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.