Ambivalent About the Boobquake

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You’ve probably seen it by now. First, a Neanderthal Iranian cleric scolded women for wearing “immodest” Western clothing which of course leads to adultery, which of course causes earthquakes. In response, blogger Jen McCreight announced:

On Monday, April 26th, I will wear the most cleavage-showing shirt I own. Yes, the one usually reserved for a night on the town. I encourage other female skeptics to 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.

Within hours, thousands more had signed up for the “boobquake.” There are currently almost 150,000 confirmed attendees, and a variety of news stories have discussed the phenomenon.

I have to say, I’m conflicted about this one.

As someone who admires much in sex-positive feminism (though I have some concerns with some aspects of it), I’m in favor of acts that repudiate sexual double standards; which reclaim the female body as belonging to its owner, not to a repressed patriarchal structure; which justifiably mock extreme prudery. This certainly seems to fit those descriptions. It’s framed as a sort of subversive act defying patriarchy-based sexual mores and mockery of silly religious statements. And it’s being conducted in a non-coercive way, and the organizer is doing her best to be sensitive to potential concerns.

And yet, I’m a little worried about a few things. I’m worried that this reinforces the objectification of existing gender hierarchy norms which reward women for displaying their bodies. I’m not sure that it’s a step forward to replace “a woman’s place is in the kitchen” with “a woman’s place is on the computer screen in a lacy bra being ogled by men.” Of course that action may undercut some aspects of patriarchal structure (the sexual control element of “put those boobs away before they cause an earthquake”) but it ultimately may serve to only reinforce the idea that women are objects while men are subjects.

(And the media fascination with the boobquake further fuels my ambivalence. There are now a half dozen media stories on the topic, each with an accompanying photo of a scantily clad woman. The underlying event may be intended as an act of rebellion against silly patriarchal repression, but the media is clearly viewing it as an old-fashioned instance of “boobs sell.”)

But then, I also don’t want to be too critical of a grassroots moment of anti-patriarchal organization, and I’m awed by the energy these women are putting into the project.

Thus, ambivalence. I’m just not quite sure about the boobquake. Open to being convinced; but currently ambivalent.

-Kaimi Wenger

(X-posted at Concurring Opinions)

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