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In Support of Boobquake

Russell Blackford

Metamagician and the Hellfire Club

April 26, 2010

Good for Jen McCreight of Blag Hag for coming up with the idea of Boobquake. UPDATED

For those who don’t know, this little meme ridicules the idea that “immodest” dressing by women leads to lascivious thoughts from men, which results in fornication and adultery—which, in turn, cause earthquakes. The idea was proposed a few days ago by a senior cleric in Iran, but of course it’s in line with the common thought in Islam that there’s something wrong with a woman “showing her beauty to the world”. Christianity is not much better, of course: there’s a long tradition of Christian theologians problematising women’s (and men’s) bodies, deprecating sexual beauty, and expressing anxiety about sex itself.

Go back to the Church Fathers, to Saint Augustine and Saint Jerome, for example, and look at what they have to say. Their writings are saturated with ideas of sexual sin and shame. Those ideas have carried right through to the present day, but they are absurd, miserable, and life-denying ... and they deserve our mockery. They exemplify the way that religion does dirt on the good things that this world has to offer.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of 1980s pseudo-feminism that took a similar attitude to that of Christianity and Islam, problematising displays of female beauty and even expressing disgust with heterosexuality itself. The worst offender was the egregious Andrea Dworkin—who died relatively young back in 2005. In her case, good riddance. These pseudo-feminists merely use feminist-sounding language to rationalise the religion-based anti-sex morality into which they were socialised. But they lack the self-insight to understand that it’s what they’re doing.
Get it clear: there is nothing wrong with the beauty of the human body, male or female, nothing wrong with enjoying it, and nothing wrong with displaying it to the world. If you’ve been blessed with physical beauty, then for Aphrodite’s sake display it; take pleasure in your good fortune, and let other people take pleasure in it. Strut your stuff, and don’t let anyone make you feel ashamed about so-called “immodesty”. Feel free to scorn the moralism of Islamic clerics and anyone else who tries to put you down.

I find it incredible that there’s still so much irrational, religion-based shame and guilt about the body even within Western societies: so much fear of the body’s beauty, and of its power to arouse sexual feelings. We see this shame, guilt, and fear even among atheists, many of whom have not fully liberated themselves from traditional morals. (For Zeus’s sake, what’s the point of being an atheist if you still buy into the same morality as the religionists? You need to get beyond that.)

Let’s return to a healthy pagan value-set. For the Greeks, beauty, creativity, analytical intelligence, athletic ability, and many other things would have been seen as excellences that it’s good for a human being to have. Unfortunately, few of us possess them all (I most certainly don’t!), but all of them are worthy of enjoyment and celebration wherever and whenever we do encounter them. All of these human excellences open up possibilities of one kind or another, and give a sort of power to those who possess them; all of them are admirable; and all of them can be used to bring pleasure to others.
Anxiety about the body and its beauty is sometimes rationalised on the basis that we should value cognitive abilities above physical beauty, though I’d love to see a rational argument as to why we should adopt any particular hierarchy of values. In any event, this is not a zero-sum game. You can have many of these human excellences; they don’t exclude each other; and you can take a proper pride in them all. (As it happens, most of the beautiful women whom I’ve been fortunate enough to know have also been highly intelligent and creative. But why expect otherwise?)

Apparently, judging from this follow-up post, Jen McCreight has been given a hard time by some of the remaining pseudo-feminists—Dworkin has gone, but they’re not quite extinct—who still purvey a miserable 1980s ideology. Well, let them, but they deserve no more respect than Islamic clerics, or Vatican officials, or irrationalists of any other species.

UPDATE: Here is an extra note for people who don’t “get” it.

We’re talking about women voluntarily wearing clothes which seem to them to be fun and sexy. Note that it was a woman who had the idea and that many other women are getting into it enthusiastically. I think there’s a reason for that.

We’re not talking about pornographic images that are meant to do dirt on female beauty for the benefit of men who fear it. I’m not a fan of pornography because I think that this is what much (I’m not saying all) pornography is all about. In that sense it’s deeply misogynist.

But we need to make the distinction between rational critique of this kind of pornography and getting upset at the sort of sexual display by women that the women themselves feel good about. Women are entitled to dress in ways that strike them as wild, and fun, and sexy, and we are all entitled to enjoy it if they do. Contrary to the rantings of an Iranian cleric, women get to be flirty or frivolous or to exult in their beauty. The difference between enjoying this and resorting to misogynist pornography is as radical as the difference between laughing with someone and laughing at someone.

1980s pseudo-feminism was too unnuanced to make these sorts of distinctions. Sure, some of its targets—the kind of pornography I mentioned—were legitimate ones. But much of the critique was so scattergun as to give the impression of rationalising anxieties about sex and the body. The people concerned would have been in good company with Saint Augustine or a brace of mullahs from Iran.

Come on folks, let’s support genuine feminism, by all means. The realisation that women are as capable as men, and that society must change to reflect this, is important. It’s a remarkable insight that we achieved in the West, after countless years of patriarchy that are still not entirely behind us. We’re still working through the full implications.

But we don’t have to be so unnuanced as to condemn something as fun and harmless and genially satirical as boobquake. Feminism is not about taking the fun and joy from life, though that was what 1980s pseudo-feminism often seemed to do. Two or three decades later, most of us can tell the difference. Get with the program!

Russell Blackford Ph.D. is a fellow of the IEET, an attorney, science fiction author and critic, philosopher, and public intellectual. Dr. Blackford serves as editor-in-chief of the IEET's Journal of Evolution and Technology. He lives in Newcastle, Australia, where he is a Conjoint Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle.


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