Samia has a very thoughtful analysis of that whole Boobquake biz...I'd recommend you read it first before going on with this post.
I love Samia because she is witty, she always makes me think, and often helps me see when I am missing big, important issues. But I am not sure I am in agreement with all her points this time. I started out with a reaction to the idea of Boobquake that was very similar to her post...why get all het up about some Iranian cleric when we did not see as much a fuss here in the U.S. over the Christian fundies who said similar shit about 9/11 and other natural disasters being the fault of gays and feminists, etc. Why ask women to show their tits as a form of protest - what makes that so much better that some drunken dude at spring break yelling show yer tits?
And then I finally read the original post about Boobquake. Well, the semi-original - the clarification she posted after her initial joke post that got way more attention than she expected.
...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.
I also 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.
Boobquake was a joke, and the sad thing is that so many people took it so seriously, including people who praised Boobquakers for being more fun types of feminists than nasty castrating man-hating bitches like Andrea Dworkin who, thank god, is dead, and good riddance. It's also sad if foolish young women took it as an opportunity to show their boobs in response to drunken-spring-break-d00d-types who thought Boobquake was just another great chance to ogle boobs. Not to mention those douchey d00ds themselves, and how douchey they are - but they were douchey even before Boobquake. If we have to disregard anything a woman has done because men have had a douchey response to it, the list of women's actions that we can take pride in would be vanishingly small. So whether there was any good at all to Boobquake cannot be judged on the level of involvement of Douchey McDouchersons it garnered.
It seems to me that Boobquake functioned in some ways as a mirror, and each of us saw in it what we brought to it. A tiny fraction of women wanted to make a small, fun, and ultimately, as they knew, mostly ineffectual political gesture. In Boobquake's mirror, they saw themselves, being themselves, and were glad they had the freedom to do so. Let us hope they also had a moment of remembrance and thought for their less free sisters, whether here in the U.S. or elsewhere - perhaps that will turn into real activism. Other women wanted to feel Empowerful! They looked in the Boobquake mirror and saw hawt chicks. Douchey McDouchersons wanted to see boobs, and, of course, they did. Sour, embittered misogynists of every stripe wanted to see evil nasty women responsible for all that is bad in the world - and that is what they see everyday, Boobquake mirror or no. A certain spinster aunt didn't even have to look in the Boobquake mirror to know she just saw a boob joke, or, Jen McCreight "say[ing] stupid things about encouraging women to protest oppression by capitulating to Dude Nation's fondest desire".
Lots of the rest of us, men and women, came to the Boobquake mirror with mild confusion, and what we saw was...confusing. Boobquake good? Bad? Feminist? Anti-feminist? Trivial? Meaningful? Make jokes? Just ignore? Oh wait, it's even on The Colbert Report!!! Gah! It will all blow over soon, and we'll be on to the next internet hoo-ha.
Except I read Samia's post, and as I mentioned, she always makes me think. Dammit! Even about Boobquake! Samia wrote:
1)Okay, clearly some ridiculous shit was said. But you know, I don't feel so great about pointing and laughing (or even getting very outraged) about that kind of thing when I know the country I live in has its own serious woman-blaming problems and a rape culture that consistently condones, minimizes and excuses gender-based violence/objectificaton at every turn. There's something very Hey, look over there! about this kind of Western feminism, and I don't like it at all.
If Samia is suggesting that white western feminists can't say anything when some douchebag like this Iranian cleric, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, mouths off about how immodest women are causing earthquakes or some other crock of shit, because we haven't completely cleaned our own house yet, I'm not buying that. I'm not going to agree that I can't say anything about gender oppression in other nations, even in a joking manner, because I have to be ultra careful never ever to appear imperialistic. It is always best to do one's homework and be more rather than less educated when one is going to have a say about something going on in another culture - that seems obvious, if not practiced as often as would be desirable (and I include myself right in there).
That homework* should include asking one's self: what imperialisms might I be complicit in, because I have the privilege not to notice them? Which douchebags do I find myself more willing to give a pass to, and which ones not? Does that split recreate inequalities it would be better to dismantle, rather than saying, "there's really no significance to be found in the Douchey McDouchersons I mock and the ones I claim are just misunderstood?"
As an example: are you inclined to mock Iranian clerics who blame immodest women for earthquakes, but see Rush Limbaugh as a patriot despite his inane natterings? Even worse, are you unlikely to see Limbaugh as equally representative of all fundamentalist Christians as Sedighi is of fundamentalist Muslims? Or, turn it on its head - are you as unlikely to view earthquake-addled-Sedighi as wholly representative of all Muslims as you would be to think that health-care-bill-obsessed-Limbaugh represents all Christians worldwide? Do you not even notice Limbaugh as particularly representative of any group - he's just his own individual, quirky brand of crazy. But that Iranian Muslim cleric...what the hell was his name again...oh, doesn't matter anyway, too hard to pronounce. It's not like we need to be aware of him as an individual, any more than of Rush as a member of a group...do we?
This interesting short discussion raises some other good issues to think about.
2) This is some of the most stereotypical-ass, classic Judaeo-Christian*-white-lady-feminist crap I've seen in a while. It's almost a caricature of everything that is wrong with mainstream feminism right now...This whole campaign invisibilizes women who choose to veil and makes me wonder if any of these "activists" ever considered their Facebook friends' comfort level with these kinds of pictures or how they might feel about the statement being made. Not that many of these folks actually care about the ideas and opinions of Muslim women.
Women could argue among themselves for years whether they are freely choosing to veil, when it's hot, and you can't see well, and it's uncomfortable, or freely choosing to wear high heels, when they damage your toes and back, and you can't walk well on uneven surfaces in them, as examples. When the reality is that whatever we are "freely" choosing to wear is constrained by our culture and the expectations of those around us and our social class and our laws and our workplace rules and our disposable income and the desires that marketing agencies have tended carefully in us since our earliest days. And since women are in control of precious few of those things, arguing amongst ourselves about what we are "freely" choosing to wear can sometimes be crazy-making.
Last quote from Samia:
Ugh, I hate everyone.
Ha! I have a friend who has joked that her autobiography will be titled "I Hate You: An Explanation". Well, we say she's joking. Sometimes humans are just so damn aggravating.
In the end, I have to say thanks again to Samia for pushing me to revisit a topic (even if, in this case, it was Boobquake) and look at it afresh. After working my way through my thinking I'm not sure if I'm as far away from her position as I thought I was.
*Thanks to Doc Free-Ride for help with thinking about this part of the post. I think it is a better post than it would have been without her nudging, though I take full responsibility for all remaining sins of commission and omission.
If Samia is suggesting that white western feminists can't say anything when some douchebag like this Iranian cleric, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, mouths off about how immodest women are causing earthquakes or some other crock of shit, because we haven't completely cleaned our own house yet, I'm not buying that.
The problem is not just that Western women need to completely clean out their own house before they respond to Sedighi, but that they need to be aware of what they're responding to, which I don't think was the case with individuals involved in Boobquake. The fact is that Boobquake attempts to ridicule the very same thing Western women are also held responsible for. Sedighi didn't say that women's immodesty causes earthquakes - he said that women's immodesty corrupts men and causes adultery which is the cause of earthquakes. He blamed women for men's fornication and adultery which lead to deterioration of society and consequently earthquakes.
Women in the West are also blamed for men's behaviour, only no-one pushes that to ludicrous limits by saying that men's corrupted behaviour then causes earthquakes.
But the same way Sedighi said women cause men's fornication and adultery, people in the West - routinely - claim that women are responsible for rape, that they are responsible when their husbands cheat on them because they failed to be good wives, or - more frequently - that they are responsible when other wives' husbands cheat on their wives with them.
This is what the Boobquake thing obscured. And by focusing on the ludicrousness of the claim that women's immodesty causes earthquakes it failed to really engage with the issue of controlling women's bodies and women's sexuality - as these things exist both in the West and in the East.
Zuska - Thank you for your thoughtful analysis. Despite my post that largely skirted the feminist issues of the day, it was something that I gave a lot of thought to before participating and promoting. I'd count myself among those who "wanted to make a small, fun, and ultimately, as they knew, mostly ineffectual political gesture. In Boobquake's mirror, they saw themselves, being themselves, and were glad they had the freedom to do so." I am hugely grateful for that freedom to express myself (linguistically, economically, & fashion-wise) and I wish that more than a small percent of the world's women had those freedoms. Samia's post and your response remind me once again to think about all the ways my privilege manifests itself and the responsibilities that are engendered with that privilege. There are things Boobquake participants could have done better (including me), but maybe one of the small good things that can come out of this event is the intellectual engagement (albeit briefly) of a large number of women with issues of feminism and cultural sensitivity versus excuses for paralyzing inaction.
Our Jewish-Muslim student alliance sponsored a Q & A (with Free Food!) about Islam. Veiling per se, and the religious meanings of Hijab/modesty, were definitely among the highlights of the lively discussion, with many different perspectives offered. I came away with a lot of different ways to look at things, but certain knowledge only that it is complicated and not a matter of One Official Consensus any more than any other controversial religious notion. I have a close friend who wears a scarf (though otherwise standard grad student clothes, albeit somewhat prettier than average), and I've talked extensively with her about it, but I don't claim to really grok it. Nonetheless, I'm pretty confident in my assessment that 99% of people who I read discussing Boobquake (with the notable exception of Samia), haven't the faintest clue about different Muslim views of modesty. It struck me as kind of a ridiculously left-out component of the whole discussion.
It is, of course, ridiculously offensive that the law of Iran is so restrictive with regard to what women can wear (and what they can do generally). That said, what's offensive about it is the impinging on freedom, not the specific dresscode. Legal requirements to appear on girls gone wild would be equally offensive.
But after you get done condemning that, you have to evaluate non-legally forced, but economically and socially coerced, regulation of women's clothing and behavior in both Muslim and Christian dominated societies... and we're back at the crazymaking. In that sense, there's nothing wrong with Lady Godivaing or with Burkas. There's nothing wrong with Boobquake, or with finding Boobquake unpleasant. What's wrong is the paradigm that presents the impossible choice.
It wasn't so long ago (1716) that in Huntington Mrs Hicks and her daughter were put for causing a lightning storm by pulling off her stockings and making a lather of soap.
Maybe it *is* imperialism: "We *soo* got over that 200 years ago, get with the program you primitive brownish people!". But then again ... perhaps it's justified. Would Mrs Hicks have been saved by a wash-your-stockings-lightning-storm day in a foreign land? Maybe not. Would this display of solidarity accomplish anything at all? Maybe.
How times have changed, except - as you point out - where they haven't. Only it's about GLBT these days. And liberuls.
Still. "Solidarity" is a good word. Maybe a worthwhile one to use while evaluating the boobquake.
Isn't every Friday and Saturday night at the clubs enough for this experiment?
I have no opinion of my own of this phenom, as I was paying attention to the end of an eighteen credit semester and had no time. But I think that the response that McCreight received from women in the Muslim world is a rather reasonable response to Samia's concerns. I am not saying that her opinion is not legit, just that there is a counter opinion.
If we have to disregard anything a woman has done because men have had a douchey response to it, the list of women's actions that we can take pride in would be vanishingly small.
Hey, Z. Would have been cool to see you comment on the thread over at my place.
So you say Boobquake was supposed to be a joke. And I get that. Believe it or not, I can actually understand why my post may seem completely off to some people. My goal was to ask/explore who we were supposed to be laughing at and why. As I said in the comments back at my place, I felt this "joke" was pretty fuckin lazy and found it personally offensive. I don't represent anyone but myself.
I'm finding it interesting that some feminists keep insisting this was a harmless joke. If at least a few people are genuinely bummed by something, then it really becomes disingenuous and somewhat assy to persist in telling us The Real Meaning of Such-and-Such. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be sorry I'm not one of the people who "got" what Boobquake "was supposed to mean" or whatever. Thing is, whatever its original purpose, it came across as a dick move to at least a few of us.
In some respects, a few of the reactions I've garnered smack of classic mansplaining tactics, which is really sad. "Oh hey, but it's a joke! Too bad you're taking it so seriously. Harmless fun, doncha know!" I dunno. And the assumption from some quarters that I am looking to get pissed off about...kinda leaves me cold (and sleepy). Not that it's the first time I've been accused of being angry and bitchy and blah blah blah. Yes. So bitchy. With my big bitch self. Sadly, you're no stranger to this kind of crap, either. :/
If you read my post closely, I hope you will note that I haven't expressed any sentiment to the effect of "white western feminists can't say anything." If it's not too forward of me, I think it may behoove you to explore where you got the implication. My perception is that mainstream feminism tends to be dominated by a certain group of voices. I think we need to make room. I think we could start by listening to people who are coming at things from a different perspective.
BlackAmazon did an interesting post about Boobquake from a body image perspective.
*pissed off about something
Yeesh, I need to get to bed.
Well, I'm not sure I would say "harmless joke". Question is what kind of harm and where does the harm land. When I say it was started as a joke, I mean that I don't think the very first original post on it was written with the conscious intent of generating some large Facebook movement and garnering huge amounts of press. It was, clearly, a toss-off post without much thought. And I think this point is key: one of the commenters on this short thread noted
I think the global response had more to do with the number of daily google searches for the word boobs than anything else. If blaghag had called her experiment Feminist Protest In Search of Good or Bad Science, she would have had a very different set of keyword search responses.
So it was an accidental phenomenon. From my perspective, all the meaning was backfilled once things got going. That's why the mirror metaphor resonates for me, because everybody who wanted to could make of Boobquake what they wanted. In my post, and Anne Jefferson's which I linked to, there is discussion of why it might be worthwhile and necessary to compare Sedighi to Limbaugh. But in the link DuWayne offers in #6 above, we find this:
What Brainquake conveniently fails to acknowledge is that preacher Pat and the 700 Club, do not run the United States government. However, Mr. Sedighiâs comments are the hallmark of the regime in Iran, a system of governance that has mandated that all girls, both Muslim and non-Muslim alike must cover their hair and dress in a modest manner from the age of nine on!
While I was concerned that talking about wackaloon Iranian clerics without discussing their equally wackaloon U.S. Christian counterparts is imperialist, the writer above is arguing that we should NOT be drawing such comparisons because it elides the state-sanctioned nature of the fundamentalist wackaloonery in Iran. You see? The Boobquake mirror is truly bountiful.
It may be that a white western feminist SHOULD make such comparisons and draw out similarities for her audience, whereas an Iranian Muslim feminist should RESIST such comparisons or make them only to contrast the situation for her audience. And then that begs the question of who is in those audiences.
Samia, I agree that you did not explicitly say "white western feminists can't say anything." These are your words that troubled me somewhat:
But you know, I don't feel so great about pointing and laughing (or even getting very outraged) about that kind of thing when I know the country I live in has its own serious woman-blaming problems and a rape culture that consistently condones, minimizes and excuses gender-based violence/objectificaton at every turn. There's something very Hey, look over there! about this kind of Western feminism, and I don't like it at all.
Which certainly suggests, at the very least, that we ought not to be even getting outraged about things like oppressive gender pronouncements by state-sanctioned clerics in other countries if we still have "women-blaming problems and a rape culture" in our own country. That's the part I just can't agree with. If I had to wait for the gender revolution to arrive on my doorstep before I could properly allow myself to be outraged by goings-on in other countries, I would be waiting a long time.
I don't want to partake in, or sanction, clueless imperialist feminism. But I also don't want to agree that nothing useful can be said or done while we still have problems here.
It's so tiresome to be told that you were just looking for something to be bitchy about. Like you (or me, or anyone) has spare time in our lives to devote to just getting randomly pissed off. I really, really appreciated your post because, as I said, it made me actually THINK about Boobquake, whereas before I just was sort of aware of it and not thinking about it much. Which, I think, is a reflection of my privilege (race, religion [lack of], country) - I had the luxury to not have to think much about it if I didn't want to.
Oh God oh God I am over Boobquake. *whew*
I can't help but feel like the goalposts keep getting shifted in these discussions. First it's a joke. Then it's a scientific study. Then it's a feminist statement of outrage. I dunno about all this. To me, the whole thing seemed pretty freakin ineffective at anything except making me want to peel my face off when I logged into Facebook one day. My post was just me letting off steam so I could get on with my day twitch-free. I'm still weirded out that this many people have bothered to read it...anyhoo. I'm def glad you like my blog. :)
I think I understand what you were taking issue with in my post, so let me try to explain. What bugged me is that a lot of these "outraged feminists" are just fine with invisibilizing and silencing the people they think they're standing up for. So yeah, if the goal here was to make a statement of solidarity, then it rang hollow to me.
I don't trust much of the indignant anger about what the cleric said, in part because I'm not able to comfortably separate it from general anti-Muslim sentiment (which is already pretty fashionable in many places, as we all know). I'm also not able to fully separate it from the primitivizing of foreign men of colour, which is also quite trendy atm. And there are some unsettling assumptions about the agency and intellectual capacity of Muslim women as compared to free-thinking, liberal Western women (nice artificial dichotomy this sets up, too) that implies there's not a lot of work to be done in the West. This is the crux of the point I was trying to make. There is a knee-jerk, look-at-them-thar feel-good finger-pointing that occurs when many of us in the West discuss the various lifestyles of Muslim women in other parts of the world.
So I question the source of some of this "outrage" for some of the reasons I listed in my original post. I know why *I* was angry about it, but...I also know how I personally feel about Islam and Muslims, and I know what informed my viewpoint. My issue is one of trust. And given some of the reactions I got to my post, my guard is still up when it comes to many women who call themselves feminist.
But I also don't want to agree that nothing useful can be said or done while we still have problems here.
I noticed you used the word "useful." Maybe we should be asking what was actually accomplished here in the way of promoting our terrestrial sisterhood? Don't the reactions to dissent tell us something, too? I think the best test of an ally (not a big fan of that word, but can't find a better one) is their reaction to getting called out. Outrage on someone's behalf ultimately comes from a place of love, empathy and kinship, and I wasn't seeing a lot of that in this case. Again, this is all my personal reaction. I found this campaign repulsive in the literal sense of the word.
Asking people to recognize the forces that shape our politics and sense of justice is so different from simply telling people to shut the fuck up. But it does involve sitting down once in a while.
Who are these "outraged feminists" people keep talking about?
"I think the best test of an ally (not a big fan of that word, but can't find a better one) is their reaction to getting called out. Outrage on someone's behalf ultimately comes from a place of love, empathy and kinship, and I wasn't seeing a lot of that in this case."
That's a really good point. However, how you act on that view can be complicated. Because, while it's a good test, it is a high bar sometimes. From what I've seen, people expressing love, empathy and kinship who have that thrown back in their face with a "you're not one of us, we don't feel that way, shut your piehole oppressor!" are not going to react well.
I think it's perhaps a bit overly optimistic to expect everyone by default to be able to react well to correction.
That said, if one is committed to being an ally, one does try to get over one's own boo-boos of hurt feelings when one is doing it wrong. It's just... the more kinship/empathy you express, the more you open yourself as vulnerable, in a sense.
I try not to judge people extremely harshly for speaking up only on behalf of those Like Them, and I try not to judge people harshly for being upset when they are told they are not speaking up on someone's behalf in an optimal way.
That said, people who consistently speak up on behalf of others (not just others that they like or benefit from, but others that are most needing it) and who do so in a way that demonstrates genuine thoughtfulness and sensitivity to correction... those people are my heroes. Cause it's hard.
Hey, Becca. :) I have seen people suck all the air out of the room with some "But it's so hard to be [insert privileged class here]! I can never do anything right!" Online and in real life. Much more time has been dedicated to those discussions than is warranted, IMO.
I've been called out on my privileged bullshit before, and I hope it happens again soon. Yeah, I feel defensive, too. And that's when I have to ask myself if I'm going to choose pride over love. We choose to become "allies." We choose to look down our respective axes of privilege, to run the risk of being told we'll never get it (we won't ever get it, and that shouldn't be the point). But make no mistake, allies are always free to pick up their toys and go home. Maybe that's why some of us get so pissed off when we're told we're not doing it right. We want points just for showing up.
And honestly, is it that big a deal for me to just admit I won't ever understand what it means to be trans/impoverished/undocumented/disabled? How is it hurting me to just listen when someone says "Hey, that shit was fucked up, and here's why." Maybe it just feels like it hurts because I'm being reminded of how much I take for granted on a daily basis.
So what's more important, my need to be right or my responsibility to try to minimize the harm I do to others? How much time do I want to spend convincing people they're not realllllly pissed off, I didn't realllllly mean it like that, they need to talk more nicely to me before I'll listen, etc., etc.? And while I'm busy explaining someone's oppression and anger to them in their own space, am I going to have the decency to take my foot off their neck, or do I just want an excuse to keep thinking and acting the way I always have?
I wouldn't say I'm overly optimistic, but I am tired of tiptoeing around the feelings of people who clearly could give a SHIT about mine.
This is discussion is so vastly more interesting than boobquake ever was that I'm truly impressed - Zuska, Samia, you have managed to make the literal silk purse out of the big old sow's ear.
I have to say, I lean towards agreeing with Samia. It isn't that I don't think that critique can come from outside of sexism - but I think this is bound up in a lot of things that most participants (as opposed to everyone, or every person who gave it more thought than I'm inclined to credit most participants with) probably lacked the knowledge to sort out. Plus I'm so with her on that peeling off your face thing ;-).
Hi Samia. :)
Yeah, I don't have much sympathy for "it's so hard to be [insert privileged class here]!" but I view that as distinct from "It's so hard to communicate with people!". Even when people are like you, and have many common assumptions, for any communication to occur at all strikes me as damn near miraculous. Not to use that as an excuse for not doing the hard work to communicate, just to use it as a reminder to appreciate when it does happen.
It's hard for me to not want to coopt well-meaning people, who aren't really conscious intentional allies, to my cause. But you're right- if the term 'ally' is to be meaningful it has to be something people choose. That makes it quite reasonable to hold them responsible for acting in line with that role (not that there's *one* correct way for an ally to act, just that there are a number of ways to screw it up and it's fair, even necessary, to let them know).
To honestly answer what may have been a rhetorical question, I think it hurts people to listen when someone says "that shit was fucked up and here's why" because it upsets their view of the world. To be wrong about anything can be difficult- to find out the world is actually more fucked up than you had assumed (in specific gory detail too!) is often very painful.
But on the grounds that "people often perform to expectations"- maybe it is better to expect people to be able to put aside that painful realization (or, alternatively, reroute it) and not focus on themselves.
Just so I understand, is the case being made that nonbelievers, generally less privileged than theists, need to avoid being strident lest the more privileges theists feel bad? If this was about d00dz being upset nobody here would be worrying for their delicate privileged sensibilities. Why do the delicate feelings of privileged theists need so much consideration?
Awesome post, and thread, and inspiration post. Lots of good perspectives to think about - thank you for taking the time to write them. :)
And while I'm busy explaining someone's oppression and anger to them in their own space, am I going to have the decency to take my foot off their neck, or do I just want an excuse to keep thinking and acting the way I always have?
"It seems to me that Boobquake functioned in some ways as a mirror, and each of us saw in it what we brought to it."
This is the single most insightful response to Boobquake that I have seen online, and I've read through dozens of them. (I'm participating in a debate on Boobquake and Feminism tomorrow.) Thank you for sharing your thoughts.