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22 April 2008 @ 12:44 pm
Did everyone know that April is Sexual Assault Awareness month?  
No? Well, it is. Normally, I would let something like this go by without too much more than a lifted eyebrow, and commenting on the f-list to those who posted about it. But given yesterday's post about rape, and the fact that this month we're supposed to be spreading awareness of things that relate to sexual assault, I could not let this pass.

Basically, a bunch of (and I use this term with affection, being one of them myself) SF/F geeks at a convention decided it would be a good and/or fun idea to feel women's breasts. They were talking, and the subject that breasts are some mystifying holy grail which objectify women came up. They reasoned that if they weren't so taboo, and anyone could just touch them anytime they wanted, it would lose the mystification, and thus become less objectifying. You see where this is going, right? A woman said "You can touch mine." And then it rapidly grew from there, to the next Con, where this group actually organized buttons that would tell people whether or not a woman was okay with having her breasts felt up by some random stranger.

I could post some angry, emotional rant about this, but that would serve no purpose. Instead, I'm going to post a list of calm, reality based reasons for why this is a bad idea anyway you slice it.

As a society, we have certain rules regarding personal space and appropriate touching. These rules do not exist because we are somehow repressed and sexually inhibited. They exist to protect individuals from unwanted personal touching, and more seriously, from sexual assault. They also exist to protect the person doing the touching. What, you didn't think about that? Really? Because take this PenguiCon thing, for instance. A bunch of women wore colored buttons indicating whether or not they were comfortable with being publicly groped by strangers. Green meant "Yes, grope me" and red meant "no." But either way, participants in this grand experiment were supposed to ask, first, whatever color the button.

So, what if you, a male, asked a woman with a red button if you could touch her breasts, and she, deciding this once it was okay, said yes. So you do. In front of about a dozen witnesses. Later, this woman decides this made her extremely uncomfortable, or maybe she gets embarrassed, and cries sexual harassment, or even worse, seriously offended and feels violated. Do you really think a judge is going to care that you asked her first, when a dozen people saw you grope her in public? They might not have heard you ask for permission. And she can always point out that she was wearing a red button, indicating that she didn't want to be groped. But really, button color is immaterial. You are screwed either way, as the male who did the touching.

And that leads us to an even more serious reason, and possible scenario. These women that decided it was okay for someone to touch their breasts in public - I think they are trying to send a message that breasts are nothing special, certainly nothing to get worked up over or fantasize about, but hey, I would never make that choice, personally, so I can't know their motives for sure. What they clearly DON'T understand, is the message this sends to EVERYONE around them. It's okay to touch your breasts, so what else is okay? How far does it go? Go and read my post on rape, linked above, to get some statistics. If you don't think a Con with hundreds, if not thousands of people attending will have a few men who have either committed rape at some point, or are potential predators, think again. A rapist can be anyone, anywhere, and may not seem the least bit threatening when you meet him. I'm not trying to point any fingers, I'm just saying statistically, the chances are good that a few predators will be in ANY reasonably sized group of people, and you have no idea who they might be. Think about the message they are receiving, by watching another guy grope your boobs publicly. You might as well paste a sign across your forehead that says VICTIM.

Does that seem harsh? GOOD - and let me tell you, that is not an exaggeration! You know what real predators, men who commit stranger rape, look for in a victim? Someone easy to approach, easy to get close enough to, so they can get ahold of you and overpower you quickly and easily. And this little experiment? Just gave this guy an opening with every single woman at that Con, period.

In case you are wondering about my credentials here, for two years I taught a women's self defense class. I've heard a LOT of very real stories of rape. We as women have to work not to be victims, because we are automatically going to be smaller and weaker than our assailant. We have to be aware of our surroundings, choose not to walk to our cars alone at night, or get in elevators alone with strange men, or let the nice young man into the house because he offered to help carry your groceries (true story). I tell the women in my class not to act afraid. Meet the eyes of the strange guy on the other side of the street, and do it with confidence. Let him know you SEE him watching you, and if he is a predator, you'll see him coming. A predator is looking for a woman who looks down all the time, who doesn't pay attention, who appears meek or fearful. Oh, you say, but letting strangers touch my breasts in public isn't meek! Nope, it sure as hell isn't. But it gives strangers license to approach you, even alone, and put their hands on you. And from there, you're already in deep trouble if he decides he's going to assault you. One of my best friends was raped in a crowded military bar. you know how he got close enough to her? Yep. By groping her. The other guys thought she was okay with it. I KID YOU NOT. You don't know who is watching and deciding that your behavior makes you - or anyone else at the same Con - a perfect victim if the opportunity arises.

And that doesn't even touch on the guys who actually felt up your boobs. You don't know what they're thinking. You don't know what they might think later that night, after a few drinks. That's the kind of situation that destroys lives, both yours, and his. Think about that, for a minute.

Yes, our society has rules. You might think they're too stuffy or inhibited, but before you campaign to change that, especially in such an irresponsible way, think about WHY those rules exist, and who is being protected by them. You want to let strangers grope your boobs? Fine. Take it somewhere private. Oh, but wait, I would bet real money that one of the things that made these women comfortable enough to participate in this was the simple fact that it was in public. After all, the stranger in question can't do anything else to you in front of a dozen other people, right? So you feel safe. That safety is an illusion. If you truly want to do it, then do it in private, and if doing it in private makes you uncomfortable, then dear lord, why are you doing it at all?

The bottom line is, this sends a really bad message, and sets up a dangerous precedent/situation for every woman attending.
Tags: ,
eretria: Ivanovaeretria on April 22nd, 2008 08:56 pm (UTC)
Thank you. For this post today, for the one yesterday, and for last year's one.
rhienellethrhienelleth on April 22nd, 2008 09:15 pm (UTC)
Welcome. :) I'm willing to do whatever I can to up awareness and make people think.
Miss Crankypants: Farscape Aeryn Do Not Frell With Meaka_paloma on April 22nd, 2008 09:06 pm (UTC)
So this is what Cons have come to? Boob-touching? I'm not quite sure how to fully express my disgust. And I can easily see how this could end badly if it were to continue at future Cons. I really don't know what else to say other than it makes me both sad and angry that we even need a sexual assault awareness month or posts like yours, Rhien, but thank you for taking the time to write about this issue over the last couple of days.
rhienellethrhienelleth on April 22nd, 2008 09:16 pm (UTC)
Well, hopefully this was an isolated event. But yeah, I certainly will not be attending any Cons where I know something like this is happening.
(no subject) - marypseud on April 24th, 2008 12:22 am (UTC) (Expand)
MiniOrr: Farscape: Aeryn subdues Crichtonminiglik on April 22nd, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC)
Oooooh. Bad Idea.

It reminds me of when I was on Spring Break in South Padre. I was befriended by a woman who was drunk the entire time and extremely promiscuous. She spent most of the time in a lime green thong bikini, making out with strangers, going off with random men and women, etc. But, at one point she got up on a man's shoulders. And a crowd of other men asked her to take her top off. She did so, which she obviously found entertaining for about 10 minutes.... until they ripped the top out of her hands and started groping her, en masse. Dozens of men trying to get at this one drunk girl, and she was scared out of her mind. Yes, she was acting trashy. Yes, she exposed herself. No, she still dind't deserve that. (She was rescued by her friends, thankfully.)

Related story: much later there was a commotion on the beach. I thought maybe there was some sort of event or ... something. Anyway, even though I am tall I couldn't tell what was going on, and I was standing on tiptoes trying to see over the crowd. A large muscular man offered to put me up on his shoulders to see. I thought nothing of it. He was friendly and it was a public place. I wasn't getting on his shoulders to take my top off, so I didn't even relate it to what happened to the other girl. So I got up. IMMEDIATELY he told me I had to take my top off now, and he started calling to his friends and the surrounding males. I asked to get down and he ignored me. So I wrapped my arms around his neck and squeezed as tight as I could/scratched, managed to sling one leg back (while he grabbed the other one), and I was also rescued by friends. But it was a bit terrifying.

And the sad part is that I'm entirely comfortable with nudity, and would have had no problem with going naked -- I just didn't want that to be an invitation to be mauled.

Meh. People.

Edited at 2008-04-22 09:56 pm (UTC)
rhienellethrhienelleth on April 22nd, 2008 11:35 pm (UTC)
Oh, God! See, stories like that are EXACTLY why things like this shouldn't happen - all it takes is one a-hole who takes things as an open invitation for whatever, and suddenly you are in serious trouble. And mob mentality is dangerous in any situation. *shudders*

Jeez, every fun loving college girl in the world should read this. I'm glad it ended safely for you (and for her!)
(no subject) - khym_chanur on April 24th, 2008 04:57 am (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
rhienellethrhienelleth on April 22nd, 2008 11:38 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I was just so aghast when I read about this and no one involved seemed to have the slightest clue how dangerous it could be.

And welcome! I friended back. Writing + SCC fan = can't have too many on my f-list! (SCC is my latest obsession fandom.) My list is still somewhat manageable, most days.

lamardeuse: Artlamardeuse on April 23rd, 2008 12:17 am (UTC)
Word. Thank you for this.
rhienellethrhienelleth on April 23rd, 2008 01:43 am (UTC)
Welcome. :)
SUPERLORISfountaingirl on April 23rd, 2008 01:02 am (UTC)
Hi! Found you via theferrett, liked your reasoned response and I'm adding you if that is ok?
rhienellethrhienelleth on April 23rd, 2008 01:43 am (UTC)
Absolutely! Welcome. :)
Bruce Baughbruceb on April 23rd, 2008 05:36 am (UTC)
Got here following comments from theferret. Thank you so much for a reasoned, useful post. My reaction has been more along the lines of "Thag find axe, Thag make men justifying sexual harassment and objectification as noble act of liberation STFU". Which is of course not very helpful itself. "Go read this fine post by rhienelleth" is better.

rhienellethrhienelleth on April 23rd, 2008 03:21 pm (UTC)
I have to admit, my immediate reaction was much more emotional and unreasoned. But I feel strongly enough about this particular issue, and was appalled enough that no one seemed to realize the risks involved, I was able to put that aside enough to write this.

I like the image of your response, however. :)
J.K.Richárdneutronjockey on April 23rd, 2008 05:54 am (UTC)
I said this on Scalzi's blog..and I'm too fed-up with this Open Source bull-shit to re-iterate...

When our society will allow women to return to breast feeding in public without shame or fear of reprisal then we’ve made a step forward intellectually.

This is not even remotely a step forward in abolishing sexual objectification. Quite the opposite: you’ve merely allowed a perceived role reversal in social-sexual dominant behavior…through the clever use of a button.

A button which drew attention to the breasts, wheter it was yes, or no you may not — that which you were attempting to de-objectify.

Circumlocutious reasoning does not a wise statement make.

I’m sure eye contact was made by both parties at all times.

Utter hegemony.

rhienellethrhienelleth on April 23rd, 2008 03:24 pm (UTC)
Indeed, yes! The defense that this is some sort of step forward or liberation from the objectification of women is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. The fact that women seem to believe it as well is nothing short of appalling.
(no subject) - neutronjockey on April 23rd, 2008 03:31 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - aphephobia on April 24th, 2008 03:05 am (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
eve11eve11 on April 23rd, 2008 12:10 pm (UTC)
Yes, a thousand times yes! (here via reading theferret's entry)

That post-- oh, there are so many things about it that make me literally vibrate with rage. And it's sad too because even the idea of it makes me really scared. If anything like that was going on at a con, I would not want to be there, participant or no.
rhienellethrhienelleth on April 23rd, 2008 03:29 pm (UTC)
I would certainly not attend a Con where I knew something like this was happening. And I certainly hope the Con directors take note of this and take steps to avoid it spreading to others.
deire on April 23rd, 2008 12:13 pm (UTC)
Thank you; I've friended you for this and because your LJ is just lovely. Please let me know if this is okay.
rhienellethrhienelleth on April 23rd, 2008 03:31 pm (UTC)
Absolutely! And it appears we have many friends (and interests) in common. :)
Esprixesprix on April 23rd, 2008 02:26 pm (UTC)
That was very well put.
rhienellethrhienelleth on April 23rd, 2008 03:31 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I tried to be as emotionally objective as I'm capable of on the subject, while still communicating the important pieces.
a liar with nothing to lie aboutkreie on April 23rd, 2008 05:46 pm (UTC)
I'm here via the comment that you left on theferrett's journal. For a few reasons, I'm not happy with the concept of the OSBP, and I agree with this post -- to a certain point. While the project is indeed ignorant of gender power dynamics and that issues of violence against women may come up in such a sitution, I'm uncomfortable making the argument that girls everywhere should keep themselves covered up lest they open themselves up to rape. I don't think you're making the "she shouldn't have worn that dress" argument, but I think that the net effect of the rape epidemic is to keep women afraid and in their places, which amounts to the same thing. The trend of advising women to cover up, to stay inside, to avoid walking alone is an (unintentional) way of keeping women, literally, in their place via the widespread threat of violence. The burden shouldn't be on women to avoid presenting themselves as 'easy targets', and rather than seeing women as victims that need to keep their boobs to themselves to avoid the slippery slope to rape, we should see the men that take advantage of such situations as completely and utterly responsible in every way possible.
Da: roadsignmuckefuck on April 23rd, 2008 06:39 pm (UTC)
(Hello, rhienelleth; another interloper here from the theferrett pile-on.)

This reminds me of something my friend princeofcairo likes to say when I'm complaining about the wanton disregard for traffic laws in the city of Chicago, "There's only one law of traffic that really matters, and that's Newton's First."

Yes, it is ridiculous that simply being a responsible, law-abiding citizen isn't enough to protect me from being run-down. (At least three times now, I have ended up on the hood of a car while crossing *in a clearly-marked crosswalk with the walk light illuminated*.) The burden should not be on me to watch all vehicles at all times to ensure that none of them is in a position to injure me. Yes, it could be argued that being reticent and letting cars go even when they do not have the right away sets a poor precedent and encourages them to run roughshod over the rights of pedestrians.

But you know what? I really, really don't want to end up in the ER having my crushed right leg surgically reconstructed so that six months from now, just maybe, I'll be able to walk normally again. There is nothing in my power which will halt a speeding car from crashing into me; all I can do is be out of its path when it comes.

Sorry if this comes off as a facile or offensive analogy, but I can't find it in me to begrudge anything a woman does to avoiding ending up under the speeding car of male aggression. As rhienelleth points out above, we are talking about basic self-preservation here. Political considerations should take a back seat to that.

(no subject) - rhienelleth on April 23rd, 2008 07:03 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - rhienelleth on April 23rd, 2008 06:56 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - fornikate on April 23rd, 2008 08:32 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - supermouse on April 27th, 2008 11:59 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - supermouse on April 27th, 2008 12:01 pm (UTC) (Expand)
PsychicHazardpsychichazard on April 23rd, 2008 06:16 pm (UTC)
A.S.D. stikes again, i'd wager
ick. but not too unlikely, if, as i suspect, the folks involved are 'on the spectrum' of austistic spectrum disorders, or Aspergers syndrome. Essentially (to generalise) most men are more 'autistic' than most women (for example: how many male trainspotters are there? thousands? female? well, officially, Four in the uk.) A common aspect is the difficulty in reading or responding to facial or postural cues (body language), hence most 'normal' interactions are limited, and those with a sexual aspect can be seriously dangerous. This is often coupled with a lack of understanding of the unwritten, instinctively comprehended rules of behaviour. The events described just seems to me to 'fit' some aspects of behaviour I have seen for years at work, and strangely enough a common practise used by speech and language therapists or psychologists is the use of a 'traffic light' system to enable service users or offspring to learn about social rules, with staff or families letting people know that certain behaviours are or are not acceptable by displaying easily visible cards of the appropriate colour. What the Freesourceboobers have done seems entirely analogous to this. (Incidentally, as part of the sex. ed. that I do with adults [with learning difficulties, including Autism]is to impress upon them the need to ask for consent, less they unwittingly cross a boundary that they are not otherwise aware of)

friending? found this journal from 'the ferret' and like your perspective.
rhienellethrhienelleth on April 23rd, 2008 06:24 pm (UTC)
Re: A.S.D. stikes again, i'd wager
Interesting info! Although some of what theferret said made me think a lot of the men involved knew exactly what social boundaries they were crossing, as they tried to justify it as this great beautiful and freeing thing. But certainly it wouldn't surprise me if what you're describing was true for at least some of the participants.

And friending is absolutely fine. :)
Re: A.S.D. stikes again, i'd wager - psychichazard on April 23rd, 2008 06:36 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: A.S.D. stikes again, i'd wager - rhienelleth on April 23rd, 2008 06:40 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: A.S.D. stikes again, i'd wager - blackjackrocket on April 24th, 2008 12:12 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: A.S.D. stikes again, i'd wager - holyschist on April 24th, 2008 02:17 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: A.S.D. stikes again, i'd wager - blackjackrocket on April 24th, 2008 03:32 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: A.S.D. stikes again, i'd wager - apiphile on April 26th, 2008 10:32 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: A.S.D. stikes again, i'd wager - msagara on April 25th, 2008 05:51 am (UTC) (Expand)
Rachel Martinrachel_martin64 on April 24th, 2008 12:39 am (UTC)

I can't imagine that a brand-name celebrity in the SF, comics, fantasy or horror genres would consider remaining at a convention under these circumstances. Surely no well-known, reputable actor or author or artist would want the association. Since celebrity guests are a huge convention draw, it would be economically harmful to convention organizers for this practice to spread.
just_one_view on April 24th, 2008 02:00 am (UTC)

I was actually one of the few people that was actually there at the event and with a button and would like to add my side and view of the situation and brouhaha it has become.

Unfortunately, I cannot post under my LJ name anymore because of some incredible hate and other personal attacks. However, I think this might be a place where I can engage in some honest to goodness dialog about this in an intelligent and healthy manner. Thank you for that!

Just my viewpoint.
rhienellethrhienelleth on April 24th, 2008 05:45 am (UTC)
Thank you for posting and linking this. While I am a little relieved, reading your account, that things were not quite as overblown as theferret made them out to be, I do stand by my above post. All the risks and dangers I spoke of, for all parties involved, both male and female, are valid simply from the fact that this experiment took place as publicly as it did.
(no subject) - just_one_view on April 24th, 2008 10:22 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - msagara on April 25th, 2008 05:55 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - just_one_view on April 25th, 2008 10:48 am (UTC) (Expand)