The Open-Source Boob Project

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Event: The Open-Source Boob Project, OSBP
Name(s): theferrett
Date(s): April 21, 2008
Type: meta, online
Fandom: Multifandom
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The Open-Source Boob Project was conceived at one con, and implemented at another.

In 2007, TheFerrett attended ConFusion, during which he and a group of friends had had a revelation. His LJ entry on it, dated April 21, 2008, started with this:

This should be a better world," a friend of mine said. "A more honest one, where sex isn't shameful or degrading. I wish this was the kind of world where say, 'Wow, I'd like to touch your breasts,' and people would understand that it's not a way of reducing you to a set of nipples and ignoring the rest of you, but rather a way of saying that I may not yet know your mind, but your body is beautiful."

We were standing in the hallway of ConFusion, about nine of us, and we all nodded. Then another friend spoke up.

"You can touch my boobs," she said to all of us in the hallway. "It's no big deal.

From here, theferrett conceived of the Open Source Boob Project.

The Penguicon Project

The project premiered at Penguicon complete with a philosophy, rules, and accessories.

"At Penguicon, we had buttons to give away. There were two small buttons, one for each camp: A green button that said, "YES, you may" and a red button that said "NO, you may not." And anyone who had those buttons on, whether you knew them or not, was someone you could approach and ask:

"Excuse me, but may I touch your breasts?"

And if you weren't a total lout - the women retained their right to say no, of course - they would push their chests out, and you would be allowed into the sanctity of it. That exchange of happiness where one person are told with gropes and touches that they are desirable and the other is someone who's allowed to desire."


Regarding numbers, theferrett wrote: " For the record, I think there were like twenty to thirty open-sourcers out of a crowd of a thousand." [1]

The Post, and Comments

The post has 1324 comments. He posted several edits/clarifications on his point of view on what happened.

"Open Source" and Boobs, What's the Connection?

A singular project, perhaps adding to (or more likely detracting from) our understanding of the term 'open source'. That term in the software context, as set out in the GNU General Public Licence states that the essential foundations of 'open source' are as follows:
There are four freedoms that every user should have:
the freedom to use the software for any purpose,
the freedom to change the software to suit your needs,
the freedom to share the software with your friends and neighbors, and
the freedom to share the changes you make.
It is not entirely clear how far the equation between 'open source software' as described above and 'women's breasts' was intended to be taken by the Open Source Boob Project, which premiered at Penguicon in 2008 and was brought to the consciousness of fandom at large by a post by [2] by Livejournal user TheFerrett.


Initial responses to the Open Source Boob Project were somewhat mixed. This changed rapidly as the post spread through LiveJournal.

The vast majority of women posting were extremely upset that their bodies were considered targets of opportunity.

Reactions include "it's a selfish grasping onanistic power play disguised as utopian openness and universal freedom." And, "Anyone who thinks that male assumptions of privilege and sexual objectification don't exist any more, and female safe spaces are not necessary, can just take a gander at The Open Source Boobs Project (which as someone said, is more like "The Public Domain Boobs Project" as in: women's breasts should be usable by anyone, ewwwwwww.)"[3]

Some fans reacted by proposing more gender-neutral or male-revenge specific projects in response to the OSBP. One example was the "Open Source Swift Kick to the Balls Project." [4] On a more serious note, the "Open Source Women Back Each Other Up Program" was proposed by vito_excalibur on April 23 [5] as a response to encourage women to look out for each other at conventions, to intervene in or at least question the willingness of participants in any events where it may appear that a woman is being coerced into doing something she is not comfortable with, such as being touched in an apparently sexual manner. [6]

theferrett posted that the OSBP would not continue at future conventions, and that he would not attend ConFusion nor PenguinCon the following year. "[The OSBP] was highly context-specific. What happened to us, even if it was good, is not what will happen to you. The danger of it getting out of hand is too great – and already, people worry that they’re going to be press-ganged into a groping area if they don’t have a button, despite the fact that I (and others) have said that’s not what happened at all. But honestly? That easily could happen without proper supervision, male power being what it is…And the fear is something that can be triggering in itself. I do get that. And nobody should be triggered." [7]

Some fans began posting responses along the lines of "A Straight Geek Male's Guide to Interaction with Females" [8] which suggested ways for men to interact with women at conventions in an unthreatening, polite way. Some comments to the post A Straight Geek Male's Guide to Interaction with Females, expressed displeasure that such basic ideas as common courtesy, cleanliness, and respect needed to be explained to men attending conventions.

Comment: Excerpts at the Post

So, was there equal enthusiasm for the grab my nuts project?
There was not. But there's a lot of reasons for that, not the least of which is that it's a lot harder to keep it distant when Little Elvis is bucking and twisting in your hands.
it's a lot harder to keep it distant when Little Elvis is bucking and twisting in your hands

That presumes women are not sexually aroused when someone touches their breast. That is erroneous.

Your proposal is not legitimate sexual expression. The very fact that you think it's acceptable to ask to invade a woman's personal space when she's a total stranger disturbs me greatly. The very fact that you think it's reasonable to want to put your hands on a woman's body without knowing anything about her -- objectifying her not only into a nameless body but a nameless pair of breasts -- strikes me as a symptom of male entitlement at its worst. It's childish. It says, "But they're right in front of my face! I see them all the time! Why can't I touch them? It's not fair!" That's the kind of behavior one should outgrow in kindergarten.

Since it appears from your interest in breasts that you're primarily heterosexual, I would guess you'd be happy to wear a button that indicates you'd allow someone to ask to fondle your package, but then what would happen if a gay man asked for that privilege? Would you allow it? It's nothing personal; he just thinks your body is beautiful, right?

My body is not "open source". It belongs to me. Even if I walk around stark blinking naked, you have no right to ask to touch me. If you want to touch me, you'd best get to know me first.
Wait, wait, wait. Why wouldn't they have the right to ask? Are you trying to unnaturally restrict speech to preserve your sense of entitled dignity? No right to touch you, sure. But to make the request? Pffffsh.
Do you really think it's acceptable to proposition total strangers? Do you think that's freedom of speech is? Okay, sure, you can ask me anything you want. But it would be very rude of you, and not a little bit skeevy, and I have the right to tell you that. It is not "entitled" of me to assert the dignity and autonomy of my body or my person. I do not think that word means what you think it means.
The request constitutes an invasion of personal space, agency, and integrity just as much as the actual touching does.

The fact that you guys were suddenly way more worried about whether a hot chick would let you touch her than you had been about the other women involved suggests to me that this is really really not as wholesome as you think it is.

That's what makes this whole thing so unbelievably creepy. The fact that you don't know it's creepy.
As one of the OSBP founders, I can tell you that the one bit that Ferrett seems to have left off was that it was not exclusively boobs. While it's much better for the name, it was indeed inclusive of the male and female ass-touching.
Respectfully, if one is attending a convention that they themselves are not running, then implicitly the convention committee and their representatives have the right to dictate appropriate behavior at said convention. This is in large part because they're the ones who could get sued if they don't control that behavior.

There are places in this country where a man publicly touching a woman's breast is engaged in illegal lewd behavior. You or I might consider the question of consensuality to be controlling, but the police in those municipalities won't. What if there's a fifteen year old present, and the fifteen year old's parents finds such conduct immoral? Do they not get to attend the convention? Are they forced to condone the act even if they aren't participating in the project?

By the same token, does the convention have the right to restrict the project to closed room parties and bar it from, say, the hallways? Doesn't that defeat the entire purpose of the project?

Can the project guarantee that someone who doesn't want to participate at all won't be pressured to accept a button, green or red? Or that someone who accepts a red button won't be construed as approving of the project? Can we truly say that all participants will follow the rules and their spirit as laid out, and that no one who isn't participating will be put into an uncomfortable situation?

What about the guy who lacks all social grace who joins the project only to be refused by all participants? Is it fair to that guy? Or to the generally nice people who want to play but don't want to be touched by him? I'm vaguely reminded of the Oneida Community in the 19th century -- they were very much open source, sexually, but they reserved the right to refuse. And one person who couldn't get laid to save his life turned out to be Charles Gaiteau, and he went on to kill the President of the United States, in part out of a general sense of rejection. Also, insanity, but I digress.

Do I agree with you that things that do not cause harm should not be censured or locked down? Actually, I do. I have no problem with the project.

But I'd hate to see a Science Fiction convention closed down and forced into bankruptcy over it.
Sharing intimacy defeats the point of intimacy, don't you think? True... I'd have to say that it would bother me if a bunch of dudes were touching my girlfriends breasts. Its one of those, where do you draw the line type things. Of course cons are know for this sort of thing. Plus I can see this sort of thing being taken too far....
This post basically removed whatever last vestige of chance there was that I would ever go to a con.

Not all cons are like this.

Ok, a lot of them have the *potential* to get partially like that, or do get like that in limited areas, but in general, this sort of thing is more the exception than the norm.

There are many, perfectly legitimate, reasons not to go to a con. Cons attract the best and the worst of a fandom, and if you were to judge simply by the pictures that tend to get posted, and the stories people tell of their drunken debaucheries, they wouldn't let kids (and some adults) within 500 yards of the place. But I don't think a fear that this might happen should be one of those reasons.
some things do not necessitate debate, the whole thing is objectively deplorable and attempting to debate this with people who don't see it is like trying to explain to a sociopath why killing puppies is wrong; if they didn't get it at first, they probably never will
This is squicking me out something awful, particularly because of the peer pressure of it.

This is at it's core objectification. You want to touch the woman's breasts not because of anything to do with the woman as a person, but as a separate item you like her breasts. If people are cool about that in a safe setting that's their prerogative, but it sets off red flags for me. Women are barraged by media that it's good to be objectified for the enjoyment of others. Internalizing that and accepting it seems to be the basis of the project. I see where it's cool and freeing, but it seems predicated on taking advantage of awful conditioning.

The peer pressure comes into play where most people don't want to be the party pooper. Look how you are describing the women who don't want strangers to touch their breasts. They "don't get it". They weren't "open". That's a crappy position to put people in; either they let strange men touch them in a sexual fashion, or they're square and no fun. I might say sure, trying to be one of the cool kids. I'd want to Get it, I'd want to be open. However I'd also be deeply uncomfortable.

Much like now, I don't want to ruin your fun, but this seems to be trading on low self esteem and internalized objectification. I know several bold sexual women who would have been first in line, but are compensating for low self-esteem and just want someone to like them. If a free grope was the toll, they'd pay it, but that's really unhealthy. Obviously not all the participants felt this way, but the wider spread something gets the more people are pressured to participate lest they get the scarlet button of "Doesn't get it."
Something to consider from your post, it sounds like this was a relatively wide spread con-activity, what with the women coming up and asking if they're good enough*, and asking random women in the hall. I think this reads differently if you're talking about a dozen or so people vs. culturally dominating a smallish intimate con. Finally, there's a world of difference between one person rejecting another for asking a question that would be an appropriate in most other venues, and one asking a panel of if she was passably attractive enough to be groped by strangers and being told no, and subsequently can't play in the reindeer games. It's matter of power imbalance and commentary on inherent worth.
A convention happening where women decide that they want to be more open about their bodies is one of those situations. I know how you feel; I literally, directly, understand your experience. In cuddles and snuggles and the like, as a straight man, I get a lot out of it—yes, I do mean that I get a sexual charge when women choose to be freer with their bodies in what is, for them, a nonsexual context. I'm not ashamed of it (because I'm really fucking over being ashamed of my own sexuality), but I am aware that I am, even when I'm not doing anything, already "taking advantage" of the situation. My privilege has already put me in the advantage.

So what does that mean here? It means that if this was really a movement focused around women respecting their own bodies and the bodies of other women, you probably shouldn't have taken it upon yourself to explain it to the internet. And that when you did explain it to the internet, you probably should have realized that your own personal point of view is very much not representative of what happened and was, in some ways, counterproductive to what happened. And that when people started calling you on this shit—including other people who were there and very clearly had a different experience from yours—you should probably have taken a step back and looked at what you wrote from their eyes, instead of blaming readers for seeing what you wrote, even though you didn't realize that's what you were writing.

Women's breasts are not magical devices for healing straight men's psyches. Women's bodies do not exist to make straight men feel better about themselves. Women have their own shit to deal with, and a lot of the time, that shit is us, even (sometimes especially) when we're trying to do better. And trying to be the spokesperson for a movement without acknowledging, accepting, and fucking dealing with your position of power is just working at crosspurposes to that same movement.
You're acting as though I do this all the time, and just randomly ask to touch the breasts of women I like. I certainly never did that to anyone who never had a button. And I only ask of women who do have buttons.

This very weekend, I told at least three women that they were stunningly beautiful. I didn't follow that up with a "Hey, can I touch your boobs?" because that's not what you do in everyday life, or even at a con.

However, the Project allows you to do things you wouldn't do in everyday life. That's the point.

If you don't want it, then don't wear the green button. You can even wear the red button if you don't ever want to be asked. That's what it's there for.
1. That the whole thing was started by a bunch of geeks and we were being slightly tongue-in-cheek;

2. That the reaction was the open-source experiment, not the women themselves. It was open for people to either join or not join, open to interpretation as to whether and when to wear the buttons, open to being explained to others, open for anyone else to explain to and invite others. It was a project in the sense that it was a social experiment.

No one involved ever looked upon it as objectivizing the people involved. When people touched me, it was with respect and caring, and when I touched others, both men and women, it was with warmth and the happy glee of simply connecting.
THIS IS A HUGE PART OF MY PROBLEM: it is the internet con nerd tendency to take an isolated incident and turn it into some kind of legitimized Movement in which is it Philanthropically Feeling Your Tits For The People's Liberation! that is some utter bullshit
Why, if only Connie Willis had been wearing a green button when Harlan Ellison reached out his hand! I'd say that the SFF crowd doesn't have any problem with presuming the right to touch women's breasts.
Somehow I suspect that a supply of buttons are not going to be brought to Clarion and offered to all of the professional women and men there in the spirit of hoping that they will take a position on the record for or against having their boobs and asses fondled. I also suspect that Vernor Vinge and Tamora Pierce weren't pressed to make their opt-in or opt-out positions known. This whole OSBP has the whiff of sexism that commenters are picking up on or defending against, but it also has elements of maturity and classism. The grown-ups who have lived long enough to work for and earn respect in their chosen fields, and then attend a convention to spread their wisdom and experience, didn't need play this game. The little kids who feel insecure about themselves and needed validation that they have some sort of worth and are capable of forming shallow temporary bonds with strangers, that's who played the OSBP game.

What you need to know about the "Open-Source Boob Project" at Penguicon 2008...

1) Michigan scifi fandom is very touch-positive. People hug and touch and cuddle at the drop of a hat at small and large gatherings. It's weird if you're not used to it. People expect that everyone hugs everyone hello and goodbye, though it's not considered rude not to do so.

2) Michigan scifi conventions are very safe places for nearly everyone. (I'd say everyone, except that there's an exception to every rule.) Women and girls can dress however they like and not fear assault because there's a shared community value that prohibits assault, and bystanders would intervene. Bystanders have intervened when people new to the community crossed

3) Many women and girls (meaning teens) take advantage of the safe space to explore their provocative sides. It's something they probably would never do in the "real" world because of the consequences, but they do it here. I mean really provocative, including nearly naked with a bunch of body paint and a bit of fabric. I mean t-shirts with provocative sayings or even air-brushed eyeballs where the boobs are.

I'm kind of surprised that something like the "Open-Source Boob Project" has not occurred before.

Fanworks in Response

Nineveh_uk encapsulated her response in the Dorothy L. Sayers' story, I've Been to a Marvellous Party.

Other Links to Discussion


  1. page 2, archive link, page 2
  2. TheFerrett, The Open-Source Boob Project, The Ferrett, April 21, 2008
  3. msilverstar post on LiveJournal dated 2008-04-23, accessed 2011-07-01
  4. now offline, was at misia
  5. This is not a joke. This is not satire. This is not a test., post by vito excalibur, has 730 comments
  6. This is not a joke. This is not satire. This is not a test., post by vito excalibur, has 730 comments
  7. post page one
  8. A Straight Geek Male's Guide to Interaction with Females, timjr, 275 comments

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