At least two cents about OSBP

So, you’ve heard about the open-source boob project controversy, right? Well, now you have.

I will summarize, with prejudice: some pervs hanging out at Penguicon decided that people aren’t rude enough already and it should be easier to proposition random strangers re: copping a feel. In the interest of that goal, they devised buttons that indicated whether the wearer was interested in hearing that particular proposition. The idea was that if you wore a “Yes” button you were part of the Open-Source Boob Project.

Now, pervs at conventions do a lot of stuff that grosses me out, and usually I just try to ignore them. This particular pervy activity turned out to be very controversial online, and the chief instigator (linked above) threaded his original post with a big mea culpa, but I’m still not sure he gets the problem with it. Not why it might lead to an atmosphere of predatory sexual behavior or whatever, but why it was offensive.

Let’s start with the name. “Open-source Boob Project” strongly implies that women’s breasts are a commodity. A commodity that, in a perfect open-source world, would belong to everyone, and not to the holder of the copyright. You know, the woman.

Also, I seriously question his account of the way the project started — with the band of happy rude pervs blithely dancing down the halls asking every pretty girl they met if they could touch her breasts. In his story, all the girls say yes and none of them are offended. But in real life — if you pulled that at, say, Norwescon — I’m pretty sure that some people would be offended. I don’t know if the original band of OSBP pervs simply got lucky, petitioned a more pre-selected group than he’s letting on, or if he’s lying or misremembering. Or, maybe, the OSBP people were simply tone-deaf to the signs that they were, actually, bothering people.

His account of the events also reveals a certain familiar attitude, which I will summarize as, “I have noticed that I think you’re beautiful! Wasn’t that special of me to notice? Aren’t you flattered? Don’t you want to reward me in some way now?”

He describes it thus:

By the end of the evening, women were coming up to us. “My breasts,” they asked shyly, having heard about the project. “Are they… are they good enough to be touched?” And lo, we showed them how beautiful their bodies were without turning it into something tawdry.

Oh. My. God.

Were these women all hideously deformed? Insecure fourteen-year-olds? From another planet? On crack? Because unless the answer to all of those is yes,


It is not surprising. It is not flattering. It is not special. It does not have magical healing powers.

And his account is completely disingenuous anyway — he keeps trying to emphasize the supposedly non-pervy nature of it, with quotes like “it’s strangely wholesome and sexual at the same time,” and rhapsodizing about the lowering of barriers and the making of connections.

But you know, I have to ask, if it wasn’t really a sexual thing, why weren’t they just scamming hugs?

And, as if this needed to be said, the pathetic souls who wander around conventions scamming hugs are ALREADY PLENTY CREEPY.


  1. A real bunch of creepy tossers. Seems to me like someone has been spending too much time watching porn online.

    I think that he needs to be part of an Open-Source Ass Project, in which their asses are the property of everyone, and not theirs, and we have the right to do what we want with them, such as give them a good kicking.

    Or perhaps it’s just me an my insanity.

  2. Hear hear!

    As you pointed out, the deeply embedded fuckwittery of it all is in the title. Not only does it imply that women’s breasts are a resource, but naming them boobs adds to that sense of it being the brainfart of adolescents tittering behind their hands.

    My reaction was “give me a fucking break!” when I read about it.

    Plus, I strongly disagree with the whole notion of buttons. Like we have to label ourselves for the benefit of these idiots!

    Christ, what a bunch of misguided morons.

    1. Now wait a minute.

      When performing any kind of deviant social experiment or activity, fucked up or not, identifying the participants with a button or sash or arm band is probably a good idea. It says, “I’m playing this game.”

      LARPers use things like that all the time, as do other fan groups. The button doesn’t say something like, “Hi, I’m gay” or “Hi, I’m open.” It just says, “I’m participating in something. If you are too, you’ll know what it means.” And as he said, the men wore the buttons, too, and anyone could feel up the men who wore those buttons as well. Furthermore, even if you wore the button, you could still say no.

      It sounded like a fairly safe activity, despite still coming off sexist.

      1. Author

        It sounded like a fairly safe activity, despite still coming off sexist.

        You have a point, of sorts — they weren’t *trying* to be jerks. But their utter cluelessness about why they were jerks anyway it sort of my point.

        1. Absolutely!

          Your’s was the most intelligent counterpoint I’ve read so far.

          My first introduction to this topic was from someone who was defending the OSBP, and who linked to the Ferret’s explanatory apology post. I haven’t read much of the original post or the any of the comments. So, my reactions are somewhat biased, too.

  3. Thank you.

    It amazes me how many people I see blogging who are convinced that this “project” was only wrong in so far as it had potential to get out of control. The inherent wrong and creepy of it all just seems to have escaped them.

  4. I am a naive and optimistic sort, so I was willing to believe that this OSBP thing was all in good faith and good fun among friends, if incredibly stupid and wrongheaded. But then I saw this response (further discussed here) from Creepy Guy to a woman — a friend of his, supposedly — who didn’t want any part of it:

    “And your response seems to come from a personal mindset of, “My body is something so special to me that only people I have firmly vetted and talked to and invested in should be allowed to touch those areas.” Which is fine. It’s a way of saying, “I only want people I find attractive and/or nice to want me,” which is in fact the prevalent societal attitude.

    But that also involves an interview process, and the attitude that your body is a vested space that is, by nature, exclusive. That’s fine. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to be, or that it’s always healthy.”


    I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that the guy went that swiftly from the entitlement to the shaming, but damn.

    1. Author


      I quit reading before I got that far. But it’s an even clearer example of what squicked me out so thoroughly: the idea that, somehow, it’s aberrant to believe that one’s body is private space.

      It’s like a pervy inverse of the same kind of assumption of public ownership of female bodies that fundamentalists believe in.

      1. Re: Ewww

        Aberrant and, I think, cowardly. There’s a hint in that “prevalent societal attitude” business that reads to me as, “I dare you to think for yourself! I double dog dare you! I’ll know you’re thinking for yourself when you do things my way!”

        Don’t you just love it when you’re invited to prove that you’re a free-thinking individual by going along with some random jackass’s stupid “edgy” notions? *hiss*

        1. Author

          Re: Ewww

          Yes indeed.

          I still sometimes run into the idea that modern liberated feminist young women will *naturally* have sex with whomever and only repressed fundamentalist weirdos don’t.

          1. Re: Ewww

            If we didn’t learn anything else from the sixties, couldn’t I just pick this one thing for us to learn?? “If you’re truly liberated, you’ll have sex with me.” Oh for god’s sake.

    2. My body is something so special to me that only people I have firmly vetted and talked to and invested in should be allowed to touch those areas.

      Wait, what? There are people who don’t think that? As a point of biological fact it’s hard to imagine anything that is more “special” to a person than their own body…

      1. That was pretty much my response.

        I dunno. The ability of people to think weird things never ceases to amaze me. There are people who believe they’re dragons, after all. (I’ve even met someone who claimed for a while to hold that belief. Sheesh, the people I meet.) So I suppose it is possible of somebody, somewhere.

  5. I hadn’t heard about this controversy at all, so I followed your link to read up on it.

    What really stood out for me, both in his account and his apology, is that apart from the initial “heh-heh” comment, each stage in the chain of events was initiated by a woman. The first grope wasn’t by request, but by offer. The first request was made by a woman, of a woman. The buttons were an opt-in idea by women.

    Mr. Ferrett found this extraordinary, as well he should have done. But he seems to have entirely missed the point of those early gropes. She wasn’t opening up a world of sexual permissivity, I kept wanting to shout at him. She was flirting with you. There was clearly a certain amount of exhibitionism and frottage involved in the flirtation (neither one unusual for conventions, really), but at its core this was a flirting interaction among a very small group of people.

    It reads to me as though, for whatever reason — things like this do happen at cons — a group of women at a convention decided to offer their breasts to their friends for groping. And so the men at the convention understood that they had been granted the magical power to grope … which, however respectfully it’s done, isn’t the same thing. They turned themselves into the active party, co-opted agency, and created a problem.

    All of the men in the OSBP group were obviously aware on some level that they were being led. But both Mr. Ferrett’s enraptured narrative and his earnest apology claim ownership anyway: the women become peripheral figures, who show him what is possible under particular circumstances (more accurately, within a Bakhtinian carnival, but I don’t imagine he knows the terminology), instead of the leaders & instigators of a flirtation. And I’m certain that his perceptions & actions at the time made the same mistake.

    (And, Mr. Ferrett? That woman who panted, “Are they good enough to be touched?” She was making fun of you. That whole interaction happened on her terms, not yours, and there was nothing magical about it until you decided it was all about you.)

    1. I don’t imagine I know the terminology either. A what now?

      1. Gaah. I do tend to get elitist when I’m grumpy, don’t I? Sorry about that.

        Carnival, in the works of Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin, denotes a social space in which — under the guise of levelling hierarchies — social orders are actually inverted by common consent.

        So all of the things that normally aren’t acceptable because they would disrupt the social hierarchy become encouraged or even mandatory. All social roles become explicitly performative. And because it all occurs within a space that is actively defined by the conventional hierarchy, none of this is actually transgressive. In fact it usually serves to uphold the hierarchy by providing a temporary & harmless environment for people to protest it: “You can cry all you want as long as you do it in your room.”

        A carnival doesn’t make it okay for men to grope women, because that’s not an inversion of the social hierarchy: in fact it’s a very explicit assertion of it! However, it does make it okay for women to offer their bodies for groping, because that’s a normally unacceptable assumption of agency.

        Inversion or levelling of roles is usually interpreted by privileged individuals as anarchy: they see others getting more rights, and assume that their rights have also increased. Of course, this isn’t a valid assumption, because the only rights that the underdogs acquire are the same ones that the top dogs already, unconsciously, exercise.

        So that’s my analysis of what happened here. Within a carnival space, some woman usurped the agency of offering a very physical flirtation; and some men misinterpreted this to mean that they had been given the agency to ask for it — not understanding that it’s an implicit aspect of male privilege of which women are already far too aware.

        1. Oh! Saturnalia, for instance? Perhaps also Marie Antoinette’s silly little farm?

        2. Author

          Interesting. I’ve never read Bakhtin, but I’ve been calling SF cons “carnival” spaces for years.

          1. It’s been more than ten years since I last read any of his work, and I wouldn’t have called myself an expert even then, but from my own understanding of the term, SF cons are the best examples of carnival I’ve ever attended. Or at least, the good ones are.

            (This is not to say that I’ve always acted appropriately within a carnival; I haven’t. I’ve made many of the same errors of interpretation of which I’m now accusing Mr. Ferrett. I was just fortunate enough not to blog about them later.)

        3. If I’m understanding, an example might be the southern baptist church function my husband attended in 198_ in which all of the high school boys were dressed as girls by all of the girls, in order to perform a fashion show for all audience members. Not actually co-opting, just reinforcing in a twisted way.

  6. That has to be one of the creepier things I’ve read about lately.

    “By the end of the evening, women were coming up to us. “My breasts,” they asked shyly, having heard about the project. “Are they… are they good enough to be touched?” And lo, we showed them how beautiful their bodies were without turning it into something tawdry.”

    WTF!? I’m glad this guy lives in an imaginary world where women are shy supplicants entreating him to grope confidence into them.

    I wonder if it would break his pervy little heart to know that women ARE NOT STUPID. We know that men want to touch breasts. In many cases, any breast. Forgive me for being crude, but a woman can have breasts like tube-socks and there is a man somewhere out there that wants to touch them.


  7. Why are there so many fucked up people at sci-fi cons? Sci-fi fandom seriously has the highest concentration of fucked up people out of any group or community I have ever been a part of.

    1. in general sci-fi /fandom type people

      are outcasts of some sort and us outcasts have to stick together.

      Personally I love finding people worse off than me. Makes me feel more normal.

      I would also like to point out that people have a vested interest in ignoring whats fucked up about themselves while pointing at others.


    It is not surprising. It is not flattering. It is not special. It does not have magical healing powers.

    No healing powers?
    Then why do I feel better after touching them??

      1. I know that I guess

        I was poking a little fun.

        This guy seems like a real life version of an internet troll.

        They don’t care who’s ox gets gored or what they say they just want to get a rise out of people.

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