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You Can Keep Your Boobquake, Thanks.

April 26, 2010

Image via Boobquake Facebook page

According to my facebook feed, today is an important day, for it is the day that several of my women friends are “attending” a very empowerful “event”: Boobquake.  In case you haven’t heard about it yet, Boobquake began as a response to a public statement made by an Iranian cleric, who suggested that

Many women who do not dress modestly… lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes.

Boobquake is thus a day of coordinated immodesty, which encourages women to wear the most scandalously cleavage-bearing shirts they own, and

… 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. If not, I’m sure Sedighi can come up with a rational explanation for why the ground didn’t rumble.

Oh, and post the pics, of course.  To a group of mostly male spectators, whose thousands of comments on the facebook fan page and the Boobquake organizing blog run the gamut from “yeeeaaahhhhhhh, booobs” to “send ur pics to this email address…”  Yeah, you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t jump at the chance to participate in this little ‘activist’ project.  And frankly, the performance-for-the-masculine-gaze-ness of it all isn’t even the most truly objectionable part of it to me (though, let’s just come right out and admit that that’s not, in itself, particularly feminist).

No, the part that really kills me here is the self-righteous, enlightened posturing of it all, the suggestion that even if this mode of protest is a bit wacky, its heart is in the right place: fighting “extremist Muslim misogyny.”  Because that sentiment, the one that says “we are so much more enlightened than those backwards Muslims in Iran,” is arrogant bullshit, and it’s the same one that leads us to congratulate ourselves for our supposed liberation of women in Afghanistan (while we murder them and then try to cover up their deaths by hacking the bullets out of their bodies), and pass laws forbidding women from wearing the clothes that respect their religious beliefs and make them comfortable under the guise of saving them from their own cultures.

And the thing is, ‘we’ aren’t more enlightened.  ‘We’ regularly circulate our own sorts of magical misogynist thinking, only instead of suggesting that the exposure of women’s bodies leads to earthquakes, we blame that exposure for rape–as though the exposed body itself not only invited rape, but drew powerless men in.  We suggest that women’s immodest or wild behavior causes the proliferation of something called “raunch culture,” which is sending everything to hell in a handbasket.  And we assume that women’s failure to behave in appropriately feminine ways emasculates and/or castrates men, making them weak and upending the very foundations of society.

But in moments like this–when someone in Iran says or does something transparently misogynist–we get to make a big show of our righteous indignation, exporting all of our rape-culture-y feelings to “the Muslim world,” and in general, congratulate ourselves for being so forward thinking without actually doing any feminist work.  And, as a bonus, this particular instantiation of self-congratulation comes with its own built-in mechanism for hearing about how sexxxy you are from internet creepers asking for naked pics.

So yeah, I’m not exactly rushing to hit the “Attending” button on this one.

UPDATE: Both Gayle Force and Silvana Naguib do better jobs than I do explaining why more is at stake here than whether it’s good or desirable to engage in feminist cleavage-exposure.

UPDATE 2: I’ve written an expanded post on the responses to this article (that tries) to clear some things up and set some shit straight in light of the comments below.  You can find it here.

37 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2010 12:41 pm

    I’m sorry, but you just irritated the hell out of me with this post. I’m a sex-positive feminist who grew up in a sex-negative environment (all fundamentalist religions are, of course, incredibly down on women’s bodies and homosexuality), and meeting women who were, in fact, proudly brazen was a revelation to me that helped me escape.

    I have tons of activist friends (I live in New York), but one of the problems I’ve found hanging out with them is a similarly fundamentalist attitude that’s exactly like what I got away from. Replace “women who show cleavage are sluts” with “women who show cleavage are dressing to please men and reifiying the patriarchy,” and you’ve just got the same shame with a different name.

    I love activists, and they do a lot of good. But there’s something about the all-activist-all-the-time mindset that makes it as impossible to even eat food or buy clothing as it would be for the most fundamentalist Hasidic Jew. Just replace “which is the appropriate order of blessings for onion soup with croutons?” with “who owns which company and how many people and animals suffered along the way?” and again, you have the same temptation to self-righteousness and the same inability to let human beings be occasionally flawed. Contempt for humanity in the name of saving humanity is one of our oldest problems.

    Of COURSE Boobquake isn’t doing much to undo sexism in the States; it wasn’t trying to. IT’S A FUCKING SATIRE, and it’s SUPPOSED to be silly. It’s also making a very important point, and it celebrates a freedom that women around the world SHOULD be proud about: the freedom to wear whatever they want, and not to be worried about whether men will (OMG!) drool over the pictures later. (As I see it, the fact that this drooling COULD happen–that the point of the protest could get derailed by everyday sexism–is part of the risk that always happens with satire. If satire isn’t risking misintrepretation, it’s not doing its job.)

    One night a friend of mine was out laughing and partying with her friends at a bar, and an old scary man walked up to them, shaking his finger, and said, “Remember the cross!” It’s the perfect model for the killjoy: never have fun, because somebody suffered once. I felt the same way when I read this post, and I wish I could get you to change your mind a little bit. “Remember the bullets dug out of corpses” is like “remember the cross”: an all-purpose buzzkill that guarantees that no one will ever have fun.

    Feminism saved me from fundamentalism. Gay rights saved me from hatred. I will owe these philosophies my votes and my respect for the rest of my life. But Jesus fucking Christ, you need to lighten the fuck up and let a human soul breathe now and then. Real political change happens when a cause becomes popular. That works far better with jokes than with lectures. I wish more of my activist friends could see that. One good vegetarian comedian could save thousands of more suffering animals than ten more goddamned documentaries.

    • marybullstonecraft permalink*
      April 26, 2010 12:50 pm

      Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to harsh your mellow by pointing out the bullets dug out of the corpses.

      By the way, “lighten the fuck up” is a classic, 101-level anti-feminist silencing tactic, as is your refusal to actually respond to the point of the post, which has nothing to do with shaming women who want to show cleavage.

      • Denise permalink
        April 28, 2010 12:01 am

        David’s post was extremely enlightened, feminist, and informed. Your accusation that he’s trying to silence you is ridiculous, as he’s trying to engage you in conversation. Also, the accusation that he isn’t addressing the point of your post is unfounded, as it’s not clear what your point is. The closest to a thesis I could find is a mere recycling the same argument that can be made against all Facebook groups — that they’re merely symbolic, but without actually doing any activist work, thus confusing people into thinking they’ve *done* something.

        That would be a valid beef with Boobquake, frankly, but instead your post is one big complaint that all feminists aren’t feminists of the same flavor as yours.

        So what? So, David’s feminism is different from yours, but frankly, he is a feminist, and your attack is confusing. Why not feel happy that men like David exist? I know I am. How many men do you know who call themselves “pro-sex feminists”? It’s attitudes like this that make men and some women and girls unwelcome to identify as feminists.

        You don’t seem to get that the point of Boobquake, and the point of Dave’s defense of Boobquake, is that it’s a satirical, humorous response to oppressive religious practices. And guess what? Feminism is big enough to include satire along with your particular brand of feminism. Also, Boobquake has little to do with Islam. It has to do with oppressive religion. And just because a couple numbnuts on Facebook were excited to see boobs does not mean that the whole thing was a bust.

        The point of Boobquake was not being empowered to show cleavage; it was to show that cleavage happens (i.e. women exist) and the world goes on. Boobquake happened, and guess what? The world didn’t end. Although there was one benign earthquake.

      • April 28, 2010 12:40 am


        Please take careful note of what you’re saying here. In the same breath that you’re telling Mary B she’s being an exclusionary feminist, you’re supporting a man, David Ellis Dickerson, who dropped by our blog to tell US that WE were doing feminism wrong. I don’t understand what the difference is. Why is it inappropriate for us to critique the message of Boobquake, but okay for Dickerson to critique our particular feminism?

        Also, if you’re interested in learning more about Mary B’s argument, she posted a new post this evening attempting to clarify some of her points. So even IF it were true that her thesis was unclear, she has taken great pains to clarify it in the new post, and to bring up other critiques raised by other bloggers with whom she agrees. So she’s making her point abundantly clear.

        You ask how many men we know who “call themselves ‘pro-sex’ feminists.” And the answer, frankly, is that I know a lot of men like that. I particularly know a lot of men like that ON THE INTERNET. But calling oneself a “feminist” is not tantamount to actually BEING a feminist, or to engaging in feminist causes. Mr. Dickerson may indeed be a feminist. And that is fine and dandy. But being a feminist man does not suddenly give him a free pass to tell me or my co-blogger to “lighten the fuck up.” The accusation that “you take yourself too seriously” is one leveled at women over and over and over and over and over again. It isn’t suddenly an okay thing to say just because it’s coming from a man who is feminist.

        In your response, you say that Dickerson’s defense of Boobquake is that it is “a satirical, humorous response to oppressive religious practicesit’s a satirical, humorous response to oppressive religious practices.” Okay. Great. Glad he gets the joke. Glad you get it. But the fact that you both find it funny DOESN’T MEAN THAT EVERYONE DOES, nor does it mean that everyone has to. Neither of us finds it particularly funny. That doesn’t mean we’re humorless, or that we don’t “get” jokes. We both – along with a number of other bloggers – find the project to be problematic in the message that it sends re: the Muslim community and America’s own relationship to sexual freedom. The fact that some people find the project funny – or the fact that it was intended to be satire – DOES NOT exclude it from criticism. Satire, like any form of speech, is open to critique. You may disagree with our critique, and that’s fine. Mr. Dickerson may disagree with our critique, and that’s fine too. But when Mr. Dickerson commented on our post yesterday, he did NOT, in fact, engage us in conversation. Nor did he point to specific passages in Mary’s blog with which he disagreed. Instead, he told us to “lighten the fuck up.” And, frankly, I don’t see how “lighten the fuck up” is a statement intended to engage us in coversation. Despite the hostile tone of his comment, we BOTH responded with what I think are valid answers to his criticisms. However, he hasn’t stopped back by. He hasn’t responded to our answers. Dropping by a blog once to leave a hostile comment is NOT the same as engaging in conversation. Sorry.

        You also say that Mary’s post is “one big complaint that all feminists aren’t feminists of the same flavor as yours.” That’s not what she’s doing. She never says that jokes aren’t okay, or that satire isn’t okay. But she DOES critique the message. And critiquing the MESSAGE is NOT THE SAME THING as critiquing the “flavor” or brand or whatever of a particular action. Let me give you an example: when you stop by our blog to comment, you are disagreeing with our MESSAGE. And you absolutely have every right to do so. Why is Mary’s contention with the MESSAGE of Boobquake any different than your disagreement with our argument?

        Also, I want to take issue with the language you use when you say that “The point of Boobquake was not being empowered to show cleavage; it was to show that cleavage happens (i.e. women exist) and the world goes on.” When you say that “cleavage happens” and then associate the existence of cleavage with the existence of women, you’re treading very close to reducing the existence of women to their cleavage. Which is one of the many criticisms leveled against the Boobquake project.

    • April 26, 2010 2:32 pm

      To add to Mary B’s response:

      – Even if Boobquake is “satire,” or some version of humor, that doesn’t make it automatically free from criticism. Humor and satire are open to criticism just like any other form of speech. Just because something is SUPPOSED to be funny or lighthearted doesn’t mean that it SUCCEEDS in its attempt at humor. So calling it “satire” doesn’t have anything to do with our criticism of it.

      – It is NOT nor has it EVER BEEN feminism’s job to help you escape your personal sexual repression. If that’s a side effect that feminism has had for you, great. But from the way you talk about feminism and gay rights, it sounds as though you’re mostly interested in what those two movements can do FOR YOU, a straight (I’m presuming) man. If you really want to be a feminist man, don’t just worry about what feminism can do for you. Instead, listen to the voices of the women around you and think about what they’re trying to say (something that you haven’t done here, as you’ve chosen to ignore and misrepresent the argument that Mary B is making).

      – You say that we need to “lighten the fuck up and let a human soul breathe now and then.” Have you read the rest of our blog? All of the posts that are personal, that are about learning to breathe through the various oppressions and difficulties we’ve faced? That our friends and colleagues have faced? We’re all about breathing. You’re just choosing to misrepresent our message to suit your anger.

      – No one on this blog has ever said that anything is wrong with cleavage. I, in fact, have cleavage of doom that I do not always cover, something I believe I’ve mentioned on here before. And if you would read Mary’s article carefully, you’d know that in fact she is in favor of women’s ability to show off their bodies if they so choose. What she’s saying is that the U.S. doesn’t have a very good track record in terms of handling that type of self-expression, and that we should be careful before we get to proud of ourselves for our bodily expression.

      – “Remember the bullets dug out of corpses” is NOT in fact the same thing as “remember the cross.” “Remember the cross” is a religiously coded phrase intended to instill guilt and shame in women based on a patriarchal religious structure. “Remember the bullets,” as Mary uses it here, is a call to women to remember that plenty of their number are still hurting and dying and being punished for their identity AS WOMEN. It is a reminder of a real event that is happening RIGHT NOW. And it is not being said by a creepy old man on the street, but by a woman who has women’s interests in mind. Watch your analogies. If you can’t use them right, don’t use them.

      – ALSO, keep in mind that as women we’ve experienced plenty of scenarios ourselves that are just like the one you’re describing in the “remember the cross” anecdote. And for us, those situations aren’t just a “buzzkill.” They’re harassment, public commentary on our bodies and our identities. We know about men like the one you mention. And we have to fight them off everyday. We also both grew up in a fundamentalist church. Again, for us, the church was more than just a “killjoy.” It was a patriarchal institution that attempted to teach us to hate ourselves. We know about the church. What Mary is doing here is not the same. Don’t try to pretend that it is.

      – Be careful with cause and effect here, too. The claim that “real political change happens when a cause becomes popular” is oversimplified and again, not necessarily true. Often a cause becomes popular because CHANGE HAS ALREADY HAPPENED – change brought about by activists and artists and grass roots movements and hard, hard, difficult, near-impossible WORK. Causes don’t suddenly become magically popular without a lot of turmoil on the ground first. Humor and popular media are great. There are entire feminist magazines (i.e. Bitch) dedicated to proving this point. But again, the popularity of something doesn’t make it safe from critique. And it doesn’t make it perfect. Change only happens if we continue to critique ourselves and our ideas, to question our own motives and examine our own privilege. That’s what we’re trying to do here. If you don’t like it, if what you want is jokes and boobs, you’re welcome to go elsewhere for them. We don’t need your permission to blog.

      And the women responsible for Boobquake don’t need our permission to go ahead with Boobquake. That doesn’t mean we can’t critique what they’re doing, and ask questions about what it all means.

  2. April 26, 2010 2:05 pm

    Yes, but. The problem with the “men will just drool over the pics” argument is that (to invoke yet another exhausted piece of pop feminist critique) it amounts to victim-blaming. If X gets reabsorbed by Teh Patriarchy’s fault, blame Teh Patriarchy. Not X. No?

    God knows that any claim that booquake (or whatever else) is “fighting extremist Muslim [fill in the blank]” is stupid, yes. But that’s Salon’s take on it, right? Which isn’t the take of everyone doing it, or probably most.

    FWIW, I do find “the performance-for-the-masculine-gaze-ness of it all isn’t even the most objectionable part of it to me (though, let’s just come right out and admit that that’s not particularly feminist)” awfully slut-shaming, actually. It clearly isn’t the point of the post, what with being a parenthetical aside and all, but it is kind of crappy.

    • marybullstonecraft permalink*
      April 26, 2010 2:38 pm

      First, let me say that my intention wasn’t to be slut-shaming, though I think that the way I originally wrote that parenthetical remark did come off that way, which is why I edited it to read “that’s not, in itself, is not particularly feminist.” I think that if you want to post pictures of your boobs on a facebook page, even with the intent of arousing men, that’s fine, and it might even be hot or awesome for some people. But I don’t think that doing that is in itself a feminist act. And I’m even more dubious on whether it’s a worthwhile act when it’s accompanied by a context that seeks to mock a whole set of people as backward and un-enlightened. And while you’re right that that’s not the sentiment expressed by everyone, I think it’s implicit in the original reporting of Sedighi’s statement [,0,6333394.story] that was cited by the boobquake originator–who herself sets it up as an attack on “Supernatural thinking.”

      So in general, my point isn’t to say that no one should post photos of their boobs online; it’s that we probably shouldn’t think that the ability to post photos of our boobs online or wear low-cut tops makes us more enlightened or progressive.

      • Denise permalink
        April 28, 2010 12:09 am

        Again, the point is not cleavage equaling progressiveness, it’s about showing that women exist and can be *women* with all our abundance unshackled and that the World Did Not Fucking End.

    • April 26, 2010 5:44 pm

      I follow you here when you say that “If x gets reabsorbed by Teh Patriarchy’s fault, blame Teh Patriarch. Not X.” And I appreciate your asking us to question the tone we’re using here. We should always be careful about slut-shaming language when discussing skin-exposure-as-activism, and I think you made both of us stand up and take notice of word choice.

      However, if I’m reading/understand your twitter feed right, you also got on twitter and, in response to David Ellis Dickerson, referred to Mary’s article as “more- feminist-than-thou nonsense,” which I think is more than a bit reductive. We’re responsible for critiquing the patriarchy, yes. But we’re also responsible for critiquing one another. And what Mary is saying here is a VALID critique of some of the problematic parts of Boobquake. So please don’t reduce her argument down to a label.

  3. Raza permalink
    April 26, 2010 3:01 pm

    I was linked to this article through a friend, and I must say, it largely echoes a lot of concerns I have had with this entire thing.

    I align myself with a feminist, sex-positive politic, yet being a Muslim male, find it often suffocating whenever topics like this come up. To be clear about this: regardless of religion, women have the right to show whatever they want, whenever they want to; they also have the right to cover up when and if so they should choose to.

    As you aptly point out, there is a discourse of Western Liberal Democracy that engages in near daily masturbatory self-congratulation regarding its ‘enlightened’ policies, while simultaneously legislating to curtail the rights of Muslim women’s control over their own bodies by making it legal to force them to chose between their constitutional right to religious freedom, and access to education, healthcare, and other government services (at least here in Canada).

    Much in the same way, this whole boobquake movement, satire or not, is placed within this exact framework of ridiculous binary systems of logic. You either flaunt your skin and celebrate it, or then you implicitly support misogynist Iranian clerics. What of Muslim men and women who willingly choose to dress and act modestly out of choice, yet who also disagree with orthodox, and quite frankly suffocating expressions of Islam? Do they, again, have to pick between maintaining their gazes and their veils in a modest fashion,nand being active against religious sexism?

    I’m not suggesting that the author meant to outright alienate (some) Muslims, but nevertheless, her post did. I was one of them. I wholeheartedly support the outspoken and ear shattering condemnation of state-enforced control over women’s bodies–here in Canada, over in Iran, and anywhere else in the world. But I also find nauseating the tone that many Western feminists take when it comes to dealing with conservative, orthodox, and fundamentalist Islam. Yes, there are issues there, and yes, many of those issues are ultimately concerning the patriarchal control of Muslim women’s bodies. However, as long as hypocritical assumptions of Western ideological supremacy govern dialogue (or lack thereof), those issues won’t soon be resolved.

    There are important allies in those camps, and as long as they’re perceived as the enemy or as mindless, agency-lacking automatons, change won’t soon come about.

    • marybullstonecraft permalink*
      April 26, 2010 4:33 pm

      Thanks for your reply, Raza. I think that living in Canada also necessarily colors the way I read Boobquake’s treatment of the cleric in question: the language of “supernatural thinking” and “Muslim misogyny” is too close, for me, to the language used to justify legislative control over Muslim women’s bodies through forced unveiling.

  4. April 26, 2010 3:43 pm

    I don’t get a slut-shaming vibe from this post at all. In fact, it reminds me of something that Ariel Levy might talk about. For those complaining about the tone of this post, have you read “Female Chauvinist Pigs?” If not, I highly suggest reading it before taking someone to task about a post like this.

    You can also listen to an interview with her here about the book, and it’s truly fantastic.

  5. April 26, 2010 3:53 pm

    One more thing– Hugo Schwyzer, one of my favorite feminist writers and definitely my favorite male feminist writer, has a post about Boobquake today, too.

  6. Sheelzebub permalink
    April 27, 2010 4:26 pm

    Oh, wow. So we’re humorless and, I suppose, sex-negative for treating this with skepticism. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised since ‘activism’ has been reduced to not shopping at Walmart and calling it a frakking day.

    I just love when a d00d mansplains to me about what I should and should not be concerned with, and what I should and should not critique. Especially when it comes to feminism.

    • Denise permalink
      April 28, 2010 12:35 am

      Excuse me, Sheelzebub, but how does it help feminism to be exclusive -do you not allow men to identify as feminists? And if not, why the fuck not? Doesn’t that make you a great big hypocrite?

      Some of the best feminists I know just happen to have penis, and guess what, that’s fantastic, because fighting one form of oppression with another form of oppression is not useful in any way. As a feminist, I’m completely offended by your “dood manspains to me” comment, which is just as wrong as calling Hillary Clinton a bitch. That attitude is no better than the policies of the Augusta National Golf Club.

      • Sheelzebub permalink
        April 28, 2010 9:09 am

        Bullshit, Denise. David came here and basically took a page out of the misogynists’ playbook–he decided that anyone who critiqued this from a feminist perspective was uptight and humorless. He lectured us about The Right Way to do things, and basically ignored the perspective of a feminist blogger. It’s not about agreeing with a certain kind of feminist 100% of the time, it’s about showing some respect for the people you claim to be allied with. He’s not a woman, he does not have to deal with institutional sexism, and if he really was an ally, he’d listen. Not lecture us or pull out the tired “sex negative” and “humorless” tropes we get from the likes of Rush fucking Limbaugh.

        You’re offended? Tough fucking shit. I’m offended–and pissed off, and dog tired–from men who claim to be feminists acting like patronizing assholes. That’s not me being exclusive, or being hypocritical–that’s me being pissed off–he was happy to dish it out and I’m sure he can take it. Deal.

      • April 28, 2010 9:37 am

        Thanks, Sheelzebub. I’d also like to add that, after coming into our space and dumping on us, he then reposted his comment over at his own blog. So basically, his readers are free to view his perspective without ever having to read ANY of our (very valid) responses to his attacks. He gets to maintain a pristine image in his own space – which is his right, of course. But which is also totally counterproductive in terms of actually engaging with the topic at hand, or with the opinions of the women he slammed.

        AND it’s clear that he didn’t read any of the rest of the blog before forming that “sex-negative” opinion of us. If he’d looked around even a little, he would’ve seen that I do an entire SERIES on fundamentalism and sexuality, in which I frequently call the fundamentalist Christianity he so despises on the carpet for its sex-negativity and shaming. Notice that he doesn’t comment on any of those posts, though. Probably because he didn’t bother to look at any of them.

        I’m not saying that everyone who comments on a blog should have to read absolutely every post. I’m mostly just trying to prove that Dickerson ISN’T a regular reader, and probably never will be, meaning that I don’t know how interested he is in ACTUALLY hearing our opinions on anything.

      • Denise permalink
        April 28, 2010 11:45 am

        Not true. He linked to this blog, which is how I found it.

      • April 28, 2010 12:05 pm

        This blog, and the feminist blogosphere in general, sort of represents (as I put it in my response above) a sort of laboratory where women can work out their thoughts and beliefs and challenge each other in (ideally) a safe space, as long as assholes like me aren’t clomping around and blindly tipping things over. But feminism at the blogosphere level is also very intense, and the conversation can wind up worrying a series of increasingly rarefied arguments.

        Also, it happens very quickly. As I noted above, I got immediately excoriated for my intemperate comments from about a dozen different angles. It was understandable, and it was justified–but it was also REALLY fast, REALLY intense, and REALLY overwhelming.

        Some people like that dynamic, but not everyone needs to. I can take it in short bursts, but the people who follow my blog do it mostly for my humor writing, news about my book, and my Greeting Card Emergency videos. (I hesitate to self-promote, but this is my most popular video, and it got me mentioned by Towleroad!: So I decided to repost at my site at least in part to give people who AREN’T Ph.D.-level obsessed with feminism a safe partition away from the vortex. I’ve linked here a few times on Twitter and Facebook, so people can find this discussion if they’re interested in further reading, but I’m mostly worried that the followers I already have will start going, “What’s with all the feminism all of a sudden? Make with more geeky religion jokes already!” The unfortunate truth about publishing is that all writers have brands, and these brands need to stay sort of simple. No actual offense was intended.

      • April 28, 2010 1:55 pm


        Thank you so, so sosososososososo much for coming back and responding to our critiques. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I appreciate it, and your respectful response here and in your reply to Mary B above speaks VOLUMES about your honest commitment to women and feminism. So again, thanks.

        We too were overwhelmed with the amount of attention we were suddenly getting, so I can sympathize. I think part of the thing that made me, personally, respond so vehemently is that both you and BitchPhD have much, much bigger followings than we do here. We’re just a tiny little blog still trying to develop a readership, so when I felt like we were being dismissed or labeled by two people who hold MUCH MUCH more internet power than we do, I felt trampled on. Because the fact is that there are many people on the net who are more likely to respond to the writer than to the argument – meaning that if your name is recognizable, and mine isn’t, I was worried that my argument and Mary’s would not be given equal consideration because our names are not as familiar. It isn’t, of course, your fault that you’re more recognizable than us. It’s just that I was concerned that the privilege inherent in a recognizable internet brand wouldn’t be taken into consideration. So I felt like I had to fight really, really hard to make my point heard and understood. (For example, I have a feeling that some of the attacks we’ve been receiving today are coming from people who are going to defend you to the death, no matter how logical or valid our responses might be. You have some loyal fans, sir!)

        It’s also true that you happened onto our blog not long after a fellow feminist blogger, Sady Doyle of Tigerbeatdown (, got slammed by a man who told her that, as a feminist man, he disapproved of her writing style. People have been writing about her situation for days now, and you may have ended up taking some of the backblow from that. You’ve proven, however, that you are NOT the same type of feminist man as Sady’s troll. (In fact, if you’re a fan of feminist humor, Sady is a great person to read. She is good with the jokes – something that just isn’t really my forte. I’m serious because I’m better at being serious. She’s funny because she’s good at being funny. We both operate in the spheres that we can best navigate.)

        Now that we’re making nice, I’d be deeply interested in your opinion – as a man who grew up in fundamentalist culture, and who is feminist-friendly – on some of my posts about religion and sexuality. If you have time, you can find a list of them here

        ALSO, I totally work in the Greeting Card industry. I’ll have to check out some of your parodies!

        Again, I can’t tell you how much it warms my heart that you came back to talk things out with us. Thanks.

  7. h-lo permalink
    April 28, 2010 8:10 am

    I’m afraid I don’t see the grounds for the claim that this was intended as a protest against “extremist Muslim misogyny”– the quote comes from an article criticizing the Boobquake, not from the person who came up with the idea in the first place. Why not charitably interpret it as simply a protest against a ridiculous, sexist claim?

    Also, when it comes to the question of whether women dressing provocatively is compatible with feminist principles, it’s seems to me that what’s crucial are the intentions of the women involved. Do they intend to display themselves to the male gaze? Or do they intend something different, perhaps to convey ideas that flow from feminist principles? I think that in this case, the answer is pretty clearly the latter (with the caveat that it’s not always obvious to one what one’s own intentions really are…).

    In any event, I think that this is a debate well worth having, and it’s been instructive to reflect on your reasoning against the Boobquake– although as of now, I’m not convinced by it.

    • marybullstonecraft permalink*
      April 28, 2010 8:27 am

      h-lo: My engagement with Boobquake here not simply interested in what the founder thought she was doing; it’s also interested in how Boobquake was addressed/taken up by its participants/the internet. And it’s clear to me (through the feminist blogosphere’s clear labeling of it as a protest against oppression [see for example Feministe]) that this is a legitimate reading of what the phenomenon was supposed to be about. Additionally, even if we’re treating this as light-hearted satire and not a protest as such, there are important questions to ask about what makes it funny, at whose expense jokes are made, etc. If you have the time, I wrote a follow-up clarifying my positions here, which I admit aren’t as fleshed out as they could be.

    • April 28, 2010 9:30 am

      Thanks for approaching us with a respectful tone. We’ve been getting a lot of direct attacks from this post, so I appreciate that you acknowledge your disagreement respectfully and open it up for genuine debate rather than attacking us directly. Thank you, thank you.

      To what Mary says above I’d like to add that, although I completely understand the desire to read the intentions of the participants, good intentions just do not make good actions. The two are not one in the same. If we’re going to allow the argument that “I MEANT well! Really!”, then we’re getting ourselves into a heap of trouble – because there are plenty of men out there who use that argument everyday when they say or do things that are hurtful to women. It’s a dangerous argument because, as you say, “it’s not always obvious to one what one’s own intentions really are.” Sometimes, as in the case of Boobquake, our intentions get clouded by privilege, or internalized misogyny, or a number of other problematic scenarios. And in a public forum, our words and actions have the power to hurt or oppress others. So we have a responsibility for the effects of our actions and words, not just for the intent with which they were said or done.

      So I completely that you disagree with our premise that Boobquake was, in fact, harmful. I can totally accept that. But for those of us who think it WAS harmful, intentions can’t – and shouldn’t – erase that harm.

      I’m actually planning a post about intentions vs. actions for tonight, if you’re interested in talking about the issue further.

      • h-lo permalink
        April 28, 2010 12:08 pm

        @Mary: I agree with you that Boobquake qua protest against an alleged “extremist Muslim misogyny” is problematic, for the reasons you give. (I wasn’t aware that people were pitching it in this way because I’m not really up on what goes down in the feminist blogosphere– I linked to your blog via Feminist Philosophers, which is one of the few blogs I read on a regular basis. I still don’t understand how people can keep up with more than a few blogs and still do everything they have to do in the non-virtual world. But I digress…)

        But I still think that Boobquake qua protest against a particular objectionable comment is legitimate. Which brings me to queengeorge’s point: I completely agree that having good intentions isn’t sufficient for the permissibility of the ensuing action. But on the other hand, I’m worried about judging a collective action solely on the basis of its effects– especially when the effects involve misinterpretations or distortions of the original intention behind the action. Suppose for the sake of argument that the person who came up with Boobquake intended it to be a protest against a particular objectionable comment, and not as a protest against alleged “extremist Muslim misogyny”. Now suppose that others join in the action with the latter intention. I don’t think this makes Boobquaking with the *original* intention impermissible…why should the fact that *others* ignore, misunderstand, or deliberately distort the original intention behind your action make that action impermissible for you to participate in? I’m worried that this line of reasoning against the Boobquake could have the consequence that it’s wrong to engage in any collective action (because people could always in principle join in *for the wrong reasons*, leading to certain bad effects). Worrying too much about how others might twist or spin the action strikes me as a sort of relinquishment of autonomy. But perhaps your forthcoming post on intentions and actions will address these worries!

      • marybullstonecraft permalink*
        April 28, 2010 3:44 pm

        h-lo, I take your point that it seems odd to judge the validity of one’s engagement in collective action based on how others involved in the action choose to engage with it/think about it. But at the same time, I’d want to suggest that, because the effects of our actions always exceed our intentions (sometimes in more damaging or salient ways than others), and because, for this reason, intentions are insufficient criteria for evaluating the worth of actions, it is incumbent upon us to evaluate and re-evaluate the effects of those actions, regardless of what the original intentions looked like. Another way of saying this is to suggest that whatever autonomy we do have isn’t as straightforward or uncomplicated as it might initially appear, or indeed, that “individual autonomy” is a problematic place to start in the evaluation of our actions, especially when it comes to collective actions.

        Even if, however, we are just interested in the (couple? or more?) of individuals who want to Boobquake as a protest against a particular objectionable comment, I’m not sure that this gets us out of the woods here. The reason for this is the surrounding context, which has three important features for me: 1. the objectionable comment was made by and directed to (as I understand it) people within a particular religious context, 2. the Boobquake is not an individual action, but a call for collective response, and 3. the particular form this collective response took necessarily excluded from participation the women who were actually the primary target of the objectionable comment. Thus, what we wind up with is a situation in which one’s own (Western, immodesty-valuing) response is prioritized–to the point of being an organized movement–over the responses and voices of the individuals to whom it was directed and (importantly) who will live with the most salient effects of that response, insofar as their lives are importantly affected by the cleric.

        I think that if the particulars of a collective response to this particular objectionable comment were altered in significant ways (notably by prioritizing the voices, actions or goals of Iranian women over US-ian women), then we might have a different question on our hands re: the co-optation of collective action. But as it stands, the particulars of this case suggest to me that we can neither evaluate it in the abstract nor extricate the question of the value of a particular individual’s involvement from the question of the effects of the collective movement.

  8. Sheelzebub permalink
    April 28, 2010 9:08 am

    Bullshit, Denise. David came here and basically took a page out of the misogynists’ playbook–he decided that anyone who critiqued this from a feminist perspective was uptight and humorless. He lectured us about The Right Way to do things, and basically ignored the perspective of a feminist blogger. It’s not about agreeing with a certain kind of feminist 100% of the time, it’s about showing some respect for the people you claim to be allied with. He’s not a woman, he does not have to deal with institutional sexism, and if he really was an ally, he’d listen. Not lecture us or pull out the tired “sex negative” and “humorless” tropes we get from the likes of Rush fucking Limbaugh.

    You’re offended? Tough fucking shit. I’m offended–and pissed off, and dog tired–from men who claim to be feminists acting like patronizing assholes. That’s not me being exclusive, that’s me being pissed off–he was happy to dish it out and I’m sure he can take it. Deal.

    • Denise permalink
      April 28, 2010 11:38 am

      You don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist. What is this, 1973?

      And how do you know he doesn’t have to deal with institutional sexism? Do you know anything about him at all?

      But really, my comment to you isn’t about David per se, it’s about your name-calling of him and reducing his opinions to nothing simply because he’s a man. How is that better than the things that have happened to you that offend you and piss you off? Treating others like shit does not undo the shit that’s happened to us, sister.

      • marybullstonecraft permalink*
        April 28, 2010 1:33 pm

        Denise, we presume that David does not have to deal with institutional sexism because men are the ones privileged by sexism. For more on that, go here. And no one here suggested that David couldn’t be feminist because he was a man. We suggested that there was something deeply wrong, privileged and un-feminist about his approach to telling us what was wrong with our approach to feminism. Moreover, this suggestion on our part does not constitute treating David like shit. He initially responded to us in a way that was dismissive and anti-feminist, and we called him on that. The fact that we have a shorthand term to refer to this particular, common brand of demeaning behavior (i.e., “mansplaining”) doesn’t mean that we’re name-calling or insulting him, and it definitely doesn’t mean that we’re sexist against men (as your previous comment implies). It means that we’re pointing out what he is doing to us.

        For more on these ideas, Shakesville has a good Feminism 101 section. As do many of the other blogs on our blogroll. Feel free to peruse them.

      • Sheelzebub permalink
        April 29, 2010 8:25 am

        Denise, pull your head out of your ass.

        David doesn’t have to deal with institutional sexism or misogyny–as a man, he has privilege. When someone with privilege comes in and starts lecturing those who do not about The Right Way To Do Things, and throws out the same tropes we always get (humorless, sex-negative), it does not speak well of him as an ally, and he will be called on his behavior. I note that while you’ve been busy lecturing me and everyone else on proper behavior and not dismissing his opinions, you seem have held him as exempt.

  9. April 28, 2010 10:16 am

    I’d like to apologize for coming in and stomping on the anthill. What you say–all of you, actually–is absolutely correct. Shaming behavior–or what I perceive as shaming behavior–pushes my buttons, and it triggered me to lash out and push a bunch of YOUR buttons…with the difference being that I really did just kind of waltz by, blurt, and leave, while you, by virtue of your blog and your identification as feminists, really did and do have to deal with trolls and the like every day, and I must have looked very similar to the worst assholes who leap to oppress at every opportunity. For this I am deeply sorry.

    The fact is, of course, that negotiating all of this is exhausting, and when I realized I was on a thin tether I should have bitten my tongue. Even Bitch Ph.D., whose feminist credentials are bright and burnished, got thrown a lot of complicated elbows. What chance did I ever have?

    I’m really tired of talking about it, but if it helps anyone feel a little less angry, I just want to say that I think my own conflict is that I love women, I want them to have power and strength and freedom and all of that. But the problem is that in feminism–and alas, often only in feminism–that’s rarely enough. I keep comparing it to the fundamentalism I was raised it. You’d like to think that to be a Christian you just need to love Jesus, but among fundamentalists–the people who care the most about every detail of what they believe–you quickly discover a whole Bible of sub-laws, jargon, and behaviors that you have to demonstrate in order to be a member in good standing. If you make a misstep, you’re consigned to hell.

    I’ve taken the feminist classes and read the feminist books, and for the most part I can talk the talk and share the usual views on birth control, wage equality, gay rights, economic justice, and so forth. (I draw the line at Ani DiFranco, though. I’m more of a Loretta Lynn person.) Feminism has given me an awful lot, and I wish it were more popular, and I’m always looking for ways to make it more appealing.

    But the second sexuality enters into the picture, everyone’s triggers go off, and mine started the internecine explosion. Since 25% of women have suffered abuse, these triggers go very deep, are filled with conflict, and aren’t always going to respond to mere logical argument. (And yes, I know that saying women aren’t logical is a longstanding insult, and that’s not how I mean it–god! these sidebars are exhausting!–I say this as a skeptic who is a fan of Skepchick, but is also skeptical of skepticism and its obsession with mere reason.) Women exposing themselves in any way raises all kinds of body issues and power dynamics, and this is something that, with my white male privilege, I can only ever get at best a general sense of. But it’s sad and frustrating that we can agree on everything straight down the line (that list again: abortion rights, contraception, health care, breast cancer funding, asshole clergymen, hypocritical policitians, etc.) except the assertive use of women’s bodies.

    Having said all that, what I’d really love is a feminism that ISN’T complicated, that DOESN’T have a particularly high bar for membership, and assumes the best at the outset (warts and all, silly stumbles included and forgiven) instead of constantly sniffing around for heresy.

    This essay I’m writing right now? It’s no fun. And if I had to keep writing essays like this every day, I’d soon be in a very sour mood, and more than a little gun-shy. It’s precisely because of this absolutely essential, daily word-nuancing that I finally said “fuck it” and left fundamentalism, and it’s precisely why I don’t run a feminist blog, and why I hang out with my more intense activist friends only in small doses. I really really wish that the strong women I love could feel part of a feminism that’s mostly celebratory (Sarah Haskins! Molly Ivins! Amy Sherman-Palladino!), and that shows the joy of smart satirical women who can be dangerous to the status quo just by being women. “Dangerous women having fun” is an easy concept to like. Boobquake, as silly as it was, seemed to me a perfect opportunity to do that. And that’s why I leapt so rashly to its defense. In doing so, I ignored the entire context of the blog (like, every other post on here! Oops!) and caused a lot of bad feelings. A thousand apologies, minus whatever small caveats I’ve lodged in the comments above.

    (Is this “mansplaining,” by the way? My friend Denise got really angry at the term, but now that I’ve seen it in context I really like it. When you’re blogposting, all explaining is mansplaining.)

    • marybullstonecraft permalink*
      April 28, 2010 10:38 am

      David, I appreciate your response here, and I want to say that I’m aware of the extent to which growing up in a fundamentalist environment leaves all kinds of scars–because it’s something that I, too, experienced. And it’s something that feminism helped me escape. Feminism is also something that forces me to be critical about the ways in which my history affects my present (my blogging, my activism, my academic work, etc.)–and the way that my present is through-and-through shaped by my own privilege, which is in many respects extensive.

      So while I’m definitely appreciative of what feminism does for me–and you–I think that if we stop there, we’ve just demonstrated that we’re not actually interested in fighting oppression at all; we’re just interested in fighting oppression as long as the person being oppressed is US. The point, then (for me) is not that feminism has a “high bar for membership,” it’s that it has to be self-critical, because women aren’t a homogenous group (i.e., we’re not all white, Western, bourgeois, straight, cisgendered, etc.). And when we forget that, we end up doing our feminism in a way that, depressingly (and all too often) dumps on other women.

      As for mansplaining, I’ll direct you to this explanation by Zuska.

      • April 28, 2010 11:32 am

        I had no idea it was an actual jargon word (in the best sense of that term: a technical word used to describe a specific in-group phenomenon), so I’m sorry that I misapplied it earlier, and I’m even more embarrassed to have engaged in it. Thanks very much for your patience with me.

        I’m obviously not an activist myself; just a humor writer who dabbles in politics, and a fan of other feminists (and of humor and satire; hence Boobquake). And this is sort of why: Like many humor writers (and all greeting card writers, of which I used to be one), I’m anxious when people don’t like me, and in the mere two days between when I mouthed off and then started getting detailed and angry responses, I’ve been so anxious to mend fences, and to write long detailed psychologically sensitive sentences that gently untangle huge skeins of nuance, that I can barely take it emotionally, much less get any actual paid writing work done. That you can put up with this much passion and spirited disagreement every day is amazing to me, and my hat is off to you.

        I’ll see what I can do in the future to be a quiet fan of women, instead of swaggering into the laboratory where you’re clearly doing delicate work. It seems about as much as I can handle.

    • Sheelzebub permalink
      April 29, 2010 8:42 am

      David, just a quick word of advice from someone who has gotten her ass handed to her in similar situations years and years ago–when I read or listen or am in discussions with people of color, or trans people, or the disabled, or the poor, and I find myself feeling defensive and angry, I take a step back, help myself to a nice hot cup of STFU (which isn’t easy for me as I’ve got opinions and opinions about my opinions) and just read, lurk, and/or listen. I try to keep cognizant of the fact that they have vastly different experiences than I do, and that my view when it comes to these issues are from the top of Privilege Mountain. Sometimes I cool off and come back to the things that made me defensive and see their point and end up agreeing; sometimes I still don’t agree but I get it and I understand it.

      No movement is harmonious and people within every movement will disagree, even with vitriol. If it has something to do with say, race or other issues that I don’t have to deal with on a direct and personal basis as someone with less privilege, I lurk and listen and chew on what I’ve read.

      • May 2, 2010 12:02 pm

        I’d like to back up the advice Sheelzebub is giving here, especially as it regards the internet. The internet is a place that, for whatever reason, trains us to believe it is our responsibility to REPLY RIGHT NOW WITH FEELING! Comment threads on anything from YouTube to back me up here – comments are more about expressing AN opinion than they are about necessarily even reading/understanding the article or agreeing/disagreeing with the post. It’s hard to take a step back on the ‘net, but it’s just as necessary as it would be in regular life. Perhaps even more so, as you’re hanging out with strangers.

  10. marybullstonecraft permalink*
    April 29, 2010 11:27 pm

    Everyone, I’m calling a moratorium on 101-level feminism questions and responses in this thread, which has been totally derailed from its original purpose. Any additional comments that do not directly relate to the post in question will be deleted.


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