When Jen of Blag Hag first proposed “boobquake”, I thought there was a 60% chance that I wouldn’t be able to stay out it. Now I guess that has reached 100%. The idea started because an Iranian cleric blamed “immodest” women for the frequent earthquakes in Iran. Jen suggested that this cleric’s hypothesis be tested by American women choosing to wear something immodest on Monday, starting with Jen’s promise to wear her most cleavage-flashing shirt. Unfortunately, a cute joke like this quickly devolved into exactly what you’d imagine, complete with drooling morons acting creepily titillated in a way that makes you wonder if they’ve ever seen a woman naked in the 20-30 years that have passed since they went through puberty.
I can understand responses to boobquake like Beth Mann’s, which basically amount to denouncing the lasciviousness of it all, and pointing out that a system where women are paraded around like animals in a zoo for male enjoyment isn’t really the best alternative to forcing women to be covered from head to toe, whether they like it or not. But I do think it was a little overblown. Beth took comments like my initial ones (basically, “I can’t participate, since cleavage is only considered immodest if you have a lot of it.”) as more self-loathing than they were in my case and probably many others. Also, I don’t have a problem with lasciviousness so much as the inequality and the objectification of women for sleazy dudes. And one could argue that this isn’t quite like completely objectifying faux campaigns like the “post your bra color for breast cancer” nonsense, since this campaign is actually proving a point.
However, I’m not really comfortable with boobquake. I pointed out to Jen on Twitter that I was going to be reading for the Boston Skeptics that night, and so it would be highly inappropriate for me to wear booty shorts, and make a mockery of me. Not that I have booty shorts to wear. By mainstream American standards, I have pretty much no clothes that would be considered immodest. Not that I’m prudish by any means. Just a little goes a long way is my style.
But here’s the thing: What I’ll wear on Monday—and what I wear on any day—may not be immodest by American standards, but I’d imagine an Iranian cleric would think I look like a whore in a knee-length skirt, V-neck, cinched waist, and my hair out where everyone can see it. “Modest” is a relative term, not only between cultures but within them. (See: aforementioned differences in what is considered “modest’ when a big-breasted and small-breasted woman wear the exact same shirts.) By Iranian cleric standards, every day in America is boobquake. And according to the original story, the cleric was chastising not women around the world for flashing a little boob or wearing tight jeans, but going after Iranian women who show a little hair or wear clothes that indicate that a shape might be visible underneath.
It’s kind of easy to go after an Iranian cleric saying something stupid like this, in other words. We don’t really need to convince the vast majority of Americans that Iranian clerics who are scandalized by women’s hair are in the wrong. Americans of every faith—including most American Muslims, I’m guessing—and every political persuasion are already atheists about the claim that women’s hair causes earthquakes. And most of them will take mockery of this guy’s claims not as a shot across the bow at all religious claims, but just of the “silly” ones that go against our cultural norms.
But we have plenty of woman-hating religious claims in our culture that are taken seriously. Take for instance, the claim that an embryo is a fully formed human being with rights, and so women’s bodies have to be routinely commandeered against their will in order to gestate them. That’s a religious claim, as much as anti-choicers pretend otherwise. It’s based in the idea that godsaidit—god said it’s a person, so sorry, women! Perhaps it might be more useful to challenge religious claims that are accepted as not-ridiculous in our country. I’m imagining that a lot of the guys who are applauding boobquake might find it a little harder to grapple with an abortion speak out, for instance.