“The Open-Source Boob Project”

This is just a post full of shameless feminist fangirling about machineplay on LJ.

You may have heard by now about the Heinlein-lovin’ dude who thinks he invented objectification and groping at Penguicon, and who stormed out of his con into the world to spread the word. theferret’s original post is here.

Edit 24 Apr 2008: I’ve added a blog roundup here.

In short, he and his buddies drummed up a scheme at a con whereby women who were happy to have men march up to them and ask “Can I feel your tits?” wore a green button, and women who weren’t wore a red button. “Beautiful”, “simple”, “miraculous”, and “magic”, he gushes.

But tell me if this doesn’t just make you want to hurl and hit things:

By the end of the evening, women were coming up to us. “My breasts,” they asked shyly, having heard about the project. “Are they… are they good enough to be touched?” And lo, we showed them how beautiful their bodies were without turning it into something tawdry.

I won’t rant at length, however, because Machineplay sums up so, so much better than I could:

I’m tired of the assertion that this is opt-in, because it’s NOT. Not fundamentally. Everyone is participating because everyone there has a body. I can’t opt out of my boobs. I can’t opt out of people making a value judgment about me when they see I’m not wearing a button, even if I never knew about it when I got there. Having your breasts touched is optional — WHAT A NOVEL IDEA. Being ranked as ‘unwilling to play along’ is not optional. I wear a red button every day, basically, and not only am I not PROUD of it, I’m really fucking tired of having to put it on and living in a world full of the colour-blind.

[machineplay again, later]

further energy I wasted on this:

If it were “Can I hug you?” or “Can I touch you?” in general, that would be one thing. One could then enter into negotiations of where touching was acceptable. But this is solely about “Can I touch your breasts?” Can I grab the Cosmic Titty? Can I cry on your shoulder about how no one understands that I’m really a Nice Guy TM? Can I get over the pain of an abusive society by groping you?

This whole thing is framed and executed so incredibly badly, I can’t even begin to entertain it as valid activism. Why didn’t women get Green for “I have autonomy over this space, don’t even ask to touch me.” and Red for “I’m ready for contact.”? It’s framed totally from the possessor’s point of view. Green, go ahead, means ‘I can possess this’ and Red, stop, means ‘I can’t’. It automatically puts the weight, as always, of denial or submission of on the subject of the question.

Why would you even need to make a button for “Don’t ask me if you can grab my breasts.”? It shows a silent acknowledgment that the default is not the woman having the right not to be addressed as simply a bearer of a pair of tits. If you want to go around wearing a button that says, “Ask me if you can grab my breasts!” that’s one thing. But to even dream up a RED LETTER for ‘non-participating’ women is completely ludicrous.

Anything that distills women down to their breasts is simply never going to be anything but vile to me. This is totally different from “please, enter my personal space and commune with me”. This is not breaking down any barriers to women being seen as humans and not breast-bearers. This is not just a step backwards, this is throwing one’s self down the stairs.

Yeah. Machineplay? You’re awesome.

Categories: gender & feminism, violence

Tags: , , ,

28 replies

  1. I don’t know if you’ll have seen this, but Misia’s Modest Proposal is one of my favourite responses to the fuckwittery.
    Clare’s last blog post..Helpful hints.

  2. I’ve got my own commentary here, which isn’t great but goes into a few other reasons why it’s fucked up, and has a link to tablesaw’s much better post on the subject.
    jfpbookworm’s last blog post..Harlan Ellison was just ahead of his time

  3. Interesting how he refers to it as a “project”–I suppose that he thinks that such terminology will lend his creepiness an air of sophistication.
    *facepalm* to the entire “project.” I don’t have anything of particular insight to add; this just creeps me out too much.
    annaham’s last blog post..INVISIBLE WHITE PRIVILEGE!11 Rears Its Ugly Head, Again

  4. I dunno, I think his apology is nice. The red button was probably the mistake, as you’ve identified, and he learned that opt-in doesn’t work in our current culture.
    Honestly, we do have variance in what’s accepted as social norms – I love the town that I’ve come to take as my own, one where it’s legal to bare one’s breast and illegal to interfere in such action. But coming from such a place into the rest of the US – much like how a convention is different than the surrounding world – I’ve been called some really horrible things because of it.
    I’d file this under ‘lessons learned’ and ‘should have been duh’, heinlein-dude.

  5. You know, if this had just been some fun among friends it would be no big deal. It was their push to get strangers to participate, and describing it as a “boob project”, that is so problematic for me. One of the (many) things that bothered me about the way this “project” was presented is the claim that this event wasn’t sexual, which was clearly false based on the way ferret described his participation – and it seems to ignore the fact that many women are aroused by having their breasts touched. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t try to sell it as some empowering or subversive experience.
    I’ve also read a bunch of comments from people who suggest that any woman who didn’t want to participate was “immature” or a prude. That kind of attitude among the participants could bring a lot of peer pressure to participate on women who simply want to “fit in” with the group or not be seen as prudes.
    My whole adult life I’ve had men stare at my breasts and occasionally try to cop a feel. I don’t think there’s anything novel about a “project” that further reduces women to tits with legs. If I’d were at the con, I’d have liked a button that said “Look Me in the Eye”.
    Peggy’s last blog post..Splice: Rock and Roll Geneticists and the Horror of Genetic Engineering

  6. I have a bunch of friends who went to Penguicon. I’m going to have to investigate further.

  7. “…and it seems to ignore the fact that many women are aroused by having their breasts touched.”
    Like, repeatedly It starts with the first “girl” saying that it would be “no big deal” – and just gets worse from there.
    “It’s framed totally from the possessor’s point of view. Green, go ahead, means ‘I can possess this’ and Red, stop, means ‘I can’t’. It automatically puts the weight, as always, of denial or submission of on the subject of the question.”
    And he so obviously does this in part because the idea that women may want their breasts touched – for reasons other than having been found worthy by him – is so completely off his radar he can’t even manage to describe the idea of mutual pleasure in a way that even remotely resembles the term.
    Plus, serious issues dating back to high school. Which is fine, so long as he’d acknowledge them as his and not other people’s, but he doesn’t. No, supposedly we all think sex is as dirty as he seems to generally view it as being.
    Mickle’s last blog post..On the Bright Side

  8. I think what I love about this (and by love, I mean find REALLY FUCKING ANNOYING) is that when the project was reframed as “people who are willing to grope others wear a badge that says they are, and others approach them”, theferret said that was “passive” instead of “active”.
    So, it’s like this:
    I as female wear a button, and theferret as male gets to walk up to me and ask if he can touch my breasts. This, to him, is active.
    I as female wear a button, and wait for someone to ask to touch me. This, to him, is active.
    I the other scenario,
    Theferret as male wears a button and waits for me, as female, to walk to him and ask if he wants to touch my breasts. This, to him, is passive.
    Theferret as male wears a button and I, as female, get to walk him to him and ask if I he wants to touch me. This, to him, is passive.
    … See, it’s all about him.
    Anna’s last blog post..Open Source Women Back Each Other Up Program

  9. “… See, it’s all about him.”
    Well, obviously. Isn’t it always?
    Mickle’s last blog post..On the Bright Side

  10. This dude doesn’t have ‘serious issues’; he has subscriptions. He’s the guy who once wrote that if a woman turned down a man fifteen times and then said yes she should be taken back into an alley and beaten for ‘enabling bad male behavior.’ So he obviously has a history of endorsing the gatekeeper of sexuality role for women, while men are just happy-go-lucky horndogs, sniffing around for what they can get away with.
    He’s an asshole.
    ginmar’s last blog post..Links

  11. He’s the guy who once wrote that if a woman turned down a man fifteen times and then said yes she should be taken back into an alley and beaten for ‘enabling bad male behavior.’

    Holy shit.
    Yeah. You’re spot on. I just noodled around a bit.
    Check this out. And this.

  12. Gack. The surprise-buttsex one floored me. I wonder how many of those “surprised” women had the presence of mind to demand that the “erroneous” partners damn well go and wash/put on a fresh condom before continuing with PIV sex?
    How many cases of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease due to faecal contamination, and possible scarred fallopian tubes and later fertility problems are due to “surprised” women being too shocked to think of the possible consequences of just pretending it didn’t really happen and continuing to have sex?
    And those jerks are acting like shocking and scaring your partner like that is just a funny little perk of having sexual relationships.

  13. Gee whiz, the best part about The Ferrett Experience are the sycophants who coo and squee about how funny and awesome he is. I can barely believe the amused comments on the Surprise Buttsecks post (and who the hell writes seriously about a cat macro slogan?). The gorge, it rises.

  14. (and who the hell writes seriously about a cat macro slogan?)

    To be scrupulous, I don’t think he meant to write seriously, and what would bloggers do without being occasionally able to riff off a cat macro?
    The problem is actually that he didn’t mean what he wrote seriously. He truly thinks that it’s not a big deal.

  15. I was being kind of flip there; I figured he was just using it as a flimsy jump-off for writing some BS.

  16. excellent post. i wouldn’t mind being referenced for the “cosmic titty” phrase, which is the name of an archetype I coined over at my blog. I copyrighted cosmic titty, so respectfully link to my essay about it, please.

    davkas last blog post..
    kim phuc running

  17. Davka, I suggest you ask the person quoted; I haven’t used that phrase in my text. Your post is not about the OSBP and would therefore be out of place in my link roundup.
    I’m going to assume that you’re joking about having “copyrighted” a two-word phrase.
    Lauredhels last blog post..Then and now: on acuteness and chronicity.

  18. No, copyrighted an essay with the title consisting of that two-word phrase, dear. My essay is coming up a lot in this discussion of the OSBP and I didn’t navigate my way safely through your mess of quotes, sorry. I made a mistake and asked you nicely about it. You only needed to inform me nicely, not rudely and sarcastically. Very weak of you.
    davkas last blog post..comic relief

  19. davka, both Lauredhel and I read your comment in moderation, discussed it, and felt that it was not asking nicely at all. You quite obviously relied on grepping the phrase on Google and then coming straight here to comment without any further reading.
    To ask a blogger to “respectfully” do something for you when you have blatantly disrespected them by not reading their post is what’s pretty weak.
    Edited to add: Addressing that blogger as “dear” in your response is also pretty weak.
    Here’s a suggestion if you have been making the same remark at all the other blogs that Google tells you have used the phrase: a better approach from you would have been “Hey, it’s great to see so many people using the phrase “Cosmic Titty”, which I coined only a short time ago, in discussions of this. Please read my original post!” It’s still splogging, but at least it’s goodnatured and relevant splogging.

  20. I decided to craft my original response in crochet, but I keep finding more and more things offensive about the ‘project’. The problems really begin right away in the opening paragraph (from the original post):

    ”This should be a better world,” a friend of mine said. “A more honest one, where sex isn’t shameful or degrading. I wish this was the kind of world where say, ‘Wow, I’d like to touch your breasts,’

    While I get big alarm bells from anything that relies on the word ‘should’ I do agree that it would be great if this was a better world. But it is astonishing that the solution to the problem ‘this is a world where people feel shame and degradation with regards to sex’ some how became ‘if women would just let us (the good people, not those other perverts) touch their breasts openly everyone would feel wonderful and happy and validated’ rather than (the more obvious to me)’hey, maybe if I developed and demonstrated respect for other people and their sexuality and encouraged, by example, others to do the same this would be a better world’.
    Annejumps I agree, the sycophants are way scary.

  21. sajbrfem: exactly. He puts the onus entirely onto the people who have been frightened and degraded to just lighten up, already, cos that will fix everything. “Trust me, I’m a stranger who wants to feel your tits but not talk with you.” Yeah, right.
    Lauredhels last blog post..New to the blogroll or other bits of the blog

  22. Ugh, I hadn’t read the buttsecks post from theferrett, and I am absolutely disgusted (and also slightly triggered). Seriously, he just wrote about anally raping two women. In a jokey, light-hearted post. Not okay.

  23. Yuk… How incredibly moronic. The fact that this sort of insensitivity and misogyny exists amongst theoretically educated circles is even more disgusting.

  24. yeah, you’re right. sorry. but I did read the post.

  25. It confounds me that an older female at such a gathering (and there are usually some) don’t take the ‘green button’ (for arguments sake) and start playing the game in reverse …
    “I’m wearing a green button so that means I can knee you in the nuts – if I ask ‘nicely’ like you did”?
    But then I suppose that the weight of ‘society’ would then be dropped on the offensive female who had sufficient balls to pull it off …
    *sighs* There are days I look forward to a time when this crap doesn’t keep appearing … and then I realise that they are probably not going to be in my lifetime.

  26. Female what?

    And when did they start growing testicles?

  27. Purrdence, I am suffering from a lack of appropriate wordage for the female equivalent of ‘balls’ (as in effrontery equating to ownership of testicles) .
    On the other hand, I suppose if one has ‘kneed’ sufficient’ nuts’ then one would have the ‘balls’ in hand? *wry whimsy*
    What gets me is that apparently people, male and female, that allow it to happen without voicing their discomfort or making the comment publicly that there is something ‘not quite right’ with this sort of intimidatory/predatory scheme.
    And I’m just as guilty about not saying anything, to my own embarrassment…

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