Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Open Source Understanding Project

The Open Source Boob Project has been a massive failure. It succeeded spectacularly, however, at exposing how far we have yet to go, even in supposedly egalitarian spaces.

The discussions that have come out of this are extremely important. In a way, I'm glad this happened. I have this vain hope that in six months, fandom will be a safer space for it. That too many women-fen are too outspoken, so that even casual misogyny in fandom won't occur uncontested.

The remarkable thing about this situation is that it's shown me that men who I've long considered feminist, or at least egalitarian, still have lots to learn about their male privilege. The first person I include in this is Ferrett himself. Because he, not his wife or the other women originators, was the one who wrote about the project. Because he tried to use creative language for something that should have been explained as basically, and in as simple terms as possible. Because he chose moments of the evening that were completely untranslatable, however he wanted them to be read. Because it has yet to be made totally clear whether the breasts in question were clothed or nude. Because though he used the word "we," and though he said it was what he was trying to avoid, Ferrett did speak for thirty nine other people.

I believe, I sincerely believe, that in the space and time it occurred, the OSBP was a wonderful experience. However, as many people have noted, it is highly unlikely to succeed in repeated attempts.

There was an extraordinary lack of foresight demonstrated. It shouldn't have been talked about in an unlocked LJ post. It shouldn't have been shoehorned into a formal activity. It shouldn't have been most vocally defended by the small number of people who did so, and especially not Ferrett himself.

I give Ferrett props for amending the post and apologizing. I can't even imagine what the Steinmetz house has been like the last few days. His language may not have been what everyone wanted it to be, but we're shifting paradigms here. Baby steps.

Again, this is what bothers me the most, but is also what's making me the most hopeful. There are a lot of men who aren't getting it. They're understanding why the OSBP can't be replicated, but not why women are uncomfortable with it. These are men who have begun to grok the radical notion that women are people. Unfortunately, this has given them a new blinder: Just because they respect the women they find sexually attractive, they take for granted that all men do as well. I think I can hear an entire planet of women saying, "Yeah, not so much."

Ok, great. These men are well on their way, but they're not there yet. And this whole kerfluffle has rooted out scads of these men. Women all over the blogosphere are recoiling in horror as they're realizing that men who they've trusted as allies don't understand simple concepts like "Womens' bodies are still considered public space, and that's wrong."

So now we have a choice. We can all get really, really angry and afraid that this is going to happen at every con ever from now on, like those Free Hugs people. OR.


We can start talking. We can talk about our positive group touching experiences (ranging from innocent hugs to parties that turn into orgies). We can start talking about people who've made us uncomfortable, and calling them out on their behavior. We start talking.

We start, as I imagine the Open Source Boob Project intended, empowering women to use their voices and agency in large group situations. And all situations.

We start talking.

And if people have learned anything from this whole debacle, they'll start listening, too.


Irene Kaoru said...

So I like what you wrote. But. The reason I haven't written about it until this very comment is....I don't get it. I don't get why everyone is talking about it. It seems to me a very run of the mill, not-at-all-novel way of reiterating the idea that women's bodies are public space, as you mention. Giving it a clever name like "open source" doesn't make it novel. So why is everyone talking about this one dumbass dude's plan to tell women their bodies are highly enjoyable as public property? How is this news? Are people so enamored of the term "open source" that you can tack it on to anything and make it sound new? Is this like radium treatments in the 20's? "Now with RADIUM!! oooooo"

Azalais said...

What about those of us who don't have positive "group touching experiences" because we actually don't think it's a good idea to let strangers touch our bodies and while we'll grant that people have the right to have orgies if we want to, we think there's enough pressure in fandom to be "sexually free"?

BTW, I'm ataniell93 at LJ and IJ but your openid isn't working right.

Red Stapler said...

That's why the dialogue is important. So that people know that one person's positive experience was another person's negative one, and vice versa.

I think the OSBP was a terrible idea as a repeated event, but I think it's possible that it was every bit as positive for the participants as they're trying to tell us it was. And we should, just as importantly, listen to the people who didn't enjoy it.

I'm not saying everyone has to touch each other. I'm just saying that in a situation like this, we need to check our baggage at the door. Most importantly, of course, the people with the positive experience privilege.

Dana said...

I think it was a terrible idea too, for most of the reasons you wrote. I also wanted to say that you make a VERY GOOD point at the end about having conversations about it. But it's not just talking in the way of talking about what's comfortable in a group or on a blog... but talking about it in person.

Asking "Can I hug you?" before doing it. Or knowing for sure that someone does want to sleep with you. I can remember lots of times being uncomfortably touched by friends, strangers, teachers, family members, and other people I thought I could trust.

Everyone needs to know that there are times when it's okay to touch someone and times when it's not. Physical comfort zones vary between people, and there's nothing wrong with erring on the side of caution. It's much nicer to have someone ask if they can touch you than have someone do it just because they think it's okay.

Anonymous said...

And we should, just as importantly, listen to the people who didn't enjoy it.

I was at Penguicon, didn't see any instance of OSBP in action. I did overhear a couple of comments about "red and green buttons" from women who sounded more bemused than anything. The comments only made sense after reading about the brouhaha on The Ferret's blog and elsewhere.

One thing I didn't find in the 1300+ comments at The Ferret's blog was any response from someone who objected to the idea and actually came in contact with the OSBPers.

So, please, where can these people who didn't enjoy the experience be found?

pduggie said...

It shows me consensual egalitarianism is a fools errand, and could only be enforced by a strong governing authority.

Make of that what you will.

Anonymous said...

Thought you might like to know about this wiki recently launched by a friend of mine:


tonya said...

I once did a very short seminar on hugging. I had the participants separate into teams of two. To beging they would just hug each other, with no respect for each others boundaries and no communication verbally. There was a lot of patting on the back indicating that the one person who was uncomfortable was ready for it to be over. The second part of the seminar one part of the team would ask if they could give the other person a hug. The other person could accept or refuse the hug with no explanations. The second part of the seminar was totally different from the first and everyone said they felt safer and more comfortable. As for my own experience, I had suffered terrible abuse as a child and a young adult. I would react without thinking if someone came up behind me and touched me on the neck or shoulder. It would automatically trigger a flashback. I had studied karate and one day a friend, who did not know my background, walked up behind me and was going to kiss me on the neck. Without thinking, I elbowed him in the ribs. Thankfully I didn't injure him. Touch is subjective to everyone. Some people are naturally sensitive and love to touch and be touched. Some of us are empaths and when we touch you we feel everything you feel. One of my favorite charectors is X-men Rogue. If she touches anyone for a long period of time she will totally absorb their energy and memories. There is a deep sense of loneliness about her because she can never completly be with another person. To be touched only to be objectified as a women is in an essence a form of rape. You are not seeing me as anything but a body part. Something that you don't have that titilates you. It is the 21st century and this person is making a neanderthal comment. As long as women are objectified and reduced to pardon the expression tits and ass, then there other contribuions to society will be seen as less than. The man who came up with the idea that women's bodies are public space should we turn it around and let him experience what women experience on a daily basis. We are yelled at on the street, grabbed and pinched on public transportation, and from the time we are barely even walking everyone around us is terrified of us gaining weight. What would it be to know the freedom men know to just be. To walk down the street in public and not be in fear of rape of attack. The moment a girl is old enought to go out alone she is taught to protect herself against the unknown predators out there. We as women don't need open space for our bodies. What we need is a sign that says restrict space only invited guests may enter.

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