Yes, we know it’s a bit late to weigh in on the Open Source Boob Project. If you don’t know what it’s about, John Scalzi has a very concise summary and a more measured take on things than most anyone else I’ve read, and you can read the posts by the originator of the idea here, though you’ll need to scroll past a bunch of confusing apologies first.
The idea in and of itself, while ill-advised in some ways, didn’t strike me as especially controversial at first—hey, if somebody wants to opt-in for some boob groping at a science fiction convention, go team Boob Grope, and may the Force be with you. The ensuing comment wars and trainwreck, however, made this into a bona fide Internet Kerfuffle, and the more I thought about it, the more problematic the idea became. Check out the link round-up on Unfunny Business, which is incredibly comprehensive. I, personally, was e-mailed several links not just by a whole bunch of Smart Bitch readers, but several personal friends of mine who were all “Holy shit, dude, check this nuttiness out.” Apparently, when boob-groping by nerds comes up, I’m one of the first people to pop to mind. I would’ve written and responded to it faster, but finals, man, and the being eaten alive by my textbooks—it ain’t pretty. Then Jane of Dear Author and I got into an extended conversation about this, and I ended up writing pretty much everything I wanted to say as a consequence. The ensuing exchange is below, and we ended up going all over the place, from demystifying breasts to objectification to The Open Source Butt Project.
Keep a few things in mind:
1. Jane is strictly playing devil’s advocate. She doesn’t really believe most of the arguments she’s making to counter my points.
2. I’m not necessarily commenting on The Ferret’s original idea—I’m often talking about my reaction to the reactions to his idea, and sometimes, my reaction to the reactions to the reactions. Oh the delicious, crunchy meta-commentary of it all!
Jane: Let me preface that I am a product of a Methodist and then fundamentalist upbringing. The teaching is that my body is a temple to be used to worship God and nothing else. I’ve strayed from that belief quite a bit but I can’t help but wonder if 18 years of strong religious upbringing doesn’t play a part. Also, I have experienced quite a bit of sexual harassment during the course of my work so maybe I am uber sensitive, but this all seems so wrong to me.
Mostly I find the idea of strangers touching my breasts in a fondling manner a bit gross. But I did grope Candy. I don’t mind breasts and I don’t mind if girlfriends of mine touch my breasts but I find something awful about them being exposed to strangers, particularly male strangers who are getting aroused by the random grope.
Sarah: Oh yeah, that discussion made me ill.
It was me you groped, by the way. We have a photo.
I can see the argument for electing to participate but the concept is a big skin crawler to me.
Jane: OMG – it was you, Sarah? All this time I dreamed I had groped Candy. Will you please wear a button, Candy?
Shoot, we should wear big green t-shirts that says “Grope Me” on the front and “I’ll Kick Your Ass” on the back.
Candy: On one hand, I can see the good-natured intention behind it. And hey, if you’re the sort of person who’s OK with having your breasts groped by total strangers, have a motherfucking ball.
On the other hand, it frustrates me that the originator of this idea didn’t really get WHY it speaks volumes that an explicit opt-out button is necessary, and why being randomly propositioned can feel violative even if you have the green button on.
And people on all sides (not just the pro-Open Source Boobs faction) don’t seem to recognize that there’s a difference between “Hey, can I grope your bazongas?” vs. “Hello. I think you’re pretty. Would you like to get coffee some time?”
I also don’t like the heavy implication (not necessarily in The Ferret’s original post, but in the ensuing comments) that if you don’t like the idea of the Open Source Boob Project or if you don’t want to opt in, you’re some sort of anti-sex prude. My attitude towards my breasts and who gets to touch them is dependent on all sorts of things, from my mood to the context to the company I’m in. Some days and in some situations, I’m OK with strangers touching my breasts. Other times, only lovers and very good friends get the privilege. Sometimes I don’t want them to be touched at all. It has to do with my intimacy boundaries. That sometimes means that yes, I’m being prudish, but most of the time, it just means I don’t want the girls to be touched.
These two articles by The Ferret ultimately make me want to smack his head: http://theferrett.livejournal.com/534169.html and http://theferrett.livejournal.com/535109.html
Good commentary on those two articles here.
Placing a disproportionately large burden on the woman to say no, instead of on the man to not act like a jackass in the first place, seems to be a popular cultural attitude, and I find that fascinating—there seems to be a lot of anger towards women regarding the “no means no” movement, and it’s been co-opted in interesting new ways to reinforce the existing madonna/whore dichotomy.
Jane: I think what I struggle with is this:
a) a woman dresses provocatively to be attractive
b) this necessarily means she wants attention
c) aren’t we actually giving this woman what she wants by paying attention to her?
Do guys deserve to be cut a break on this? (Even beyond The Ferret’s complete idiotic explanation)
Candy: I’d argue that the leap between a) and b) is too big, and makes all sorts of unwarranted assumptions; it also blurs the difference between the various types of attention—under this rubric, anything between “Hi, I think your dress looks great on you” to “You have an amazing body, and the dress makes it look really sexy” to “Hi, can I grab your tits?” to “Hey, I want to fuck you” are treated equally. I’m not even going into the different types of gaze and touch that can accompany the words. These types of attention do not have parity, and some types of attention are violative.
This is not to say that some women don’t deliberately engage in cockteasing or solicit aggressive sexual attention. Context can add a lot—a swinger’s party is different from a dance club is different from a costume party at a friend’s. So can the body language of the person. The thing is, why should the assumption fall to the woman-want-sexual-attention default? Why is acting by the socially acceptable standards of the situation seen as somehow a burden by these guys? Because you can practically smell the resentment from the men who think this way.
Jane: Okay, let me play devil’s advocate (better than The Ferret, I hope). I’m just trying to see if there is a defensible position.
Men are trained to view women sexually in a certain matter. This is reinforced when women themselves dress in provocative manner such as really short skirts or see through tops. A project like Open Source allows men to actually deconstruct the myth of women as simply sexual creatures. By demystifying the breast, we take away the sexual implication of the breast and see it nothing more as another body part, much like an elbow or a hand.
Like Seinfeld once said, it is simply because the breast is so often hidden that it has such allure. In the past ages, ankles were deemed provocative. We are simply trying to help empower women, reduce sexualization between the sexes by normalizing body parts.
Candy: That would be an excellent premise, except the Open Source Boob Project is explicitly sexual by nature and aim. It actually encourages men to see women as sexual creatures—as sexual body parts, actually. A less kindly interpretation of the project basically tells people two things, depending on gender:
It tells guys, “Hey, you guys like tits, and you want to grab them. Here’s blanket permission to ask for a grope.”
It tells women, “Hey, guys like your tits, and they want to grab them. Deal with it.”
Even with a more charitable interpretation, I think it’s pretty clear that the aim is to normalize and make explicit a certain sort of sexualization and reductionism. I’d argue that we sexualize women in that way plenty as it is; we don’t necessarily need something like this.
As some commenters on theweaselking noted, the underlying premise is kind of insulting to both men AND women.
Here’s something to ponder:
I don’t like how one-sided the project is. I love the idea of demystifying the human body and allowing people to start separating nudity from sex, and separating sex from prurience. But why focus on women, and why breasts? Why no reciprocity? Critics of this idea were talking about the Open Source Ball Project, but I’d say that’s not truly analogous to breasts. Why not the Open Source Butt Project for both men and women? (Side note: Open Source Butt Project sounds like it’s about something else entirely. Woo damn.)
I don’t think the Open Source Boob Project is a bad idea, necessarily. I just think it’s a bad idea at this point in history. Once people have calmed down a little about our fiddly bits and have gotten their heads around sex and sexuality a bit more, I imagine it’d be less skeezy in tone and execution. But arguably, once that point in history has arrived, hopefully something like the Open Source Boob Project wouldn’t be necessary.
Jane: I would argue that if you are to demystify the human body, you don’t start with the collarbone or the elbow or the knee. You start with a part of the body that is deemed forbidden else the mystic element is not ever going to be ameliorated. We’ll be stuck groping the calloused elbow and any growth or understanding is halted halfway to the heart of the endeavor. (If you don’t mind the body metaphor). The breast is a protrudence and therefore because it exists away from the body it is less offensive to touch it as opposed to say a thigh part. A thigh is so close to the clitoris which is a sexual entity that even the most careful of touches might impinge upon someone’s sexual boundaries. The breast, though, is out there. It’s almost invading space of another’s. In the way that it is created, it virtually asks, as much as an inanimate object can, to be touched. Thus because the breast is a mystical part of the female body and because it is virtually existential, it is the right part with which to begin such a demystification product.
There is no corollary for men. In part because there is very little of the male body that is not out there. Men routinely walk around without shirts or shirts unbuttoned. Their legs, knees, ankles and feet are also regularly exposed. If there is any mystique to the male body it is centered around their sex organ. Further, I would argue that in our patriarchical society, the male sex organ has no mystique. It is discussed at great length in books, in popular culture. There are a host of jokes about it. Men are so intimate with their organ that it is frequently named, like a pet.
The problem with waiting until there is less hysteria about the woman’s body is a chicken/egg argument. How does one reduce hysteria without first de-sexualizing nudity? Nudity and sexuality are so intertwined at this point that even the casual brush of an arm across the breast is deemed a come-on or an assault. If there is no starting point at which we become more accepting of nudity and separating it from sexuality there will be no enlightenment. There will be no progress in the demystification of the woman’s body and thus, no progress in reducing objectification. If not now, when? If not the breast, what?
Candy: Actually, if you’re talking about demystifying the human body, you DO start with the collarbone, elbow and knee. That’s what the flappers did in the 20s. In fact, that’s how we’ve progressed—small and medium-sized steps followed by the occasional big lunge.
Female breasts are almost definitely going to be the next body part to be demystified—it already has been in huge parts of Europe. In America, public breastfeeding brought a lot of attention to this issue, as did Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction.
I’m not arguing against demystifying the boob; I’m just saying the Open Source Boob Project is a pretty silly way to do it. Groping a boob is different from demystifying a breast as another body part to be accepted and loved. The Open Source Boob Project’s explicit aim and intent was sexual and reductionist. That tends to raise a lot of people’s hackles up in the wrong way. If you want to raise hackles the right way, try organizing a topless march or a topless bike ride—thumb your nose at nonsensical and unjust public obscenity laws that make it OK for men to be shirtless in public but not women. That sort of gesture doesn’t just avoid the peer pressures and weirdness of the Open Source Boob Project, it also pinpoints existing inequities instead of reinforcing them, and it’s not explicitly sexual in intent even as it brings attention to the inappropriate sexualization of a body part.
But maybe I’m just a bitch for civil disobedience.
And frankly, I think the Open Source Butt Project is a viable alternative to the Boob Project. Men and women can both participate and the butt is every bit as sexualized for men as it is women. Now if only we can get enough gay and bisexual men to attend these cons to make the table-turning worthwhile….
Jane:If the flappers began demystifying the body with collarbone, elbow and knee, we women in the 21st Century need to move beyond that. It is interesting that you returned to the statements and position of The Ferret. Would your response to the OSBP be different if it had not been presented in the sexualized manner it was?
Candy I’m not necessarily opposed to the Open Source Boob Project, per se. Mostly, I think it was poorly implemented in some ways, and I wish the organizers had been more honest about their intent—they tried hard to sell the “We want to demystify breasts! And be sex-positive! And be feminist! If you don’t support it, you must be some kind of sex-negative freak!” angle, but mostly, the vibe I got was “Holy shit, dudes! Boobs! We can haz them!” “Hey, let’s demystify the human body and reclaim sex as clean and healthy” seemed like more of a side-effect.
I was also exasperated by their inability to see how certain types of sexual attention and objectification, even without spilling over into insistence or harassment, can constitute a violation. I was also tired of how the other side—a very shrill feminist side—was attempting to insist that ALL types of unsolicited sexual attention are necessarily violative. Plenty of stupidity cakes to go around for everybuddy!
My Open Source Butt Project was suggested as a less gender-biased alternative to the Open Source Boob Project. It still suffers from many of the same issues (reductionism, objectification), but I think that by opening these gung-ho “sex positive” men to the same sort of potentially unwelcome and unwanted sexual attention, they’d finally get why this sort of idea skeeves some of us out thoroughly (which is why I think it’d work only if the gay/bi male population for that experiment were roughly equal to the straight male population, and that the men knew it).
Sarah: As I fall solidly under the IANAL camp, I only have the following rebuttal (HA! BUTT!)
Jane said: “I would argue that in our patriarchical society, the male sex organ has no mystique. It is discussed at great length in books, in popular culture. There are a host of jokes about it. Men are so intimate with their organ that it is frequently named, like a pet. “
I disagree. First, the male sex organ’s appearance in popular media has, until now, been the unofficial border for an NC-17/hard core rating. Playboy Channel? Boobs and shaved vaginas. Skinemax After Dark? Boobs. Maybe a stray vag. But the erect or even flaccid penis? Porn city, folks. The penis is objectified almost into celebrity status, in a way that boobs and vaginas are not. For something that’s “hanging out there,” the penis is often the last remaining sex organ hiding under the fig leaf when everyone else in the soft-core movie has played bad hands of strip poker.
Which is part of what makes the newest Apatow movie reviews so interesting: Apatow goes for full frontal male nudity as a humor device, shocking in it’s full flaccid humiliating glory in much the same way as “There’s Something About Mary” and the zipper scene. And that wasn’t even a full penis. That was just parts of one (painful parts, I might add).
Consider, also, the weight given to the “big reveal” when the hero finally drops trou in a romance novel sex scene – most authors take deliberate steps to acknowledge The Mighty Wang with as much aplomb as my GPS when it announces, “You have Arrived!” So there’s mighty flaw in your argument that the penis has no mystique. In my opinion, it has the most mystique of all the sex organs.