By request: Booberday

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

SA asks:

Please, please write about the execrable “Booberday” meme on Google+.

Summary: it’s a “share pictures of your cleavage because of… breast cancer! yeah!” meme. That meta-meme is potent, folks. Got something you want people to do? Claim it’s about preventing or ameliorating or alerting or grieving breast cancer. You are now the untouchable saviour. The end.

Christa Laser on G+, link from SA:

[The Booberday meme is] demeaning, and it is precisely the gateway to harassment that drives women away from online communities. We have a responsibility as early adopters to create a respectful, caring community where everyone feels welcome. If it is acceptable in a community to post a photograph of cleavage, it becomes okay to comment on it with sexual jokes, then to comment on a photograph of a woman in the G+ community with a sexual joke, and then with sexual comments that are not jokes. If left unchecked, an online community that tolerates harassment against women can become dangerous for women, professionally and physically:

+1, as they say.

But it’s all worth it cos of the cancer, right? Mmm, let’s have a think about that.

Randall Munroe, whose partner is undergoing breast cancer treatment, writes in Liz Fong’s Google+ and in his own G+ stream:

The really frustrating thing about the “Save the boobies” campaign and similar ones is that it gets it exactly backward. Often, the point of breast cancer treatment is to destroy some or all of the boobies in order to save the woman.

Saying that we should work to cure this disease because it threatens breasts is really upsetting. For starters, it suggests that women are worth saving because they’re attached to breasts, rather than the other way around. But worse, it tells any woman who’s had a life-saving mastectomy that she’s given up the thing that made people care about her survival. What a punch in the stomach.

Barbara Ehrenreich famously wrote about breast cancer as sexy-making opportunity, among other things:

And in our implacably optimistic breast-cancer culture, the disease offers more than the intangible benefits of spiritual upward mobility. You can defy the inevitable disfigurements and come out, on the survivor side, actually prettier, sexier, more femme. In the lore of the disease—shared with me by oncology nurses as well as by survivors—chemotherapy smoothes and tightens the skin, helps you lose weight; and, when your hair comes back, it will be fuller, softer, easier to control, and perhaps a surprising new color. These may be myths, but for those willing to get with the prevailing program, opportunities for self-improvement abound. The American Cancer Society offers the “Look Good . . . Feel Better” program, “dedicated to teaching women cancer patients beauty techniques to help restore their appearance and self-image during cancer treatment.”

I could say and quote more, but almost everything I want to say Peggy Orenstein said in the NYT magazine last year:

That rubber bracelet is part of a newer, though related, trend: the sexualization of breast cancer. Hot breast cancer. Saucy breast cancer. Titillating breast cancer!…

Sexy breast cancer tends to focus on the youth market, but beyond that, its agenda is, at best, mushy. The Keep a Breast Foundation, according to its Web site, aims to “help eradicate breast cancer by exposing young people to methods of prevention, early detection and support.” If only it were that simple. It also strives to make discussion of cancer “positive and upbeat.” Several other groups dedicate a (typically unspecified) portion of their profits to “educate” about self-exam, though there is little evidence of its efficacy. Or they erroneously tout mammography as “prevention.”…

Forget Save the Ta-Tas: how about save the woman? How about “I ❤ My 72-Year-Old One-Boobied Granny?” After all, statistically, that’s whose “second base” is truly at risk.

And there’s Twisty’s long running crazysexycancer ‘adventures’. Get yer boobie shot here.

Lauredhel has also been on this for years: “Bring breast awareness back to the workplace”, Scrotes Oot F’t’ Lads!, More “Teehee! Boobies!” from the breast cancer awareness industry, Three Examples of Rape Culture in Nice Guy(tm) Breast Cancer Activism, Mount Franklin Breast Cancer ads. Let’s start a Brown Colon Cancer Awareness campaign.

Summary: you want to reduce incidence of and mortality from breast cancer? Consider funding and fundraising for research and evidence-based interventions. Want to remind the vast majority of women, especially breast cancer patients and survivors, that they aren’t sexy and compliant enough for your playground? Start a “save the tits” campaign today!

Update: there are multiple notes in Randall Munroe’s comments suggesting that Booberday wasn’t originally about breast cancer. I haven’t gone tracking the source of it, but if it’s true that dynamic is interesting. “Ew, sexist” followed by “it’s ok, it’s for breast cancer”, and when Munroe among others challenged that, back to “oh no, it’s just about boobs, so people who are or care about breast cancer patients and survivors can chill out!”

See also Sticking a pink ribbon on it doesn’t excuse “Booberday”.

30 Day book meme, 5: a book you hate

Day 5 of the 30 day book meme: a book or series you hate.

What? I’m supposed to choose just one?

Hi, I’m Mary and I hate books and movies like other people breathe. (That is, loudly, endlessly and especially so on public transport.)

I could, for example, tell you about Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver in which it turns out that the interesting enough characters of Cryptonomicon are actually projections of their exceedingly similar distant male line ancestors into the present. Plus beautiful women cryptographer something something something OH GODS IT’S A MIRACLE THE SPINE OF THE BOOK IS STILL INTACT. Or much of Isaac Asimov’s Elijah Bailey/Gladia Delmarre series. (I don’t like R. Daneel that much either, by the way.) Or, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. For starters, that sounds like a ghost answering the phone. Sort of The Ring with phones. Hello, now you’re going to die! Secondly, Roger Ebert has just seen Part 1 of the movie, and he writes: … and key actions seem to be alarmingly taking place off-screen. They do indeed Roger, they do indeed.

But, I do have a favourite hated book of all time. It’s Colony, by Rob Grant. Andrew loves Red Dwarf and found the novels quite reasonable, so picked up this solo effort set in a different universe.

I’m just going to go ahead and spoil this. You don’t want to read it.

Here’s the setup. There’s a guy who owes people some money, people who are “repossess your soul for the salt mines” kind of people that you don’t want to owe money to. This bit is irritating already, as frankly Our Hero is pretty bland, cowardly and self-pitying, and there’s no sign that we’re supposed to do anything other than wholly identify with him. Then, there’s a brief spark of false interestingness. Our hero is in desperate straits and is approached by someone clearly shady who would like to swap identities with him, and allow our hero to depart the entire planet on a settler colony ship. Safe as houses. Our hero pulls this off and boards the ship, finding people and conditions there greatly to his liking, only to discover that the shady one is a political eugenicist, opposed by nearly everyone else selected for the mission, particularly the decent ones.

What will our hero do? Why was Mr Shady so keen to swap places? Should he confess to the swap, which would appear to be the safer path if he can truly convince the other colonists? Or is there something going on here that he doesn’t know about? That sounds likely doesn’t it! Perhaps he will discover just enough to learn that it’s safer to play along, but continue to alienate everyone else with every moment they continue to believe he is Shady. Gosh, what a predicament!

But never fear! Rob Grant knows how to extricate our hero! There is a disaster aboard ship, and our hero wakes up seven generations later, when there are considerably more pressing problems, like the fact that the people who distrusted him have been replaced by disordered descendants of themselves, reduced to caricatures by inbreeding. Hilarity ensues, or does if you are Rob Grant, who clearly finds “average person at sea among humorous caricatures” hilarious. (His later book Incompetence is marginally better, but more or less on the same theme there. Why did I read that? I think curiosity to see if he could repeat this feat of coming up with a mildly interesting scenario and then sabotaging it so completely.) As best I recall, Mr Shady and whatever his reasons were for swapping identities are never so much as mentioned again. I actually can’t remember if I finished this though.

If you see this book, burn it.

30 Day book meme, 4: your favourite series ever

Day 4 of the 30 day book meme: your favourite book or series ever.

Let me interrogate the question for a moment. Day 4 is “your favourite book or series ever.” Day 6 is “Favourite book of your favourite series OR your favourite book of all time”. That pretty much compels Day 4 to be about my favourite series ever, doesn’t it? Because if I choose the other door, I have to talk about my “favourite book of my favourite series” on Day 6, which would be strange if I hadn’t talked about the series, no?

In addition, I am actually not a big series reader and the meme has questions that assume that I read essentially all series all the time. My favourite series should be distinct from my comfort book, which should be distinct from my first favourite series which should be distinct from my favourite childhood book. That’s a stretch, frankly.

My favourite series right now, I think, is probably Le Guin’s Earthsea novels. (Not counting the Hainish setting, which doesn’t re-use characters, centuries or planets terribly often, and I don’t think that’s a series as the meme intends it.) Here’s a conversation I had on Geek Feminism.

Stephanie asked:

Okay, please explain to me what I’m missing in the Earthsea series. I read The Wizard of Earthsea on the recommendation of a friend who when he thinks of feminist, he thinks of me and vice/versa so he said I would LOVE them.

Only, I didn’t. If we were to submit the book to the Bechdel Test it would fail miserably. Furthermore all of the women characters are the basic stereotypes of evil witch or virginal damsel.

Does it just get exponentially better as the series goes on or am I missing something?

I answered:

The first three are in fact notoriously male-centric. Decades later Le Guin, with a much more feminist eye, returned to the universe and wrote a fourth novel Tehanu which was a woman’s perspective on the whole thing (although the second novel is also from the point-of-view of a woman, but it’s still About Men). There’s also a fairly large change in tone. The fifth and sixth books (which are a collection of stories and a novel respectively) are more in the tradition of the fourth, although not as exclusively focussed on women’s point-of-view.

With regard to whether to continue, I would suggest that you do so only if you want to follow the story of Ged, because otherwise you will probably find the whole thing pretty annoying. An alternative might be reading the second and then the fourth, fifth and sixth books.

I actually like the first three, especially Tombs of Atuan, better than Stephanie likes A Wizard of Earthsea. But even with Tehanu this wouldn’t have made it into this entry: the fifth book really makes it for me. But I’ll save that for Day 6.

30 Day book meme, 3: the best book you've read in the last 12 months

Day 3 of the 30 day book meme: the best book you’ve read in the last 12 months.

I got into Ursula Le Guin’s writing non-Earthsea writing rather late, but now it’s like always coming home, for me. (Yes, haha, I have not in fact read it. I don’t actually seek them out, because I think her work deserves to be read over many years.) This year’s gem is The Birthday of the World, which is a collection of stories. The thematic draw of this book for me was the stories about various forms of introversion, of relationships unfolding slowly, of societies that have been the same way for a long time and who find meaning in returning and returning again. Thus, my favourite stories in the collection were: Unchosen Love (fear and helplessness in the face of passion) and Solitude (committed adult relationships and all interpersonal manipulation as evil sorcery). I liked Paradises Lost too (and the others!) but for a slightly different reason: I’ve always liked Le Guin’s marriages, indeed they form a really key part of the way I view marriage (as a word for intending life partnership rather than a legal system) and Hsing and Hiroshi have a distinct kind of me: marriage as a secondary part of life’s work.

30 Day book meme, 2: a book you wish more people were reading and talking about

Day 2 of the 30 day book meme – A book or series you wish more people were reading and talking about

This one is rather leading: it seems to think I’m ahead of the curve on books and am going to be introducing a book or series that none of you have ever heard of. I am no one’s book wizard (incidentally, I’ve read a few hundred pages of Infinite Jest and it’s fun).

Still this one is easy compared to Day 20, favourite kiss. Favourite kiss? Yikes.

Anyway, a year or so ago I wished I had more people to talk to about Karen E. Bender and Nina de Gramont (eds) Choice: True Stories of Birth, Contraception, Infertility, Adoption, Single Parenthood, and Abortion. It’s an anthology of women’s stories about reproductive choices.

It’s simply a good (in the reading sense, not the emotional sense) set of real stories if abortion, infertility, pregnancy and birth stories interest you. Since I’ve been reading such since I was a kid, I loved it. I lack a huge number of friends (meatspace or online) who spend much time talking about reproductive choices.

The title doesn’t include childfreedom, but there’s at least one childfree writer, that said, if you’re not interested in parenthood decisions and stories in some way it’s largely not going to be an enormously interesting read.

It may not be a good book to read while pregnant or if you have infertility or pregnancy-related grief: there’s a second trimester abortion for pre-eclampsia (there’s an earlier draft of that one at warning ReadingWritingLiving) for example, a “baby scoop” birthmother’s story, and several other tragedies).

In fact, probably my single major criticism is also inevitable given the book’s scope: many choices are extremely serious, often distressing and conflicted, by the nature of soliciting stories from women willing to write thousands of words about a reproductive choice they made. Given that I tended towards being anxious anyway, it didn’t provide a great basis for pre-pregnancy reading, I should have been reading Pregnancy and Birth: loved it more than lollipops (not, as far as I can see, an actual title on the market).

Also, if you are thinking along these lines about disability politics, abortion and reproductive choice, you will probably find it an incomplete anthology: there’s a mother who chose to abort a fetus that would have been a second hemophiliac son, and a mother who had a
primary CMV infection and a healthy child, but not a lot of questioning of the a healthy child is a better child assumptions.

30 Day book meme, 1: a book series you wish would just freaking end already

Reposted from here

There seem to be a lot of 30 day prompts around at the moment, and I might take on a few of them. The first is the 30 Day book meme, now that I’ve finally found a list of all the prompts. I am not commiting to 30 continuous days.

Day 1 – A book series you wish had gone on longer OR a book series you wish would just freaking end already (or both!)

I’m ready for the ending of Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn Chronicles. There are actually only five books to date (six in the USA, where the fifth book was split in two), and apparently only one more to come (again, two in the USA). But it started in 1987! I started reading it in about 1994 or so. Every book since has been supposed to be the last one. And it’s
ultimately only one large plot arc, and thus very little has actually been wrapped up. Most of the subplots are still unravelling too.

I don’t know why Carmody has taken so long with this one. Perhaps she works slowly, or needs to spend time away from her worlds. But I’ve always thought that the single plot arc, and the first person point-of-view from the same character, is probably a mistake for this series. It’s become a really rich world politically and several of the secondary characters do a lot behind the scenes, but the structure requires the point-of-view character, Elspeth, who is a suspicious, traumatised introvert, to be present in order for the reader to learn anything.

It is nice to see an introvert done well (per Ursula Le Guin’s introduction to Birthday of the World, it isn’t often). Also, Carmody hasn’t made the mistake of making Elspeth’s arc terribly terribly boring in comparison to what is going on in the background (I’m one of the people who feels that JK Rowling managed to write the least interesting parts of events of Harry
Potter and the Deathly Hallows
by virtue of sticking with Harry’s point of view) but to be honest I am starting to get more interested in some of the secondary characters and plots than I am in her and hers. But it seems the Chronicles will conclude with the conclusion of her arc, and I’m ready for that.