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Boobquake: A Movement?

Four days ago, I received an email from a Facebook friend inviting me to Boobquake. Boobquake? I filed it without exploring further. The next day, I received an email from a friend sending along a Salon article, asking what I thought about Boobquake. Seriously? Boobquake? What the hell was this? And now, this morning, I opened up Twitter to find the trending topic #boobquake staring at me from the sidebar. Third times a charm and it got my attention. And now I’m trying to figure out the point.

The project, the brain-child of Blag Hag, was started in reference to a statement made by an Iranian prayer leader that “Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes.”

Offensive and not-very-well-founded, yes. Victimizing men because evil women are their downfall (and if not for women, they would be moral, damnit!), yes. But Blag Hag didn’t respond with an impassioned and well-reasoned argument. Instead, she suggested that

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. If not, I’m sure Sedighi can come up with a rational explanation for why the ground didn’t rumble. And if we really get through to him, maybe it’ll be one involving plate tectonics.

In other words, if the tits don’t make the earth quake, give that idea a shake, paraphrasing the immortal words of Johnny Cochran.

Some people gleefully took the opportunity to show the world their breasts in the name of women’s rights and others pointed out the problems inherent in Boobquake. But I really need to ask the point of the project. If an earthquake occurred, Americans would still write it off as a coincidence. If an earthquake didn’t occur, the Iranian prayer leader wasn’t going to say, “aaah, I was wrong. Please, dress immodestly ladies.”

Because what Blag Hag sort of missed was that modesty is a core belief of this Iranian prayer leader’s religion. And core beliefs are not dismissed because a bunch of women placed pictures of their breasts online. Because, when you boil down Boobquake to its core, it was a bunch of women placing pictures of their breasts online. And frankly, with porn doing that too, as well as every girl gone wild on Spring Break, I’m not sure how we can separate the wheat from the chaff. To hold up Boobquake as a feminist movement, but Girls Gone Wild as a misogynistic spectacle.

Um…since both seem to also have commemorative memorabilia to boot.

Which makes me think of an interesting protest that takes place in Judaism every spring during Passover. Susannah Heschel, a Jewish feminist scholar, was the founder of the idea of placing an orange on the seder plate to combat homophobia.

Heschel was visiting a college in the Northeast where she learned that some of the students had started placing crusts of bread on their seder plates as a way to express the exclusion of women and homosexuals from Judaism. Heschel thought this was great. But since it violated the Passover dietary restrictions, she decided to modify the act, placing an orange on the plate instead of the bread crust to represent both women and homosexuals. “The first year I used a tangerine,” the mother of two revealed to the packed room of mostly women and some men. “Everyone at the seder got a section of it and as we ate it we would spit out the seeds in solidarity with homosexuals — the seeds represented homophobia.”

Heschel makes the point to the students, who had their heart in the right place though their execution was flawed, that their protest spits in the face of all established beliefs. Bread is forbidden on the table during Passover and putting it on the seder plate isn’t getting the message to the people it is meant to educate because the only thing those people will focus on is that the act is wholly unJewish, with the same offensive nature as peeing on the Torah. If people want to change Judaism, they need to do it while respecting the laws of Judaism. If not, it’s the equivalent of someone screaming at you. You don’t hear the words because you’re so taken aback that someone has accosted you.

Boobquake was sort of like a big, honking slice of bread on the seder plate. What Boobquake needed was Heschel’s gentle hand guiding a protest that reaches millions while transgressing none of the rules held dear by the people she aims to educate.

Strangely enough, I think the Facebook stats speak an interesting story. As I write this, 207,803 are saying they’re participating with an additional 68,028 maybe attending. But 307,525 took the time to hit “no” on the Facebook invite and reject the idea and 538,164 are like me and hit file without answering, hence they are marked as “awaiting reply.”

Did you participate? Did you reject the idea for a particular reason? Or are you one of those half million who don’t know what to think of the event?  Or is this the first you’re hearing of the event that launched at least a thousand boobs?

Cross-posted with BlogHer


1 N { 04.26.10 at 10:39 pm }

I didn’t even know about it until after the fact. I do understand where the people who planned it came from, but I think that it’s not even a matter of ill intent or wrong thinking (I’m tired, forgive me, those aren’t quite the words I mean), but instead of not fully mature thinking.

2 Lavender Luz { 04.26.10 at 11:44 pm }

I just love the way you see complex issues.

I kept seeing bits of the quake today. I didn’t bite, mostly because I don’t have much to show or many people to show to, besides my kids.

Excellent analysis, Mel.

3 S.I.F. { 04.27.10 at 3:17 am }

This is the first I have even heard of it (and no – that is the last thing I would do at my office!) but as I was reading all I could think was how funny it would be if there was an actual big earthquake today.

I mean, not funny if people got hurt, just funny because it would not have helped their cause at all!

4 Nicole { 04.27.10 at 5:30 am }

I responded with a no. I don’t think that showing your boobs is making any kind of statement.

5 tash { 04.27.10 at 7:05 am }

I first read this as “BoobCAKE.” I’m now trying to decide if that would be more or less interesting.

6 Half of a Duo, Raising a Duo { 04.27.10 at 8:03 am }

Well I’ve helped raise Muslim kids and know the Koran pretty well.
Even fundamentalist Christians (the hardcore ones) believe the Man should lead and woman follow because of Adam and Eve… we are all fallen women.

It does kinda bug me that in Islam, women are expected (not required, depending on the country and the woman and her family, it’s her own choice) to wear the hijab because of men.

Though my girls don’t believe that it is because men are not to be trusted, that’s basically why women are supposed to cover in most hardcore fundamentalist faiths.

I don’t like the fact that we, as women, are expected to be the keeprs of a man’s libido. God created men with raging libidos and hijabs, covering whatever, is not going to dampen that libido one iota.

That said my girls are truly beautiful when they wear headscarves. I was wearing the hijab and scarf last summer at their mosque. It was very hot out and I thought I’d pass out from the heat. The faith women in Islam must have… to wear black and totally cover from head to toe… whoah. I could not wait to take it off (not because I felt strange wearing it, but because it was HOT HOT HOT).

7 loribeth { 04.27.10 at 8:59 am }

I only heard about this last night (i.e., after it was over). While I do see the humour in the idea, & reject the idea that I should cover up just because a man tells me to, I also keep thinking that this is a weird world we live in, where showing off your boobs is seen by young women as a valid form of political protest and female empowerment.

Coincidentally, I just picked up & started reading Susan Douglas’s new book, “Enlightened Sexism,” which makes a similar point.

8 Blanche { 04.27.10 at 9:04 am }

I find it hard to respect a religion which does not call for self-policing, but instead calls for others to make sacrifices so that temptations are not available. (This covers both Islam and Fundamental Christianity.) That said, I thought Boobquake was silly.

9 Heather { 04.27.10 at 9:31 am }

I feel left out, I wasn’t even invited…

I have a love/hate relationship with FB…

10 Krista { 04.27.10 at 9:47 am }

This is about as dumb as the whole “on the washing machine” thing that went around facebook a couple of months ago.

11 Chickenpig { 04.27.10 at 9:54 am }

I find it interesting that people would be flashing their boobs on FB as a form of protest considering they are still having a fallout over taking pictures off of FB showing women breastfeeding their young, which is arguably the reason that breasts were created in the first place. Maybe we are having earthquakes because so many women are feeding their babies in public these days 😉

12 a { 04.27.10 at 11:22 am }

Well, I sort of saw it as answering one silly idea with another – not as a way to change anyone’s thinking. But, since two wrongs don’t make a right, I generally ignored the whole thing. Also, I was not invited on FB either… Hey, Heather, want to start an outcast group???

13 Mel { 04.27.10 at 11:24 am }

Now I’m going to flood A’s and Heather’s inboxes with invites to saucy projects 🙂

14 Mel { 04.27.10 at 11:27 am }

One massive problem I had with this movement is the idea that we aren’t repressed in America and that we can do “anything” in regards to showing our bodies. How many people wore clothing to work today? I don’t know about you, but I where I used to work, I couldn’t wear anything I wanted. I worked with children and showing my cleavage wouldn’t have been condoned (er…for good reason). But somehow, we ignore the fact that we do have restrictions if we want to engage in society. And in other countries, there are restrictions too–if they want to engage in society. Our restrictions may be more lax, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

15 Beautiful Mess { 04.27.10 at 12:08 pm }

I didn’t receive an invite to boobquake, either. I did however, receive a request for pay it forward day, which is Friday and I will be doing something on that day. If I had received an invite, I would have either ignored it or declined. Not because I don’t agree with the whole thing, but because what is showing my breasts or cleavage going to do to change this man’s mind. I’m all for women’s rights and truly do believe that women in other countries get treated unfairly, but on the other hand do THEY think that? It’s part of their culture, religion, and way of life; who am I to change that? How would I feel if they came to me and told me I can’t go to school and should stay home with the children doing laundry? I would be PISSED! I don’t believe women should be treated unfairly based of their gender, but who am I to deems what’s fair or unfair.

So in short I do like the idea, but I did not participate in it. I did however “like” a discussion on it, she had her heart in the right place, even though her actions weren’t spot on.

16 Alexicographer { 04.27.10 at 1:32 pm }

I’m with @a, above, on responding to one silly idea with another. But the bad science behind boobquake bugged me. Given the original causal relationship spelled out in the cleric’s claim, we need some time lapse, right? Revealing boobs leads to libidinous thoughts leads to extramarital sex leads to earthquakes: How long does that take? I need better specified parameters before I can embrace this as science, silly or otherwise. Better would be an experimental design where we randomly assigned some regions to modesty and others to immodesty; given the difficulty of real randomization, we’d probably need to have some control variables. And is it the total number of adulterous acts? Libidinous thoughts? Boobs? Or the proportion relative to the total population, or what? Does size matter? Again, I need a more clearly specified model to develop a testable hypothesis.

17 Jenni { 04.27.10 at 1:40 pm }

Honestly – I thought it was ridiculous. A) it’s not going to cause an earthquake and B) it’s not going to change anyone’s mind, just reinforce their belief in the “immoral west.” The original comment by the prayer leader was even more inane I guess, but “Boobquake” wasn’t going to help the situation. The idea did make the guys in my office smile.

18 Kitty { 04.27.10 at 2:08 pm }

I had heard about it, but I too was left off the invite list. All the better, I suppose, since I was laid up yesterday with a case of food poisoning. Not too attractive and certainly not causing any libidinous thoughts, even in my husband! Although I was sporting a pretty short pair of PJ shorts. Woowoo!

Anyway, I agree with your sentiments, Mel – if you’re looking to make change, you have to at least do so respectfully. I don’t know how anyone could honestly think “Boob Quake” could start any religious revolutions. Like N said, it mostly comes off as juvenile.

19 Battynurse { 04.27.10 at 5:03 pm }

I didn’t even know what it was. I saw someone else post on it on face book but didn’t realize that there was more too it. I thought it was some sort of inside joke or something.
To read what it’s about I can see humor in the idea as something funny (reminds me of an e-mail I’ve received several times) but truly your post has a good point that the idea isn’t a respectful or reasonable way to bring about real change.

20 IF Crossroads { 04.27.10 at 8:08 pm }

Somehow I missed out on the boob quake phenomenon. Although in my obsessive #infertility twittering yesterday I did see that it was on the top 10 trend list. Strange and interesting all at the same time.
But I will keep my boobies to myself – no one needs to see my tatas.

21 Sara { 04.27.10 at 8:17 pm }

I had the same reaction (minus the thoughtful orange/sedar metaphor). Behaving in a deliberately offensive way is very unlikely to change the minds of the offended.

22 K { 04.27.10 at 8:23 pm }

Dont know if someone mentioned it here or not but apparently the day of “boobquake” there was an earthquake in China

23 Trinity { 04.27.10 at 9:45 pm }

Meh…boobquake schmoobquake. I heard a bit about this on NPR yesterday and totally rolled my eyes. I openly identify myself as a feminist, but I disagree that parading your jugs about town is some form of empowerment, demand for female inclusion, or some representation of feminist thought.

24 Flying Monkeys { 04.28.10 at 7:04 pm }

My boobs are so small they wouldn’t even create a tremor strong enough to dislodge a grain of sand. No, I didn’t participate and it’s highly unlikely I would have if I had known about it on time. : )

25 Briar { 04.29.10 at 1:33 pm }

I kind of like it. I don’t respect religions that espouse such violently unequal notions. I don’t believe I have to respect anyone else’s choices just because they are made in the name of religion. I am not out to stop them or stand in the way – I can tolerate without respecting. I say more power to them and their boobs.

26 Andrea { 04.30.10 at 11:00 pm }

I don’t personally show a lot of cleavage due to the fact that I prefer to exercise my right to keep it to myself. It’s my body, and I am very fussy about who is permitted viewing rights 😛

However, in reading about the event a couple days beforehand I did start to think about how grateful I am to live in a country (Canada, in my case) that allows me considerable liberty in dressing myself. While my preferred style might be pretty banal, overall, the choice of what I wear each day is still just that– my own choice. I am glad that I have the freedom to make it. On thinking it over further, I realised that I was equally glad that I live in a country where the Muslim lady who often sits beside me on my bus ride to work is permitted to wear her abaya, veil and niqab; we both have the right and the privilege to dress as we choose, and I am glad of it. I suspect that she is, too.

So I went to work that Monday with my hair down. I wore a short-sleeved blouse and a skirt cut at the knee. I probably looked positively prim, by some standards, but it was my own way of reminding myself (and being grateful for the fact) that I live in a place where I am privileged to enjoy freedoms of choice that others are not.

There were no tremors 😉

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