Ambivalent about the Boobquake

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.

(X-posted at Feminist Law Professors)

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7 Responses

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    I think you’re over-thinking this, particularly about the “boobquake” per se (if not necessarily the boob-ish media coverage). What would be more acceptable to you, Mr. Wenger?

    Moreover, what do you mean by worrying about the “objectification of existing gender hierarchy norms”? Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to worry that the protest reinforces the objectification of existing gender hierarchy, full stop, or else that it simply reinforces existing gender hierarchy norms? Aren’t you taking post-modern Angst a bit too far?

  2. “And the media fascination with the boobquake further fuels my ambivalence. There are now a half dozen media stories on the topic…”

    Plus at least one featured posting at a prominent legal blog…

    And, for the record, I am not at all conflicted on this.

  3. BL1Y says:

    The reason you’re ambivalent about this is because contemporary feminism does not have well grounded principles. When you get away from the big issues on which all reasonable people agree (women should get to vote, genital mutilation is bad, etc), feminism can be used to argue both sides of most anything.

    Women displaying their bodies is good, because they are demonstrating ownership of themselves and are free to choose to display or not display their bodies. The display is liberating to women.

    Women displaying their bodies is bad, because they are reinforcing the notion that women are mere objects to be oggled and not full people, and the display of their bodies causes men to look down on women who are less attractive or more prudish. The display is oppressive to women.

    [Look up the “If By Whiskey” speech on Wikipedia.]

    So, here’s the answer…if you’re worried about women’s bodies belonging to a repressed patriarchal structure, you should also be worried about women’s bodies belonging to a tyrannical elite feminist structure. Having your sexuality dictated to you by a woman isn’t much better than having it dictated to you by a man (and sometimes much worse, depending on the man and the woman).

    Liberation means liberation from all oppressive groups. It does not mean running from the Ikea Culture just to mindlessly follow Tyler Durden.

  4. JD says:

    “objectification of existing gender hierarchy norms”

    Does your mother know you write like this?

  5. Logan says:

    There was a 6.5 earthquake off the coast of Taiwan yesterday (Boobquake day). Not saying correlation is causation but there was an earthquake.

  6. BL1Y says:

    The earthquake hit at 11:00am Taiwan time, which is about 11:00pm (the day before) Eastern time (we’re in day light time now, right? I forget how that works, but 10:00pm if we’re in standard time). So, the quake hit well before Boobquake began.