Boobquake: Feminism or Girls Gone Wild?

From the Pink Chaddi Campaign to What-Color-Is-Your-Bra? to Boobquake, Facebook’s edgier women’s campaigns are brilliant in gathering tens of thousands of supporters in a matter of days, but are they ultimately helping or hurting the feminist cause?
As a tongue-in-cheek experiment, Purdue University senior and self-described feminist, Jennifer McCreight, created the Facebook Event, Boobquake, calling for women to show some extra-skin on April 26th to test Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi’s claim that “women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes.”

After inviting thirty of her closest friends to Boobquake, she raced off to watch an episode of House. Unbeknownst to her, CNN and BBC would be lining her up for interviews in a few short days by which time her event for thirty would have exponentially grown to over 210 000 enthusiastic supporters.

With her D-cups hoisted in a low-cut red tank top, the genetics student took part in the event along with thousands of scantily clad women, many of whom flooded Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook with subsequent videos and photographs. In a show of support, thousands of titillated men also joined the women’s rights effort; some of whom, however, offered choice words of support like, “show us your tits!” and “I’m feeling tremors in my pants.”

After the news crews had completed filming the day long experiment and packed up from her college campus, McCreight donned her science hat and computed the results. She compared the frequency and severity of the earthquakes that occurred on the 26th, which included a 6.5 magnitude earthquake in Taiwan, to the frequency and severity of earthquakes that occurred over the past couple months. The number crunching confirmed McCreight’s hypothesis: women’s level of modesty does not cause earthquakes.

Upon reading about Boobquake, I was reminded of two other campaigns that also used salacious attention-grabbing tactics to promote worthy women’s causes. Both, like McCreight’s experiment, took like wildfire on Facebook. One was January’s, What Color is Your Bra? Campaign for breast cancer awareness where women were asked by an anonymous source to virtually flash their friends by stating the color of their bra in their Facebook status. The other was the Pink Chaddi (underwear) Campaign held in February, 2009; thousands of women from across India mailed pink undies and notes with hearts and kisses as Valentine’s Day presents to the headquarters of a fundamentalist Hindu group, Sri Ram Sena, as a peaceful protest of the group‘s violent attacks on and harassment of what they called “pub-going, loose and forward women” in Mangalore. The campaigners mockingly embraced the name-calling and created the popular Facebook Group, “The Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women,” which was later hacked multiple times by dissenters.

These three campaigns have much in common: a worthy cause, provocative approach, and a resultant high volume of support. So, is this Hooter’s-esque marketing tactic of flaunting cleavage, “tarting up cancer,” and mailing intimate apparel for worthy women’s causes ultimately helping the feminist movement? Boobquake, for one, may not have resulted in any significant seismic activity, but it certainly unearthed differences in feminist thought and reaction.

The outpouring of public support and mass media attention of these sexy shock campaigns garner cannot be denied by, even the dissenters of such tactics. Had these campaigns called for participants to sign petitions and write impassioned letters, we can be pretty sure media giants would not have covered them. Two decades ago, Camille Paglia, a controversial feminist, and Caryn James, a culture critic, championed Madonna as the “future of feminism.” They defined feminism as embracing overt sexuality while remaining in full-command of it. In other words, women can use their sexuality however they see fit, whether it be to promote a women’s rights cause or to sell records. Paglia praised Madonna for having an extraordinary influence on women and for being able “to fuse” an explicit sexuality with a “dominant, managerial aptitude.”

Perhaps, it was this 80’s and 90’s childhood pop influence that spun the wheels of today’s sexy virtual campaigns. These protestors took the societal objectification of women, turned it on its head, and used it for gain with the support of thousands worldwide. McCreight even boasts a list of Iranian supporters, including a handful of human rights activists, on her blog, Blag Hag. Could Boobquake have been a true expression of today’s feminist ideals of women exercising their freedom to choose to dress immodestly en masse to make a point?

Boobquake’s offshoot, Brainquake, certainly doesn’t think so. Founded by a pair of Persian-American women, Negar Mottahedeh and Golbarg Bashi, who were quick to mobilize and capitalize on Boobquake’s momentum to round up over 1600 supporters, push a very different plan of attack against the Sedighis of Iran. They oppose Boobquake and feel its “bare-it-all” mentality runs counter to feminist ideals and places further pressure on women and young girls to dress and behave promiscuously. Brainquake’s approach of “[showing] off our resumes, CVs, honors, prizes, [and] accomplishments,” however, did not go without its own set of naysayers like Iranian.com blogger, Samira Mohyeddin, and the latest Boobquake by-product, Femquake, who politely reminds their readers that “the core ideal is not a woman’s body or her mind, but her humanity.”

McCrieght and feminist writer, Greta Christina, counter that it is a woman’s prerogative to dress as she so chooses and unsolicited attention and bad behavior on the part of men is not the fault of women — true, but does this make self-objectification Okay? Is choosing to objectify ourselves any better than being objectified by men? When questioned by Forrest Sawyer about being strapped naked to a bed in the music video, “Justify My Love,” Madonna responded, “but I chained myself! I’m in charge.” Is this the type of choice that liberates women beyond simply putting the license to make a choice to use?

Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvanist Pigs, explains this phenomenon as a subordinate group embracing stereotypes as a means to gain acceptance from the dominant group. Even Beth Mann, a blogger on Open Salon, who supports radical self-expression had a sour reaction to Boobquake. She describes the movement as a cute, “male-friendly feminism” of women on parade — something a kin to “Girls Gone Wild with a cause slapped on it.” She adds that although she fully appreciates sexual freedom and its expression, “it’s the constant over sexualization of women by men and by women that [she] finds more than just wrong … but tiresome after awhile.”

With respect to spear-headed women who take the time to challenge misogynists and take on worthy causes, Levy may have hit it on the head when she writes in her book that the joke is on the women if they think self-objectification is progress. Boobquake did, however, help draw international scrutiny to a hardline cleric’s ridiculous statement, one that, to the ears of Iranian women, who have been enduring tight Islamist rule for thirty-one years, is nothing out of the ordinary.

But has this shame-faced Sedaghi? Will he, Pat Robertson, and others who have linked catastrophic weather phenomenon to the so-called bad behavior of marginalized groups think twice? The strategy may have worked in India when Sri Ram Sena’s leader gave a qualified apology on air moments before turning himself to the police for criminal charges, and it definitely helped with the What Color is Your Bra? Campaign to round up countless participants and raise awareness of breasts … but not-so-much cancer of said breasts.

Public Relations expert, Mark Hannah, says having a provocative or humorous message is key to garnering support in an online campaign. Perhaps, however, we should employ a bit more creativity and develop clever, light-hearted campaigns that steer clear of using lowest common denominator approaches that feed into the men-who-will-be-boys’ voyeurism and perpetuate the stigmatization of women.

Perhaps, we should also use our sexual prowess with a degree of forethought so we don’t have to worry whether the campaign backfired with hardline clerics left thinking, if this overt sexualization is what Iranian women are striving for with their subversive inching back of the hijab and tightening jeans, then maybe we should clamp down even further.
Shazia Riaz is Events and Publicity Editor for Altmuslimah.

3 Comments

  • jillian says:

    I’m not sure about my conclusions on this, but let me ask a few questions that I feel were left unasked in this piece: The Pink Chaddi campaign was 100% native, whereas Boobquake was created by an American.  Does that matter?  Does feminism always have the same definition everywhere?  Western feminists have often been at the forefront of patronizing Muslim women for not taking off their hijab…In that same vein, I tend to think that outsider-created campaigns like Boobquake may cause more harm than good…but at the same time, inasmuch as Iran has become a “global” issue, I could be wrong.

  • sria says:

    jillian,

    I can see how an outsider vs. native-created campaign like boobquake can have harmful effects esp. if it was created by, let’s say, western supporters of the burqa ban. I do, however, like to think that some American feminists are capable of respecting Muslim expressions of modesty while simultaneously supporting sexual expression, and that some Iranians are aware of this. Even Jennifer McCreight, in response to criticism,  clarified the description of her FB event to say that she is only asking that women wear something that they already would wear that is, according to their personal definition, less modest than some of their other pieces. She goes on to say that this may mean just flashing an ankle for some. Those that carried out the event, however, may certainly have included many folks that Muslims feel are just anti-Muslim in general—so you definitely raise a good point.

    As for whether feminism is a monolith—obviously not. I do, however, think that since the Pink Chaddi campaign was created and carried out mostly by a globally connected, tech savvy, college age generation of Indians, which are heavily influenced by American culture, that some parallels can be drawn.

  • Honestly, I thought it was a hilarious idea and certainly poked fun at the ridiculous allegation that women 1-lead men astray by clothing choices and 2- thereby cause earthquakes with sexy clothing.

    That said, I will never forget what a friend once told me about hijab (probably prior to my embracing Islam 10 years ago). He said that the idea of empowering women should not equal mini skirts and bikinis, but rather seeing women as equals or seeing past the sexual exterior. He then drew parallels between the oppression of forced veiling, and the immense pressure on young ladies to be “sexy”, or the amount of “how to please him” and “look sexy” tips on women’s magazines and TV.

    I think I did not initially really understand or draw the same conclusion myself until a few months later.  When I realized we truly are taught certain expectations of ourselves (80% of 12 year old girls have been on a diet).

    There’s a certain level of irony when women’s clothing can be a “free sexual choice” yet in the eyes of some this does not include covering for modesty.

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