Friday, April 23, 2010

I'm sorry, but no: "Boobquake" is a really terrible fucking idea.

Um, dude?  Just no.

So, some Iranian cleric stole the line right out of fucking Pat Robertsons's mouth and said,
"Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes." 
Which, yeah, is stupid and fucked up, I got it.  So a lady named Jen of Blag Hag decided to have a "Boobquake," where women wear their most low cut shirts and show some cleavage in order to prove that this quote is just silliness.  Boobquake has devolved, as Amanda Marcotte pointed out, into a bunch of men shouting, "YAY Show us your titties!!!!!"  Because if there is ANYTHING we want to do to prove solidarity with women in Iran, it is to exploit ourselves for men.

Sisterhood, indeed.

For fuck's sake.  Look, if we want to buck this Iranian cleric's ideas of what women can do we could . . . walk out the door without a man?  Go to our job like always?  FUCKING BLOG?  Any of these things would be against what this cleric believes, and would show that women can do all kinds of liberated, equal-to-men type things, and the world doesn't end.  No earthquakes.  Every day.  Lookit that.

But here is where it strikes me as fucking offensive.  This Iranian cleric?  Has direct influence over Iranian women, and their lives.  And those women have a whole set of things to deal with that we really can't even comprehend.  But a big part of what they do have to deal with is men reinforcing their cultural and national tradition by using women's bodies. 

This is simple theory, folks.  Basically, any group that feels threatened, and feels the need to build an identity, they do things like delineate between What We Are, and What They Are and We Are Not.  And I can go into Iranian history and whatever, but the shortest summary possible is: the Iranian revolution resulted in this need to build a cultural and national identity (especially as Iran cut itself off from the West).  And culture wars are usually waged on the bodies of women, in a return to "tradition."  So in Iran trying to build a postcolonial and separate identity, it reverted back to "tradition," where women were covered and "modest."  That was What They Are.  And What They Are Not is lascivious, loose, Western women, women who are wanton and dirty and worth nothing because they were whores and whatnot.

So.  This Boobquake?  Is basically reinforcing the very fucked-up identity building that has ravaged the lives of women in Iran.  What exactly are we proving in boobquake?  That we women can parade around like sex symbols for men?  Um, woo?  But THAT IS WHAT THIS CLERIC IS SAYING.  And that cleric isn't like religious leaders here - he legislates.  He makes the laws.  How does that help Iranian women, who get berated for showing an ankle?  Is this throwing our "freedoms" in their face?  Isn't this just reinforcing the binary identities that have made them have to cover every inch of their bodies?  And isn't this making really light of the fact that there are millions of women across the globe who are in very oppressive countries that may fucking get STONED to death for daring to be female and show an inch of skin?  Like: Wow, you guys have really mean religious leaders over there that make your lives really pretty horrible for being female, haha, lookit my breasts!!!1!11! 

Who are we really showing up here?  And what are we really reinforcing?  And how MUCH IS THIS NOT HELPING any of the Iranian women who actually have to live under beliefs like the above?  Because given a chance, I do not think they would fight for equality that looks like women wearing revealing clothing so men can get all into it and derail its original purpose.  We Western women?  Are not exactly totally free, either, and thus this ALSO reinforces the incorrect notion that the West has women's equality, THE END.  As if we don't need to work some shit out over here, too.  Which: CLEARLY.

Boobquake is like fucking cultural ethnocentrism at its worst.  I mean, I personally find it distasteful, because with my big breasts, I don't really feel like getting comments made to me while walking down the street.  This doesn't make me liberated, to be subject to harassment, and let's be real, that is exactly what will happen.  But other than that, it gives this fucking cleric fodder to turn around and point and say: SEE????  This is all the Western women care about, the flaunting of their sinful, earthquake-causing tits!!!!!!  and yeah, that's silly, but you know, he'll take that as ALL THE MORE REASON women of his country should be clamped down upon.  Because the women of Iran, modest is What They Are, and They Are Not Us.  And if Us means my freedom is actually about putting my tits out there in public to show some Iranian cleric whose idiocy DOES NOT AFFECT ME that I can be ALL ABOUT THE SEXUALIZATION OF MY BODY, then I don't really want to be Us either, thanks.


  1. but gayle, i want to liberate those poor oppressed women with my BOOBQUAKE!!! i mean, check out all of this awesome freedom i have, iranian women! dude ... seriously? ridiculous. though i do plan to use that cleric's wisdom on the next 2012er who tries to talk to me about the mayan calendar. yea dude, i've heard of 2012, but that's not why the world's gonna end. it's because i have sinful, earthshaking tits. for real.
    this actually reminds me a little of the pink chaddi campaign in response to last year's mangalor pub attacks - except this it totally idiotic, and that was not. but it still drew a lot of criticism from some indian feminists b/c it was essentially a very small group of comparatively privileged women acting out a sort of novelty activism, and in what way does that really address the core issues behind patriarchal oppression?

  2. I didn't know anyone was organizing "Boobquake" but, seriously - what a stupid idea. How's that going to advance the empowerment of Iranian women, exactly? The thing is, this type of thing is completely unnecessary - Western women already parade their bodies around regularly. You cannot turn on the TV or walk out in the street without seeing half-naked women. And if you turn on MTV you can watch for hours nothing but half-naked women. And yet, there are fewer earthquakes in the shameful and sexually liberated US than in Iran. Why? Because Iran lies on fucking fault lines. But oh God, yes, let's prove that scientifically by parading around in revealing clothes because that will mean so much to the Iranians. You are right, this whole idea is completely Western-centric and blind to the realities of Iranian society and identity.

  3. Yeah, I want to be kinda careful about assuming women are "parading," in the sense of, not all women wear sexy clothing to be performative for men. Sometimes, they are doing it for themselves (and no, they did not grow up in a culture vacuum, so that they consider "sexy" is loaded, blah blah blah cultural theory, not gettin' into it here). It's just, um, absurd to me that women here need to show up some Iranian cleric by embracing their bodies in ways . . . they are already allowed to do. Like, this is kinda meaningless. I mean, yes, I agree with Chloe, my breasts are also so wondrous they could cause earthquakes, but this smacks as way too anti-Iranian to me. We're not helping Iranian women. We already have these freedoms. So what the fuck is it for?

  4. Boobquake?! Man, I fall into a hole all feeling sorry for myself for a couple of days, and I miss something like this?


    I have a special frustration reserved for certain Western (women's) attitudes towards the assorted coverings worn by Muslim women, especially as framed in terms of considering not wearing traditional garments is as simple as just deciding to wander around in a bikini, and not really getting the whole possibility of being stoned to death for it. (Which I don't really think the Boobquake organizer is actually doing here.)

    I'm thinkin' maybe that this Boobquake idea is a distant cousin to the whole 'sexification' of issues and illnesses like being a vegan (I'm talking to you, PeTA), or breast cancer, that measure their success in male awareness and titillation (gods, no pun intended) of the cause in question. Which I have some mixed feelings about.

  5. Yeah, I want to be kinda careful about assuming women are "parading," in the sense of, not all women wear sexy clothing to be performative for men. Sometimes, they are doing it for themselves

    Yes, I know that, I wasn't actually aiming at regular people here but at the fact that there is a whole "class" of women called models who are put in commercials and on billboards and in music videos where their explicit purpose is to show their bodies for the purpose of attracting people's attention, whether it is to push some product or some musician, etc.

  6. Just sharing...

    The organizer also said this -
    "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." -- She continues "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."

    So at least you know for sure she isn't serious. Gets us talking though, doesn't it??

  7. Anonymous, this is totally, totally true. It does get us talking (or I get lots of trolls, whichever). But I still think it is dumb, makes use of privilege without really acknowledging it in a way that tries to engage it and address it and perhaps make things better, and I think making light of it is pretty insensitive. In the sense of, that dude who said that quote? Makes the laws Iranian women have to live by. So while we flaunt our breasts . . . yeah. I don't know where the rest of that goes. We don't change anything. And I am all for juvenile humor, just not when it's really at other women's expense or misfortune, you know?

  8. Right. So we should do something _serious_ instead should we? I mean, taking _serious_ action has worked for the Iranians so far, hasn't it? They've voted and protested and been arrested, tortured, killed. And the problem's all fixed now isn't it?


    So if SERIOUS action doesn't work, what possible harm can some light-hearted protests do?

    Silly me, though, ANY action women ever take will be criticised, no matter what we do. If we took serious action, everybody would be calling us a bunch of noisy, nosey, ignorant, fat, bull-dyke leso Western bitches who should mind our own business.

    So we'll just ignore the humourless and get on with it.

  9. Kim, I am actually a pretty funny lady. Also! You are not. But you know what I take seriously? Other people's oppression. Like, what are we protesting? Their oppression? How? And if not for them, we are protesting . . . oh, wait, we have this right. Already. So, what are we protesting again?

    I am all for lighthearted protests. And humor! But . . . I think this isn't about Iranian women at all. And I don't really need to protest this for me. So . . . I am back to being confounded. It seems kinda puerile, honestly.

    Also, I have done serious nonprofit work in developing countries with oppressed peoples, and the difference was, that work? It was dictated by the people who most needed the help, and knew what help they needed. We were responsive to them and their needs. And they never ONCE called me a fat bull-dyke Western bitch, my dear.

    Look, I wish you well! Enjoy the air on your cleavage! I'll be taking a fucking final, so, in the end, you sorta win anyway! Finally, I hope someday you learn how you can actually be of help to people who need it. It is a privilege to be able to do so.

  10. For me the most resonant part of this charade is the misplaced sense of 'charity.'

    The culture of the United States promotes and reinforces a troublesome maze of projections of women's bodies. This is not something I would wish to culturally export.

    And, like other cultural exports it smacks of a imperialism that I find offensive. Cultures creating new ideologies can benefit from exposure to other models, so it's not a surprise to me that a few Iranian women responded to the Boobquake blogger, but supplanting Western feminism onto the Middle East could result in greater problems. Look at what missionaries bringing a religion they believed in but which operated on Western philosophies to Africa!

    It's not a debate for me whether all women deserve and need basic human and civil rights, but projecting a specifically Western interpretation of the expression of liberties onto Iran seems harmful to me.

  11. Thank you for your sane post this a.m. (which @missstaceymay pointed me to). Have you heard about this new campaign? Makes *a lot* more sense to moi:

    "From 'Boobquake' to 'Brainquake'" or

  12. Hey Judy! Does it make more sense to me? Sort of. I mean, ok, it is not subject to co-option by icky men, and it threatens something really scary - women with real power. After all, the hypersexualized, objectified woman and the woman under a burqah are flip sides of the same coin. Hillary Clinton, however, is scary.

    But, I am still confused as to what this does for Iranian women. I mean, this cleric dude can get pissed and hurt women over there. It has been my experience that mostly our job, as more privileged women, is to stop shouting or "protesting" and shut the fuck up and *listen*. If we are not listening to what Iranian women are saying about what help they actually need, then we're also being a kind of oppressive.

  13. "So we'll just ignore the humourless and get on with it."

    Wow, Kim. I've never heard that before. Did you take that out of Warren Farrel's notebook?


  14. I hear what you are saying, but I think it's important to note that the Brainquake post I pointed to is from:

    "Persian Letters...a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers."

    Last summer I was quite diligent in following the story about the Sudanese woman who was to be lashed for wearing pants ( In the end it was her various connections that got her story (or plight) international media attention and a reduced sentence.

  15. Judy, oh, ok, did I miss that bit when I clicked the links? Yes I did. It is good I am not a reporter, sorry. I had a final yesterday; I will attempt to not be a shitty blogmistress, though.

    Yeah, then that makes Brainquake sit very well with me. And I remember the story of the Sudanese woman . . . it's horrifying to think of what happens to all the women that we never hear about.

  16. Thanks for your post. I have been absolutely shit upon for writing something similar, and so has Hysteria!.

  17. switchintoglide, I'd actually read those, and yeah, I've been getting shit about it, too. In fact, right after your comment, I just got another troll telling me how much I suck! Woohoo!

    I really liked your post. I think it was stellar. I think that people get very, very upset when you point out their privilege or they perceive you as trying to take it away. Like, what do you MEAN I can't flaunt my cleavage if I want???? I still think, as feminists, we need to continue to work on getting over our own privilege and learning to listen to other women who are oppressed more.