Sunday, April 27, 2008

Maybe it's coz I'm not pretty enough.

I've been reading some blog posts on the Open Source Boobie Project, and I'm really annoyed. Because although I think the guy who started the project is more than slightly creepy, I also think there's nothing wrong with the idea. Having my boobies touched is fun! I like sex, I like attention, I like fun, and as long as I have consistent veto power, I don't see the problem with an agreement between two adults that there will be boobie-touching. In fact, as long as the veto power is thoroughly respected and women without buttons aren't approached, I have trouble seeing why anyone would object. (It bothers me that the buttons were only for women, I'd appreciate a two-way gropestreet, but that's not a dealbreaker on the whole project I think.)

But then I read this:
Not that I’m blaming the she-geeks that were sucked into this. As a she-geek of sorts, I fully understand that when you are old enough to vote but probably not old enough to drink, you are still getting over the fact that everyone who told you that you were too ugly and unsexy for admission in the human race in high school was probably exaggerating the case. And thus, you might be vulnerable to the flattery of some asshole who says, “Your tits are just good enough to be groped by random dudes who think showering every day is for peons.” But I promise you, young ladies, you don’t need the affections of men who hate you in order to get your grope on.

That's such a steaming pile of "women don't ever really like sex!" and "if you disagree with me, you don't know what's best for you!" I mean, I didn't even get the chance to participate in the project and I still feel personally condescended to. Because this does describe me to a point--I was ugly in high school, still kinda am, and I do enjoy that I can get a surplus of sexual attention now. But... so? This is so bad? The sexual attention makes me happy, and it's not a fake or deluded happy, it's just flat out "boys like my boobs, this is awesome." I'm not degrading myself by seeking sexual attention unless you believe that sex itself is degrading. I do not.

Also, I'm rather offended that being sexually attracted to women's bodies equates (and not for the first time) to hating them. By that standard, I fucking despise men. 'Specially big beefy ones with short hair. Bastards.

In the comments, it goes from condescending to outright foreign to my experience:
-the “status quo” already IS that men go up to women and ask if they can touch their breasts
-Do you know how many times complete strangers have groped me, or asked to grope me? Because I can’t count that high.

Uh... really? Is that what the other chicks are getting? Because--and now I really feel ugly--this doesn't happen to me. It just... doesn't. I walk around the city and ride the bus and go to parties and I've never been seriously groped by a stranger unless I was coming on to them. I thought this was because the human race was basically decent, but is it just because I'm not pretty?

(The exception is patients; I do get groped by mentally impaired people sometimes. But I can't really hold it against them and often I don't even know if it was deliberate.)

I just don't know how to reconcile women's stories of constant public sexual harassment with my experience of never having such a thing happen to me. Or even witnessing it secondhand. Men who deny that this happens are accused of being blinded by male privilege--am I privileged to be a dumpy chick?


  1. Other than the gratuitous use of "hate" in its final sentence ("disrespect" would have been more than adequate), I don't have much of a problem with that quote. People with low self-esteem are more likely to put their self-interest aside to get the attention everyone needs. I've certainly done that, and often regretted it.

    The commenter was obviously biased against boobie-touching, but the basic message is one I can support: Say no if you want to.

    As for the project overall, I largely agree with you. Consenting adults, respect for boundaries, etc. It's hard for me to imagine that it could work well, and I don't fully grok the point, but I'm not going to tell people not to give it a try.

    And as for the rest of your post, I also agree. Men (or women) petitioning for a grope isn't something I've seen on more than a handful of alcohol-fueled occasions.

  2. Bruno - I know I'm still pretty deep in my own just-realized-I'm-desirable delirium at this point in my life, but I don't see how having my boobs groped is necessarily against my self-interest. And I think the whole quote is very condescending to women who consciously and happily wore the "hey, groping's fun!" buttons.

    I agree that "say no if you want to" is a good idea, but I feel like the post was saying "always say no, because boobie-touching is inherently male-pleasing and there's nothing a woman could ever get out of it."

  3. I think the last sentence says that it's normal and healthy to want to be groped.

  4. Incidentally, men did wear the buttons too. And the fondling was not all hetero. Not that I was there, just reporting on what the original "project" pages said.

    I'm largely with you, and also have never been publicly groped.

  5. Bruno - Sort of. It seems to be one of those eerily-conservative statements that seem to come out of certain feminists--it's okay to get your grope on, but you can't possibly want it from strangers, or from a bunch of guys, or without any emotional trappings, because no woman would ever.

    The way I read it, all it's doing is changing the message from "women who fool around with strangers are sluts" to "women who fool around with strangers are slu... victims."

    The possibility that a woman might really, with no delusion or coercion, want to participate in this goofy project exactly as described (and I, for one, would) is not being respected.

    Anonymous - Good! On all counts.

  6. I just don't know how to reconcile women's stories of constant public sexual harassment with my experience of never having such a thing happen to me.

    Me neither, and I don't think there's anything wrong with me! (

  7. Sarah - I'd grope you any day. (Only not actually, because like most human beings I don't do that.)

  8. I've been groped a time or two without coming on to someone first but it's not like a constant thing. And even if it was, so? Groping people who have indicated clearly that they want to be groped is not sexual harassment. Maybe something like this will help people draw the line between wanted and unwanted attention, which is really a much more worthy goal than assuming that no woman ever wants sexual contact, with anyone.

  9. I was pretty much universally irritated by nearly everyone involved, although piecing together the wank after our connection blew out for the two days it was hot was actually a lot of fun.

    Even in the best-of-all-possible-worlds scenario, the population of women in the area basically instantly gets parsed into the Fun Cool Group and the Prudish Unenlightened Group, just based on whether or not they're okay with being fondled by strangers. That seems... kind of sucky, seeing as how they're not there for a sex-related con. And given female social dynamics, I think the converse social sorting of the green buttoners into the Skanky Slut Group by the other women seems like it'd take about six seconds.

  10. Labrat - You have a good point. (Which I think I overlooked due to my own bias toward saying "yeah, well the green-buttoners ARE more fun and cool!" which is completely bad and wrong and unfair and I never said it okay.) I don't really have an answer to that except to say that it's a different objection than Pandagon was raising so my objections to their objections stand.

    I think the whole project was pretty goofy/creepy and inappropriately placed (lie: I think it would've been way fun, but I can't make Serious Arguments and be honest), I just hate to see it attacked from the "ladies would never do something so unbecoming unless they were unaware victims!" standpoint.

  11. Oh, I agree with you utterly- my brain damn near shut down just trying to sort through the buzzworded Very Feminist Objections to it even though, essentially, we were on the same "I object" side. I wasn't even able to pin down what bugged me so hard about both angles of it until I saw a few posts done in plain English. (Ursula Vernon's being the best, IMO.)

    I just hadn't seen my objection anywhere at all, and I already agreed with yours to the "Women would never want that!" objection.

  12. Thank you. I keep hearing on various feminist blogs that all women get groped/catcalled/whatever by strangers and isn't it horrible and I'm left wondering why that's never happened to me. Nice to know that it's not just me.

    I think a lot of people's problem with this is that eventually, in an area as large as a con, there will be someone who doesn't know the rules or get that this isn't a free-for-all and Bad Things will happen. I don't know how true that is, but it sounds like the kind of thing that works better in smaller groups.

  13. Labrat - Thank you for studiously ignoring my obnoxious parentheticals.

    Sara - Yeah, this is a very verboten thought I'm about to have, but... I sometimes wonder if women who complain about constant catcalling aren't just exaggerating their victimhood but also, subtly, their attractiveness.

    "I wish society could see the person behind my luscious breasts and firm thighs, I'm so tired of men constantly looking at me with nothing but lustful desire!"

    ...I just lost my Feminist Card, didn't I.

  14. I read a few of those posts when Bruno posted the link to see what he meant. I ended up having to do some searching to get a reasonably clear understanding as to what had happened and why everyone was so upset.

    It seemed like the women (and you're right, there are scores of them) who disliked the idea of the "project" were upset because they felt that they were being objectified. Specifically, they were upset to be identified as boob possessors.

    If it's like that, then aren't all people who find other people attractive in the wrong for objectifying one another? I mean, I certain;y never met a girl I thought had a great personality before I noticed that I thought she was pretty.

    I thought the idea was interesting and yes, more'n a little creepy, but hey, whatever blows yer skirt up, right?

  15. Scott - I'm never sure where the line between disrespectful objectification and plain old attraction is. I believe there is a setting for "I don't even want to know your name" lust and it's not inherently wrong. But obviously it shouldn't be your only way of relating to women.

    In this case, though, the objectification was explicitly invited by the objects in question, which makes it a-ok in my book.

  16. "random dudes who think showering every day is for peons"

    If she weren't claiming to be "a she-geek of sorts", I'd assume she was just blowing stereotypes of geek-guys out her ass without having a clue. And maybe that's the case anyway; maybe she just means that she was a lind of nerdy girl in high school.

    But if she has enough actual familiarity with men in SF fandom to make statements like that about them, then she's either a) lying through her teeth, b) referring only to the handful that fit the stereotype and pretending the rest don't exist (also a lie), or c) she doesn't count SF fandom men as desirable enough to have bothered to notice whether, and in what ways, they fit the stereotype - they're invisible to her.

    So in my books, her credibility is already shattered. The only reason I'm not dismissing her remarks about constant unwanted groping out-of-hand is that, yep, I've heard that rant before.

    Now, I've experienced some unwanted groping in my day, so I'm not saying men never do that. Virtually always, they were drunk, and even at that, most men don't engage in random uninvited groping when drunk; it's only a small fraction.

    I'm not sure where this stuff comes from. Maybe it's that "guy who gropes" is going to be a more memorable thing than "guy who doesn't"; maybe that's exacerbated if the groping incidents were especially unpleasant. Maybe they count "male gaze" under grope, on the assumption that gazing equates to wanting to grope (not always true; sometimes it's just wanting to look), and further assuming that the thought is as bad as the deed. Maybe, and more legitimately, they're counting all sorts of unwanted touch (if I count every guy who kept touching my hand or my arm unnecessarily and uninvited, I'd have a higher ratio, too, and I agree it can be creepy, but it's not a grope to me). Maybe they've been swapping horror stories with their friends.

    Maybe, for some unknown reason, they really have been the target of statistically-disproportionate amounts of random uninvited groping.

    But it sure as hell is not "the status quo".

    (I'm going strictly with the bits you quoted; I didn't go to Pandagon and read the whole thing because I long since had my fill of feminist-community takes on this. There's sexism in SF fandom, certainly - but it's enough of a different culture that the paradigms play out differently.)

    Oh, just noticed: at the beginning of your post, you refer to "the guy who started the project" - presumably you mean The Ferret, but as I understand it, he was just one of the mixed-gender group in which it originated (initially, as a spontaneous development). Given how bloody thick he's been about why it's problematic, I feel pretty sure that if it had been his brainchild he'd have bragged about it.

    Aebhel: what you said about raising awareness of the line between wanted and unwanted touch rang a bell for me - I think it goes to the question of whether a more effective and less problematic project along these lines is possible. Thanks!


  17. Since I've something to add, I'll also address that typo: that should be "a kind of nerdy girl."

    Just for the sake of some degree of intellectual integrity, I went and looked. For all of a paragraph - it appears that the kind of nerdy (if it is nerdy) girl Amanda is, is one who thinks fact-checking is for peons. She claims it was a comic con. It was not; it was a "mainstream" (i.e., not one of the subfandoms) SF con with a special-interests theme of Linux geekery - hence its name, "Penguicon".

    Determining this doesn't involve master's-thesis-type research. The name is in The Weasel's (yes, I think he's creepy too, and I'm used to fandom men) original account, and one has only to type it into Google to find out what sort of con it is; when I did so, the con's own home page was the first hit.

    Amanda being Amanda, I'm inclined to figure her claim of she-geekness is just a way to give the impression she has some kind of cred on the subject. Bah.


  18. Sunflower - I agree, and I'd add that constructed problems like "I can't go anywhere without being surrounded by a feeding frenzy of boobtouchers!" draw attention and credibility away from very real problems.

  19. I think Labrat's hit it on the head. I've had my boobs groped maybe five times in my adult life (univited except for the fact that I had them on display) and immediately set about having the groper ejected from my presence. However, as part of the project, I would have no problem being a green-badger. (heehee... badger.) But then I'd be a cool, enlightened woman, while some of my friends would be prudes, and in about six seconds flat, I would be a slut (as usual) and my friends would be the virtuous madonnas.

    I also wonder how able we would be to draw the line at the boob-touching. I know that I would be more inclined to let a nice, attractive guy touch my boobs than I would an unattractive, slobbering horrible one - so deep down, for me at least, it's not all about the freedom. On some level it's about attraction.

    And from a male's perspective - wouldn't there be a little tiny voice somewhere saying "She let me touch her boobs... she must like me. Hmm, maybe I'll touch her ass next..."? Am I being sexist? I'm pretty sure I am, but I find it hard to believe that this kind of contact can be completely and totally free of subcontext.

    And in that way, I suppose, it's bad... because at the end of the day, it is just about guys groping boobs - and not women's freedom to have their boobs groped.

  20. But doesn't the idea work like those dumb drug commercials from the 90s? "Don't want to? Don't have to." Whether it's about the guy's inherent belief about his position of power or not, it seems like if you're not interested in the game, you don't hafta play.

    I agree that a Linux lovefest is perhaps the wrong place to try to make a difference in the way that people perceive sexuality, but c'mon.

    And for what it's worth, I can't think of a woman I'd ever groped who wasn't groping me in return.

  21. Michelle - at the end of the day, it is just about guys groping boobs - and not women's freedom to have their boobs groped.

    Why do you say this? I think it's absolutely about women's power of choice--to participate at all and then to decide who gets to grope. Wearing a green button does not make you a free-for-all; you're still free to turn down unattractive or creepy applicants.

    Scott - Indeedy. And I suspect the number of women not playing would be so high that there'd be very little prudeshame in just not wearing any button.

  22. "you're still free to turn down unattractive or creepy applicants."

    I think that this is my point... if I want to turn down unattractive/creepy guys, then surely the project for me is not about having the freedom to have my boobs groped should I choose - it's about wanting hot guys to grope me.

    I'm not 100% clear on what I mean myself, to be honest - I'm just finding it hard to reconcile the underlying feminist tone of the whole project to the sexual part of it, and for me at least, the sexual part can't be separated.

    Do you get what I mean? Like, remove the badges and put me in a bar with some drunk guys and we have almost the same situation on a less open footing - me turning down unattractive guys who want to grope my boobs, and, should they be interested, allowing hot guys to grope my boobs. No badges necessary.

    I guess I'm just not seeing how this is liberating for women. Not saying that it's repressive in any way, just pointing out that if you're going to turn down guys on the basis of their looks/creepiness, then surely it's about attraction as well as freedom??

  23. Very well put, Michelle. It's an interesting conundrum.

  24. Datapoint: I've been groped. (I then promptly knocked the perpetrating party onto his ass.) I have also been skeezily and nonconsensually touched in other ways.


    It is within the realm of possibility that I've experienced unpleasant sexualised touch since then, but I can't remember any specific incidents.

    My primary creepout with the thing comes with the woman who apparently asked if her breasts were good enough to qualify for groping. I, uh, wow.

  25. Actually, I would put never being more than 4 hours away from a safe, clean, enjoyable CraigsList f*ck with an acceptable partner as female privilege. CL is notorious for the difficulty it presents men being no different from "meat-space."

    One of the more interesting speculations about the Open Source Boob Project was where it left the women who enjoyed the groping as a precursor to sex they intended to have with the groper and their obvious disappointment. This was pointed out as yet another way that objectification leads to less sex, although not as popular in blaming discourse as the idea that it turned women off convention sex.

  26. What bothers me about this "open source boob project" is that you're at a conference for some particular reason, and you walk in the door, and the first thing that happens is that people are looking at your boobs, asking you questions about your boobs, and judging you for the decisions you make about your boobs.

    I am more than my boobs. Give me a nametag and leave my boobs alone. I shouldn't have to answer a yes or no question about touching my breasts the minute I walk into a tech conference. I should be allowed to focus on what I'm there for, without people making it all about my boobs. It's about my interests, not about my boobs.

  27. bruno, it's not a conundrum at all. We're not living in a society where men are often getting groped and otherwise assaulted by women on a daily basis. We're not living in a society where men are judged primarily by their looks and told that their virginity is the most important thing about them. We're not living in a society where women run most of our government and corporations, and men have to fight for the right to protect their bodies and reproductive systems from violence and restrictive laws.

    Unless you are going to a cuddling con or some type group touching con, you don't expect to be groped by your fellow conference members. This Open Source Project had nothing to do with female empowerment. This Project involved mostly self-entitled men having the nerve to foster an environment where women had to actually state that they didn't want foreign hands on their bodies. It was supposed to be a software convention. I'm sure many of the women there already felt somewhat intimidated since the computer industry is such a male-dominated field. Now, because of this overprivileged tool, these women had to sort themselves into the Fun Girls/Whores or the Prudes/Good Girls, all the while hoping no one went too far with this touching. The whole thing makes me sick, especially when the creators give the situation labels like "sexual freedom" and "female choice", even though the project was created almost entirely for the pleasure of men.

  28. Also, you should read these articles to understand why some of us are so upset about the groping that some of you are not aware of:

    College student sexually assaulted while crowd cheers

    Who Attacked Melissa Bruen?

  29. Bianca - A game based around fun, consensual touching has shit-all to do with sexual assault.

    And as I said in the post, maybe I should turn in my female card or something, because I sure don't get groped or assaulted on a daily basis.

  30. Holly, the issue isn't whether it was consensual. The problem is creating an environment where women feel even more threatened by men than they already are. This game wasn't fun for everyone because it made many women feel uncomfortable just being asked. For them, it was sexual harassment. Try playing this "consensual touching" game in the workplace--which this convention actually was for many people--and see what happens.

    I don't get "groped or assaulted on a daily basis" either. But many other women do. That's why people are upset. You don't need to turn in your female card. I think there does need to be some understanding that one person's game is another person's horror, especially if they have been harassed in a similar manner before.

  31. Holly and Sarah I am interested that you say you almost never get sexually harassed as I have been thinking about this recently.
    I find I get comments occasionally, enough to find them annoying and tense up when I pass a pub/building site. I am quite surprised that you guys don't. Recently I went on holiday with two of my friends, who are both unusually slim and look younger than they are (21) and the amount of abuse we got was truly insane, during the evening about 2/3 comments just while around the town. So I don't know if this is because the people in Nice, France are more annoying generally than in the UK or if it is worst for those who look youngest/weakest. Or if it is an attractiveness thing.