Up Front by Emma Hart



And now that I have your attention, let's talk about boobs. There may still be, in some remote corners of the country, people who aren't aware that tomorrow is Boobquake Day.

Briefly, this event was sparked by the comments of a senior Iranian cleric that;

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

Now, because this will come up, let's be clear. It's the adultery which causes the earthquakes, but the adultery is caused by the dress choices of women. Men have no free will or control over their own actions in this situation, because of their Animalistic Penis Brains.

A Canadian woman, Jennifer McCreight, has decided to test this theory. She's calling for a Boobquake: as many women as possibly dress immodestly, all at the same time, and we see if there's an earthquake. It's science.

There's a Facebook event, which while I'm typing now has 144 000 confirmed guests. I'll admit that group includes its fair share of less than polite and well-informed people, but I did mention, right, that it's a Facebook group?

I was ready to write about this as a bright, good-natured celebration, but things haven't worked out that way. There's been something of a backlash, to which Jen has responded.

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...

I so hate the ideal of "big boobs are always better!" The cleavage joke was just a result of me personally having cleavage, and that being my choice of immodesty. And I thought "boobquake" just sounded funny. 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.

It would be remiss of me to talk about this without linking to the criticism, but it would also be remiss of me not to point out the flaws in that criticism. Yesterday I spent hours reading literally hundreds of comments so that I could fairly talk about the mood of the thread. And it's true that people who've complained on the Facebook group have been criticised. They made, for instance, comments like these:

Help fight womens oppression by flashing your breasts? Wow, Neo-feminism has sunk to an all time low. This is pretty fucked.

And my personal favourite:

How stupid! that its the most dumb thing i eva heard there are more grown up ways of stadin up for our sex other than makin us look like cheep whores...........so wont help lmfao!

I love that comment. In standing up for her sex, the commenter has managed to denigrate:
- one individual woman (Jen)
- a group of women (women who dress in a fashion the commenter disapproves of)
- a group of less privileged women (sex workers)
- the English language.

That's quite the achievement in so few words. And that's just one of the comments where women who participate in Boobquake are called whores or sluts or skanks or hookers by other women. Frankly, I'm getting kind of tired of that. Could we not get a little more imaginative? What happened to great words like 'strumpet' and 'harlot' and 'hussy'? Our language has so much to offer in criticising women's behaviour and dress choices. Let's use a little more breadth, shall we?

Also, I can't really let the comment about Boobquake causing body image problems go unaddressed. Because yes, there are women on the thread saying things like:

I would if I had any boobs to speak of. :(

And that is sad. What's not quite so sad, but didn't get mentioned, is the replies to those comments, such as:

Everyone can make a contribution Deana! Don't be down on yourself!

all boobs are good boobs. be proud of what you have.

all breasts are wonderful! from mosquito-bite size to watermelon, and from golf ball to bowling ball.

Then there's the 'men-friendly' thing. And this is where I start to get really cranky. (No, seriously, 'start'.) This is nothing to do with men. Why is the male reaction to it so important to its critics? Why is a man's experience of looking at it seemingly so much more important than a woman's experience of participating in it? For extra credit, you can read the comment thread on that critical piece, look at what those women are saying about other women, and see how many times the word 'patronising' comes to mind.

So, as if Jen hadn't put it clearly enough herself, let me have another go. Because Boobquake isn't all that different from Tits Out For Ourselves Day. As I see it, these events are about two things.

Firstly, they're about a woman's right to choose her own clothing. This is a feminist issue. Associated with it is a blatant refusal to accept responsibility for supposed consequences of those clothing choices, from sexual assault to earthquakes. We are refusing to make our choices on the basis of what men might do or feel, because we are NOT responsible for those actions or emotions.

Secondly, it's about women taking pride in their bodies, feeling comfortable in their own skins. This is a feminist issue. And please note, because I don't think it's unobvious, that both events were explicitly about women dressing 'provocatively' within their own comfort levels. Now, we're told (sometimes explicitly) that we shouldn't show pride in our own bodies because that makes other women feel bad. I'm not buying that, because I think it's predicated on a false assumption: that the only women who feel that comfort and pride are young, skinny, large-chested conventionally-attractive women. And that's bollocks.

People signed up for Boobquake include women my age

(and even older ZOMG!), pregnant women, breast-feeding women, lesbians (only interested in getting attention from men, of course), and at least one post-operative transsexual. I think it's at least possible that seeing a wide variety of women being comfortable with their own bodies might be helpful for other women.

The final criticism I want to deal with is that these events are frivolous. To which the only response is: of course they bloody are. They are a response to criticism so stupid it shouldn't be dignified with an intelligent reasoned response. And you know who agrees with me? Thomas Jefferson:

Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions

Now, he was talking about the concept of the Holy Trinity, but the principle applies. Boobquake is a deliberate exercise in ridicule. Participating in it in no way prevents anybody from taking any other more serious action.

So, while there's no compulsion on anyone to participate if they don't feel comfortable or if it doesn't suit their particular ideology, tomorrow there's an opportunity to be part of a giant 'screw you' by showing cleavage, or leg, or indeed ankle, bare arm, or uncovered hair. Of course, it could turn out that plate tectonics is a massive conspiracy, and thousands of people could die. But if we don't perform the experiment, how will we ever find out?

Emma Hart is the author of the book 'Not Safe For Work'.

(Click here to find out more)

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