or disturbing warning. And of course it was our bloody paparazzi that were stalking Emma Watson's crotch...

(Can you introduce me to Captain Jack?)
woodburner
Apr. 26th, 2008 01:57 am (UTC)
Hi, I don't know you, but I'd like to thank you for being sane. :\

Personally, while I also don't think there's anything inherently wrong with it, I DO think it was a bad idea in which way too many things could go really wrong, and I think ferret said some face-desk-inducingly stupid things in his write up of it (which, as I read him on occasion and am familiar with his style, I am fairly sure were innocent attempts at humor rather than actual misogyny. But still. Stupid things were said.) But what is seriously pissing me off is exactly what you pointed out: mind-boggling amounts of misinformation are being spread, and a lot of it by smart folks who really ought to know better. If you're going to get your feminist rage on, know exactly what the hell you're raging about, thanks. All anyone had to do was actually read all the information presented in order to correct most of these misconceptions.

I am also really, really peeved at the insults being thrown at the women who were involved. REALLY PEEVED.

I am feeling kind of cowardly because I am too afraid to actually blog on the subject on account of LOLDRAMAS, especially since some of my f-list were participating in all of the flame-throwing, ugh. I'm glad you're braver than I am.

Edited at 2008-04-26 01:58 am (UTC)
chaosdancer
Apr. 26th, 2008 05:52 am (UTC)
Ack, yeah! I've corrected several people on my friends list already, because it bugs me to see so much crap spread - everything from personal stuff about Ferrett and Gini to misinformation about what happened at the event. I've seen people complain about things that didn't happen, and when I direct them to his journal to see what actually did happen, they refuse to go look. Meanwhile they spread the disinformation. That makes me angry. It doesn't matter to me if they are for or agin' it, but they should make up their minds based on facts and not hysteria.

I'd have joined in, if I was there - the problematic issues people brought up with it probably wouldn't have occurred to me until much later.
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evilstorm
Apr. 26th, 2008 05:10 am (UTC)
The "desperate male geeks" stereotyping is beginning to truly infuriate me. I hang around a bunch of otakus/gamers, okay. We play Dungeons and Dragons. We play Catan. We all play computer games to differing extents. Some of us play Magic: the Gathering. Almost all of us watch anime and read/watch hentai. Elsewhere I know fans of Star Trek/Discworld/Doctor Who/Star Wars/Lord of the Rings i.e. people from all of the traditionally great geek fandoms. I still have yet to meet a single male geek who does that creepy hypersexualizing thing that everyone says they do. Are some geeks like that? Yes, and maybe there's even a higher percentage than in the "normal" population because of the way things work, but not all male geeks are perverts. I wish people would fucking realize that and stfu. All of my friends, male and female, are geeks in some way, shape or form. You want to insult all of them at once? Fine, but don't be surprised when I snap and punch you in the teeth.

And now for a 180 in tone and topic...

I've seen people talk about social pressure, and I get what they mean, but--and I mean this in the most courteous way possible--I think there's something contradictory in their reasoning. If you want to be strong, if you want to recognize that you have pure sovereignity over your own body, then...well, to start with, you should at least be able to defend that sovereignity by turning down a request to touch you. You can't say, oh, no, we have to protect women from anything that might cause them to have to say no, and then turn around and expect them to be able to refuse when someone asks for sex in a less benign situation (I consider the OSBP to be rather more benign than a drunken twerp pinning you to furniture and wheedling at you). On one hand you teach women to say no; on the other hand you get men to respect women's bodies and rights and all that; on the third hand you get everyone to stop fucking sexualizing everything whilst simultaneously realizing that sex doesn't have to equal shame and stigma; and on the sixth tentacle we stop bloody assuming that everything everyone does has the worst possible motive imaginable. Yes, changing the paradigm is hard, and yes, it can be difficult for people who don't know any better to resist, but this is how it goes. This is how you educate people and change minds. Who the hell ever said it would be easy?

(Ftr, I'm young, female, and whilst I'm casual enough about my body with friends I actually have a personal space radius of about three feet, so there.)
evilstorm
Apr. 26th, 2008 05:16 am (UTC)
...although I suppose I should add the postscript that I agree that this will work in some places and would definitely not work in others. *sheepish*
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nextian
Apr. 26th, 2008 05:42 pm (UTC)
Yeah, what I wanted to say synecdochic said. HOWEVER, the misinformation is pissing me off so hard. It's ridiculous how much sheer that is not what he said is going on. *sighs*

Can I just hate everyone?
pickwick
Apr. 26th, 2008 11:10 pm (UTC)
I just realised that I should have been using this icon the whole time :D

I was trying not to get involved, but there was just SO MUCH WRONG. I didn't really want to come off as defending the whole project, and I knew I would be perceived like that, but it just started to piss me off too much!
( 48 comments — Comment )

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