Since I was at Penguicon over the weekend, people are asking me in e-mail to comment on the “Open Source Boob” thing that was going on there. Well, first, by way of explanation, the whole Open Source Boob project is best explained by this post and this post (which adds further clarification) by The Ferrett, so go there for the full details. But the gist of it is that at Penguicon women who were wearing buttons that said “Yes You May” were allowing folks of both sexes to touch their breasts (edit: the button apparently meant you could ask to touch, to which the answer could be “yes, you may” or not). The idea there, as I understand it, was to reinforce the idea that breasts were not these sacred and yet bizarre objects designed to attract attention to themselves and away from the person they are part of (there were also “No You May Not” buttons, although of course my understanding is that “Don’t Touch” was the implied default all weekend long, so these buttons were redundant).
Personally, I missed the whole Open Source Boob project while I was at Penguicon; I was busy doing my own thing and by the time I heard about it I had already left the convention and was having lunch with people who were talking about it, before heading home. One of the women I was having lunch with participated, I gathered, and seemed to think it went off well, so there’s that. And I didn’t hear of any geek being hauled off by the cops for abusing the privilege, or handling unapproved bosoms, so I guess it largely worked as planned.
Now, how do I feel about it? Well, philosophically, I think it’s fine: I think it’s reasonable for folks to get used to breasts being a component of a whole human, not these strange, mystical entities there to entice and distract one, and if there’s any place where there are people who could benefit from this lesson, it’s a convention full of computer, science fiction and anime geeks, many of whom are very young men (temporally and/or socially). Hopefully some of them benefited from the experience, and not just because they got to touch a girl’s breasts.
Practically speaking, I think context is extremely important for something like this. You can get away with an Open Source Boob thing at Penguicon, where the social atmosphere is supportive of such things and there’s also a bunch of people who will man-handle any lech who gets out of hand (so to speak). But I can think of a lot of places I wouldn’t try something like this, starting with half-time at Jets games and moving toward less obvious examples from there. There’s lots and lots of ways for something like this to go very very wrong, which I suppose makes the philosophical point of an Open Source Boob project, even as it argues against its practical application.
Personally, eh. I’m a fan of breasts, esthetically speaking, and enjoy them on a regular basis. That said, I don’t really have too much of a problem at this point in my life understanding that the way to a woman’s heart (metaphorically speaking) is not through her mammary tissue, and breasts in general are no great mystery to me at this juncture of my personal development. I like them; I’m not motivated to seek them out, even if doing so theoretically helps to make a larger social point. This is a project that doesn’t speak to me.
Yes, that’s easy to say after the fact, when boobs of all shapes and sizes are no longer on offer. However, if I had known about the Open Source Boob project while I was still at the convention, I still wouldn’t have partaken, because in general I’m not a huge fan of touching people I don’t particularly know very well, even if they have a button on that tells me I’m free to do so (or at least ask to do so). This is less about breasts than it is about more prosaic physical comfort zones. I’m not neurotic about it — I understand some people are huggers, and you have to go with that, and a couple of years ago at the ConFusion science fiction convention, when one of the Guests of Honor told everyone to kiss the top of my head by the end of the con, my response was to be amused, not to Purell the top of my scalp every five minutes. But generally, before I touch any part of you, aside from a hand, let’s, you know, talk a bit, okay? Thanks.
In short, Open Source Boobs: an interesting idea, deeply context specific, and generally not for me. But if they’re for you, well, I think that’s all right, too.
Update, 5:03pm: The Ferrett ads some final thoughts on the matter. A key quote: “Unfortunately, one of the things about life is that what works in a microcosm does not work in a macrocosm.” Another one: “If I’ve contributed to the idea that women are not safe, then I’ve failed with a capital ‘F,’ regardless of the underlying reality. And if people think that all cons are filled with horrific swarms of gropers, well, then I’ve also failed.”
Update, 7:01pm: Kate Nepveu on why this sort of thing doesn’t work in the real world.
Update, 8:09 pm: Just because while reading various threads out and about the Internets I’m seeing people thumping on Penguicon about this, I think someone needs to point out that this Open Source Boob thing was not an official part of the programming schedule; as far as I can tell it was the brainchild of some of the convention attendees, done on a whim. Penguicon’s own stated policies on this stuff is pretty standard — don’t touch anyone without asking, regardless of their state of dress, and remember that “no” means no (I checked the souvenir book to be sure).
Penguicon is the sort of convention where people clearly feel comfortable being able to do something like this, as previously noted. It doesn’t mean Penguicon should be blamed for it. It was entirely possible to get through the entire convention without seeing or hearing about any of this; I did, and let’s just say I wasn’t exactly hard to find during my time there. This was not a huge feature of the convention.