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The Open Source Boob Project and subsequent stoning - Zer Netmouse
April 23rd, 2008
11:50 am

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The Open Source Boob Project and subsequent stoning
This morning I find myself asked in email both what my take on the OSBP is and (in a separate message) whether or not someone can quote a comment I made on it elsewhere. People are welcome to quote me, and in fact here I will quote myself.


To me this was really about gender-nonspecific personal connection and permission-granting (or not granting), not women caving to the male power or notions of body-rightness.

A lot of people are concluding it was a "You had to be there" kind of thing, but it's frustrating that people clearly don't understand.

Society has been telling us women all our lives that our breasts are not our own to make decisions about--that they are inherently only for certain approved purposes and we must otherwise cover them and protect them from detailed touch or inspection with things like bras and clothing and moats and lions and tigers, if necessary, because the only person who is allowed to see and touch them is YOUR MAN and you aren't allowed to assert a non-standard set of access permissions yourself.

This project stood that on its head. It was in fact a fine case of feminist rebellion, combined with general rebellion against socially defined rules and toward opt-in interpersonal intimacy and appreciation.


I am really sorry that at least one track of the widespread online discussion of this project was headlined with mean disdain and an association of it with the thousands of creepy, unsanctioned gropes and feels that many women have suffered over the years, especially at conventions. The way the people who started it have been attacked for the pure pleasure they found in opening themselves to this idea and in thinking that their thoughts and feelings about it could be shared with a larger group is nothing less than horrible. Clearly it isn't for everybody, but they never *said* it was for everybody. They also didn't claim it was without flaws, and obviously one issue with it is that people may have chosen to participate due to perceived peer pressure, and/or without understanding that the little buttons meant "I may say no" just as much as they meant "you may ask."

I also think the name of the project is not quite right, since "Open Source" traditionally means no barriers, anyone can play, and while anyone could join this project, it was about permissions and consensual contact, not about making your body a public resource or about taking away your right to control access. As I said above, it was rather the opposite.

And I think it was a good thing, and I admire my friends who started it, and I stand by them, and I am not ashamed that I was pleased to take part.

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From:pnkrokhockeymom
Date:April 23rd, 2008 04:36 pm (UTC)
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Well, I agree that a lot of the comments on this that aren't positive take that "men exploiting women" line. But patriarchal privilege isn't just about men exploiting women, and I do believe that activites like this project can implicate male privilege and the "female as sexual" paradigm even when it's not a male dominated project, or a male started project, or a male conceived project. Does that make sense?

Of course, that's an "academic, let's explore the project's implications and people's reactions to it" point of view, rather than a "let's get pissed off and stone people participating" point of view. I don't ascribe to the latter. But I think it's completely legitimate to say, "This was your intent. Here are some of the unintentional ways the intent of the project might implicate privilege in a way that makes some women feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe."

I mean, if you post a manifesto on the internet, it's fair game to point out, "Well, I don't think that's necessarily a good idea, and here's why, from my feminist perspective."

What I find a little disconcerting about the whole thing is the ratio of smart commenting and discussion to "out for blood" piling on. Because really, this is not rape in the Congo. It's an idea, one that I think was interesting but ultimately not great. YMMV.
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From:pnkrokhockeymom
Date:April 23rd, 2008 04:29 pm (UTC)
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Well.

As you'll see from your flist, I just posted my academic and scholarly thoughts on it as a non-participant, and they're not "yay!" But I don't disagree with anything you wrote above, either. I just think that there are two elements to it.

A group of people just walking around with buttons, having determined they were going to do this and here's why? Yay, for all of the reasons you set out for thinking it was positive. But asking people to participate seems to be to me where the problematic natures of consent and objectification come into play--to me, that's where a good idea became a bad idea. Not a malicious idea. Not an "end of the world" idea--and I really disagree with those who've been commenting over the universe as if this IS a world-ending OMG FANDOM IS BROKEN sort of thing. But I think there are privilege lessons to be learned from the ways some people experienced the activity itself AND the way people experienced the "manifesto." If that makes any sense.

However, my thoughts on it are almost totally academic and far more related to the manifesto and responses rather than the practice as it went. If that makes any sense.

I don't judge anyone for participating. I don't even judge anyone for putting it together. I just think there are invisible ways patriarchal privilege works, and it can have an impact. I think that the almost immediate efforts to sort of nullify other people's reactions to it, particularly to the post on it, fueled the fire. I don't think anyone needs to be stoned, or even disliked. I don't think this says anything about anyone's character. But I think there are things that can be learned about the ways different people experience oppression and just move on from there.
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From:tammylc
Date:April 23rd, 2008 04:37 pm (UTC)
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I admit to not having read through the sea of comments and commentary, but i thought they really didn't even ask people to participate and mostly waited for people to ask them? I don't get the sense that there was much proselytizing, if any. It seems if there were I would have heard about it long before 2 days after the convention!

Also, I think this would have been viewed quite different if one of the women involved in the group had posted the first post, rather than theferrett.

I totally understand with how this sort of idea develops in a closed group and because everyone has a similar - often unspoken - understanding of what it's really all about, it seems like the coolest neatest best idea ever. And when you take it outside that group and people just don't get it, it's really difficult to understand and accept, because on the inside it just makes such perfect sense. A think that's a lot of what's going on here, and i feel really sorry for all the people who are being attacked over it.
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From:theferrett
Date:April 23rd, 2008 04:44 pm (UTC)
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All I can say is the usual: "Sorry for putting it so poorly." I think there were some things I could have anticipated, and others I couldn't have, but the net result was a TOTAL FAIL.
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From:pnkrokhockeymom
Date:April 23rd, 2008 04:57 pm (UTC)
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Well, maybe not a total fail, right?

I wouldn't even go that far...because I think it is totally valid to try to use discourse to undermine all of those sexual gendered norms...just sometimes the "art" of that (if you think of it like a performance art piece, which is kind of how I'm starting to think of it, although my thinking is currently evolving as I type, so who knows where I'll end up)...anyway (breath in)...the art of it is out there, and then people comment and discuss on the art.

If you're able to set aside the personal and mean attacks, and only process all of the (different, some positive, some negative) commentary--then you design project 2. I don't know if that makes sense, but it's sort of like "keep the academic, scholarly analyses and ditch the personal."
From:jer_
Date:April 23rd, 2008 04:56 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for a bright and insightful commentary. I think you hit a very important idea (and one I all but ignored in favor of dealing with the attacks instead); that it wasn't for everyone, and it might not even be a positive thing... but ire and attacks aren't the solution.
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From:mishamish
Date:April 23rd, 2008 04:57 pm (UTC)
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I've opted to simply leave the entire thing be, short of my "Open Source Boob Project = Very Yes!" line in one post. I do think it was probably taken wrong from Ferrett's post (whether that be a lack in the writing or a lack in the readers I leave for history to decide), but I'm not about to start getting defensive about it. I was there, I was a part of it, I can state CATEGORICALY that the only breast I touched or saw touched were breasts of people who REALLY WANTED their breasts touched. And it definitely seemed to be a good thing for all involved. I enjoyed both the giving and the receiving end of things (I was touched quite a bit that weekend myself, with that green button proudly displayed), and being on the receiving end of that was NOT something I'm exactly USED to.

And that's that.

I neither saw nor heard from anyone who was offended, pressured, coerced or otherwise put-off WHO WAS ACTUALLY INVOLVED. And until I do, I consider it a moot point.

Meanwhile, if someone has a valid point to make about this being an issue of Creeping Patriarchal Privilege or the lack, I'm all ears. The more I try to understand the nature of gender relations and the lines of responsibility and entitlement related to it in this post-modern world, the more confused I get and the more I just want to go take a long nap. But I'm always willing to try.

(P.S. It was good to finally meet you this weekend, even if only briefly!)
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From:sorcycat
Date:April 23rd, 2008 05:16 pm (UTC)
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My perception, perhaps because a male originated the internet discussion, was not that women were empowered to allow others to touch their breasts, but that first men and women were empowered to ask. I found that to be very odd. I will walk up and offer someone a backrub, but most of the time we don't go around touching or asking to touch each other's personal space. That's what gave me the creeps, along with the fact that it originally seemed like the idea was for this to happen between strangers and thus outside of any relationship context.

I think a discussion about exposing breasts in public would be a completely different topic (from what has been stated) but maybe similar to the original intent. I've heard a bit about this one, mostly in the context of breastfeeding. As the discussion is now, I suspect that emotions are so heated because there are more flash points than there need to be - intimacy, access, self-esteem, peer-pressure, and issues of who has control.
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From:eposia
Date:April 23rd, 2008 05:18 pm (UTC)
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gender-nonspecific personal connection

Oh, male breasts are part of the OSBP as well? I had heard that only female breast touching was the focus of the game. To be gender-nonspecific implies that male breasts are sought out for touching and button-wearing along with female breasts, is this true for the OSBP?
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From:aiela
Date:April 23rd, 2008 05:21 pm (UTC)
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As a participant, male breasts -and- butts were available.
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From:supergee
Date:April 23rd, 2008 05:26 pm (UTC)
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I am certainly not going to judge what happened at a convention I wasn't at or tell the women who say they enjoyed it that they must be mistaken. My only concern was that trying to do it at other cons would make women feel uncomfortable.
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From:netmouse
Date:April 23rd, 2008 06:28 pm (UTC)
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Well, and I do wish you had said that in your post or would go edit it or follow it up and say that now.

I've been really frustrated at the logical line that seems to have blurred, where people don't seem to see the difference between saying "Ew! Those people were awful, that must have sucked, people were obviously imposed upon because it would have been impossible for it to have been all right, those women were taken advantage of by it and all the men were only in it to cop a feel!" and saying "I don't think I would like this and here are concerns it raises for me."

In other words, the difference between people who weren't there making assertions about what the event must have been like (and attacking the people who were part of it) or expressing opinions about the concept and possible future applications of it.
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From:netmouse
Date:April 23rd, 2008 07:57 pm (UTC)
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You're welcome. I'm glad you decided not to delete your LJ. It has been a source of much delight for me, and this is usually not such a painful harsh place to be.
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From:xiombarg
Date:April 23rd, 2008 06:23 pm (UTC)
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I've just now heard about all this -- took me a bit to track down that acronym -- and I have to say, while I can understand how some people thought it was skeevy, I think that there's a strong mountain/molehill issue here and a sort of prudish backlash against sexuality that seems to dominate even in more liberal spaces, out of a desire to be "safe".

It speaks to the heart of the matter: Sexuality is never 100% "safe", but that doesn't mean we can't be more open about it and create protocols other than the "default" assumptions. Denying ourselves in the name of "safety" is exactly the sort of insanity that America descended into after 9/11...
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From:thatguychuck
Date:April 23rd, 2008 07:07 pm (UTC)

Question about the progression online

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I've only glanced at the outskirts of this online and don't have the time nor inclination to get involved. However, I'm curious how it got so big online so quickly.

Was this Boing-Boinged? Slashdotted? Put out on Whatever? How did this get so large so quick?

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From:ckd
Date:April 23rd, 2008 07:12 pm (UTC)

Re: Question about the progression online

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I suspect that the following has something to do with it:

Friend of: 2796

And yes, it was also on the Whatever.
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From:miracleman
Date:April 23rd, 2008 10:34 pm (UTC)
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Here are my concerns about this...as a straight white male who is ostensibly a privileged member of the patriarchy in good standing and has an avowed affection for and fascination with boobs:

I heard about this whole fiasco on another board I frequent. I was greatly surprised to find it involved local cons...*my* cons.

I don't want to get into feminism/patriarchy/repression/expression blah blah blah. My concern is that a few people on the other board I frequent expressed enough outrage and/or disgust at this Project that they said they would not attend or were uncomfortable with the thought of attending cons.

Not just "my" cons. Cons.

Whether or not you agree with those opposing this Project, the Project has already cast a bad light on cons, Penguicon and ConFusion in particular.

My wife and I were discussing this today. Her contention is much like netmouse's; it was no big deal, she got a kick out of the control of access, it wasn't just an excuse for icky boys to motorboat boobies. My contention was that it was damaging to the image of a group of people who are already regarded with social suspicion.

Yes, they had buttons allowing you to "opt in" or "opt out" and *ideally* participants in the Project would follow the "if'n they don't got a button, don't bother 'em" guideline, but even if they rigorously follow those guidelines there is a new perception of the convention as a place where uncomfortable breaching of personal space boundaries is acceptable to a certain number of people in the convention. Having buttons on the registration table (I do not recall if this was actually done or just proposed) implies an endorsement by the convention *as an organization* of such behavior and that puts some people WAY off.

When people are on the street or in a bar or some other public/social situation in which they may not be familiar with all the other attendees, there are certain social rules that are tacitly acknowledged. Groping, or asking to grope, is generally considered Bad Behavior, and there is a certain comfort in knowing that when someone engages in socially unacceptable Bad Behavior in a public/social situation the majority of other people involved will recognize that the Bad Behavior is Uncool and act to quell it.

Even at a convention where certain "normal" definitions of Bad Behavior may be more relaxed, there is the comfort of the Social Contract that says "If I yell 'This asshole is touching me inappropriately and without my consent!' a heapload of folk will step forward and make it clear to the perpetrator that what they are doing is Uncool and Measures Will Be Taken.

If the convention is seen to endorse what some deem Bad Behavior, that comfort is gone. Whether or not the reality is that there will still be folk willing to help a person out in the event of unwanted touching, there is now a perception that this convention is a place where a not insignificant number of people may approach and ask or actually grope me in ways I do not find acceptable and others will think that is perfectly fine and may not help me.

There are other considerations just from a convention organization point of view:

If there were buttons being handed out at the registration table, was anyone carding those taking the buttons? Was there any sort of regulation of the process in place that would prevent a fourteen year old from taking a "Yes" button and later opening the convention up to liability in the event of a statutory rape case?

Would the hotel approve if they knew that the convention was specifically endorsing touching that "outsiders" would view as inappropriately sexual? Some hotels would take severe issue with that and might not welcome the convention back next year. If word spread further, other hotels may refuse the convention as well.

Guys want to fondle boobs, great. Girls want to let folk fondle their boobs, hey, no problem. Hell, get a couple beers in me, I'll take a number and wait patiently in line for the chance.

Organizing it makes it look bad. And a convention even tacitly seeming to endorse it makes the convention look bad to outsiders. And some of those outsiders may have a significant say in how or whether conventions are run in the future.
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From:omnifarious
Date:April 24th, 2008 02:23 am (UTC)

My preliminary thoughts on this

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Some people who frequently post very intelligent things said some pretty worthwhile stuff in strong opposition to the idea. I read it and could understand where they were coming from, but it seemed like a bit of an over-reaction to me.

I do think though that the idea of this being a thing that happened at a lot of different conventions with the whole button idea and everything isn't so great. I do feel that it would change SF conventions in a way that made them less welcoming to women in general. And that was seemingly what the suggestion was originally.

But I don't feel that, from the description of what happened there at that place at that time that it was in any way negative or wrong. It sounded like a lot of people had a lot of fun pushing a boundary that's ordinarily there.

OTOH, I frequently wish I could turn my sexuality off because it largely causes me a lot of unhappiness and frustration. And I tend to feel more that way when it seems like my sexuality is undesired and unwanted because I am male which seems to me to be a lot of the attitude I get from many of the negative posters.

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From:minnehaha
Date:April 24th, 2008 01:32 pm (UTC)
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Having read the write-up, I see several problems. The he biggest, was the way he wrote it up. He sounds so adolescent and, well, creepy. But that aside from that, he maded two mistakes in execution. One, his buttons said "YES, you may" instead of "You may ask," implying that wearing one was an invitation to be groped. And two, he also made buttons that said "NO, you may not," implying that people not wearing any button were in some moral grey area as to whether they could be groped or not.

Yes, a careful reading of the text would expose these as fallacies. But we do not live in a careful reading society. I'll bet this looked so different from the inside that it never occured to the author how it would look from the outside, and how to write it to the perspective of someone from the outside.

B
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From:theferrett
Date:April 24th, 2008 01:58 pm (UTC)
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Precisely.
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From:holyhippie
Date:April 25th, 2008 07:46 pm (UTC)
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Reading about this, what went through my mind is that it sounded a bit like the "Men without Pants" parties at Pennsic.

Now, I don't know if there are still such parties, or how they evolved over time ... what I do remember is attending one (I think it would have been in 1994). At that point, the requirement for all men going into the party, was to not wear pants. You could wear a long tunic or a kilt, and you were supposed to - because it wasn't about nudity, it was about not wearing pants. There was a check line at the front gate, where the ladies got to inspect the men, to verify that the men indeed were not wearing pants.

I wore a long tunic that went down mid-thigh. Most of the ladies were pretty tame about just checking my hips, to see if I wasn't wearing pants, but one in particular went right for my balls.

In a sense, I see this as something similar - there is a group of people, who said "See this cultural norm? Let's create a space where we can throw it out the window, and have some fun in the process." Except that this was men rebelling about having to wear pants.

There were days at Grinnell college when I wore skirts. That was a time and a place where I felt I could get away with it, without giving too much the wrong message, or being looked at too strangely. I miss that. I think men should have the option to wear skirts.

If I had been at the con where and when this happened ... I think that I would have worn a "Yes, you may ask" button.
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