Boobquake was hilarious. Above all else, the joke turned media frenzy turned factional feminist debate taught me that the Internet is like a giant game of telephone. No matter what someone says, someone else will misconstrue it as something totally different.

And y’know what? That’s not so terrible. Here’s why.

The Internet is like a giant game of telephone

While misunderstandings and hurt feelings aren’t fun, they’re not the only thing that can result from a game of telephone. Similarly, while misunderstandings and hurt feelings sadly abound in response to Iranian Cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi’s claim that immodestly dressed women cause earthquakes (not to mention Pat Robertson’s equally bigoted claim that gay people cause hurricanes)1, a lot of real good did come from Boobquake. As Lissy observed:

watching my facebook statuses I noticed something… boobquake worked for a lot of people who I know don’t spend much time thinking about feminism at all. My very capable and hardworking sister Ginger, takes no shit from anyone but would never be described as a feminist activist[…]. But boobquake? She was onto that, spewing on her facebook status about sexist pigs in a way that made me a proud older sister… she listened to me ranting, all that time I thought she wasn’t listening as a teenager she was!

Of course, baring cleavage in the name of women’s liberation is itself controversial. In short order, Boobquake received criticism from feminists who felt “saddened” by this response. A counter-event, categorized as a “Protest” on Facebook named Brainquake, soon sprung into being. What’s most interesting of all, Brainquake creators Negar Mottahedeh and Golbarg Bashi say that they’ve been in touch with Boobquake instigator Jennifer McCreight, and McCreight says she’s been in touch with the Brainquake creators, and that there’s little (if any) animosity between the three of them.

Responding to factional feminism

Nevertheless, while hanging out on Twitter on Sunday, I saw a seemingly endless stream of negativity about Boobquake from Brainquake supporters. It was being described as “anti-feminist,” and while I personally don’t find boobquake that appealing (although it is funny), I found the negativity spewed Jennifer’s way even less appealing. That’s when I decided I’d break the binary and came up with Femquake. As I wrote when I introduced the idea:

Both breasts and brains are good for humanity and deserve our respect. Don’t coerce women into being proud of one over the other, or feeling ashamed of either! YES WE CAN all get along.

[…]

The core ideal is not a woman’s body or her mind, but her humanity. Decrying women who are proud of their bodies is as oppressive as forcing the ones who aren’t to cover them up. Hailing intellectualism over physical value is as insensitively demonizing as nonconsensual sexualization.

It’s time for women, men, and everyone else to empower one another to live the lives we want to live, free of coercion and abuse, whether modestly dressed or not.

It’s time for a FEMQUAKE!

Jumping on the “b*quake” bandwagon had its benefits. Within hours, the Femquake Facebook page had hundreds of fans—and an equal number of detractors. It seems that you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. And, statistically speaking, that’s precisely the problem with Boobquake, too, as Phil Plait from Discover Magazine wrote:

there are very few huge quakes, and a lot of little ones. We expect to rack up maybe one quake more powerful than magnitude 8 in a year, but on average we get one in the magnitude 6 – 6.9 range every couple of days somewhere in the world, and one in the 5 – 5.9 range something like three to five times every day. That’s every few hours!

And there’s the weakness in the Boobquake plan. […W]ithout defining the time period, the earthquake size, and the region in advance, this can actually reinforce the cleric’s claims! Given the huge tracts of land involved, no matter when women of the world unveil their decolletage, there is bound to be a magnitude 5 quake within an hour or so of the event, and a mag 6 quake within a day.

Jennifer McCreight, Negar Mottahedeh and Golbarg Bashi, and myself have all received criticism for supporting gender justice in our own ways, and the criticism is as diverse as ever. That’s no surprise, and again, I think it’s actually a beautiful thing. Having this diversity empowers people to choose the form of activism that’s right for them.

And if you don’t see what you like, you can self-empower yourself to go make it.

Feminism is about gender equality, and equality requires self-empowerment

That message of self-empowerment is, in my view, what my response to the factionalism over the “*quake” events is all about: Don’t let ideological feminists shame you into covering yourself up, or pressure you into exposing yourself, I wrote. Your body is YOURS. It is yours to show off however you like, whether physically, intellectually, or otherwise.

On that note, let me share with you some of the criticism I’ve received over Femquake. I think the negativity can be illustrative and can offer a wonderful opportunity to practice empowering positivity. If all this hullaballoo over boobquake has shown me one thing, it’s that we all need to practice assuming good faith and responding to offense nonviolenty.

@Custard_Socks says “fuck off with your titpics”

I followed conversation about #Femquake on Twitter. Here’s what @Custard_Socks had to say:

Femquake? Brains and boobs? My sister’s a flat chested idiot but she’s done damn well in a male dominated job, so fuck off with your titpics

(They said it here.)

I responded:

@Custard_Socks #Femquake is feminist solidarity—the idea is that #sexuality is too often divisive. Why be so negative when we could empower?

In answering honestly (I believe), @Custard_Socks said:

@maymaym From the participants on the Femquake Facebook page, feminism means you can brag about your high IQ & big tits. Solidarity, my arse

@maymaym Boasting is empowerment for the selfish.

(They said it here and here.)

At this point, it occurred to me that there probably wasn’t anything I could say to convince this person of Femquake’s intent. I simply don’t know how else to describe Femquake than the way I did on the Femquake Facebook event page:

On Femquake Day, honor a feminist who inspires compassion among different groups of people and who celebrates the value inherent in the diversity of human sexuality. In other words, HONOR FEMINISTS WHO ROCK YOUR WORLD!

Or, just smile at a stranger. It’s good for them, for you, and for our planet. :)

If honoring feminists who rock my world amounts to “brag[gin]” about their high IQ and big tits, well, fuck, I’m in! If smiling at strangers is “boasting” and “selfish,” fuck it, slap my ass and call me narcissistic! Smiling is healthy, and so is being proud of who you are.

Anyway, taking my own advice, my conversation with @Custard_Socks continued with my reply, which I intended just as genuinely as I believe they intended their earlier reply to me:

@Custard_Socks :) I hope you have a fantastic day today and brighten someone’s day. It’d be wonderful if you were able to do that.

But a moment of insight hit me when @Custard_Socks answered back with, @maymaym Are you saying I’m more than likely not capable of that?

“Oh,” I thought to myself, “is that the concern?” Does @Custard_Socks feel so disempowered to bring joy to others that they are so ready to jump to the false belief that others find them incapable of it? Obviously, only @Custard_Socks can answer that, but regardless of this person’s situation, it occurred to me that countless people probably do feel exactly that.

Maybe some of what the knee-jerk negativity in feminist debates needs is someone to say, “Hey, I support you, and I think you can bring this world joy!” (You can read the rest of my conversation with @Custard_Socks here, here, and here.)

Melliferax says, “someone else who is ostensibly on the same side has to go off whining about it? Grumble.”

Femquake got blogged about right alongside Boobquake and Brainquake, just as I’d hoped it would. Of course, not everyone was so enthused. In a comment on one such blog post, Melliferax said:

Femquake… had a very quick look and it just seems like the usual call for equality? How’s that different from, y’know, feminism or good ole humanism? Why is it that every time someone comes up with an idea, like arresting the pope or showing some cleavage, someone else who is ostensibly on the same side has to go off whining about it? Grumble.

Femquake was born out of my unhappiness with the unhappiness many Brainquakers felt towards Boobquakers. So yeah, I guess you could say I was “whining about it.” But is that so terrible?

I mean, if a “call for equality” can come from unhappiness, is saying that the people who advocate for that equality are “whining” really going to help matters? I don’t think so, but I’m not going to belittle you for thinking differently.

If calls for equality stem from whining, then maybe what we need are more people whining! What I think we don’t need, however, is negativity directed at calls for equality. Since you get to choose how you respond, why choose something negative when you could choose something positively empowering?

Millerax says that Femquake “just seems like the usual call for equality,” but as the billions of female-assigned, intersex, transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual, kinky, and queer people will attest, calls for equality is anything but “usual” in far too many parts of the world. I think the absence of more calls to equality in places like Iran is seriously whacked, yo. Don’t you?

Anonymous says, “awesome. a man is leading the femquake charge. […I]t means a little less to me now.”

As I’ve been saying for years, one of the beautiful things about the Internet is that it enables us to let our ideas, words, and actions speak for themselves, without judgements based on age, race, gender, or other characteristics. On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a insert-your-feared-identity-here. However, identity really matters to some people.

In a comment on Feminist Mom in Montreal’s Femquake blog post, someone who prefers to remain anonymous said:

awesome. a man is leading the femquake charge. That’s all great and lovely, but I guess I was hoping that it was a woman. If that makes me sexist, well, I guess maybe I am.

Not gonna lie, it means a little less to me now.

The point is still there and the point is a good one, but meh…some dude on the internet leading the charge on us uniting our boobs and our brains is just, IDK, ironic.

Thanks for the help, though.

First, Anonymous, you’re very welcome! :D I’m glad to help bring about a world where gender justice is a reality!

That being said, I have to wonder why my being a man means that Femquake loses some measure of respect in your eyes. As a man, I know that it’s very difficult for men—including myself, at times—to stand up for the rights of women. Y’see, I could choose not to. I could go about my life content in the knowledge that because no one questions me when I check “M” when replying to Facebook’s “Gender” question,2 I have privileges that someone who checks “F” may never have.

And y’know what? That’s a pretty sweet deal for me and the other “M”‘s, and a pretty crappy one for all the “F”‘s.

That’s why it’s absolutely baffling to me that when men stand up for gender equality, it somehow means less than when women do it. The reality is that no matter who is standing up for gender equality, it means the same thing: that we are all working towards the same goal of equality and opportunity for all souls on this planet, regardless of what body those souls inhabit.

So, while Anonymous may find it “ironic” that a man like me came up with Femquake, I find it equally ironic that someone who wants to support gender equality would devalue an effort to support gender justice due to the gender of that effort’s founder.

Strengthen love, not shame

There are, of course, plenty of other negative and positive responses to Femquake, and I’m thrilled to see that the Femquake page is still getting fans. After all, communication is inherently imperfect because otherwise we wouldn’t need it. And so I think, in the end, all this diversity is beautiful—it’s a reflection of the diversity inherent in all of you!

Ultimately, regardless of whether someone supports me or tries to put me down, I’m going to work on just being happy. I want to spread joy in the world. :) I know it can be hard, and I struggle to smile sometimes but, with your help, I’m learning how.

Thank you for all the criticism, the support, the encouragement, the denigration, and responses. Thank you for keeping the conversation going, and for talking to one another, and to me! Thank you for turning a sexist comment by an Iranian religious leader and a boob joke by a young feminist into an opportunity to promote peace and happiness and understanding and unity and self-empowerment and beauty and intelligence!

Now go and enjoy life, because working towards bringing pleasure and joy and equality and opportunity to everyone—everyone—is what feminism is all about!

  1. I think Pat is wrong about the whole hurricane thing. I think Teh Gehys actually cause volcanos. Don’t you remember the recent Icelandic volcano that halted air travel in Europe? I mean, those Frenchies are all sexual deviants! I say we need a #Gaycano experiment! Go, Internet, go! []
  2. Facebook really ought to change that label to “Sex,” not “Gender,” since those two words are not actually interchangeable. See also: Gender and Technology. []
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