Gwynn: KUBoobs sparks feminism debate


Let’s be real — you’ve heard about KUBoobs. I’ve heard about KUBoobs. The Huffington Post has heard about KUBoobs. And the feminist community has certainly heard about KUBoobs.

If you’re in denial, I’ll play along and inform you that KUBoobs is a social media craze that began here at the University last spring during March Madness. It started with a twitter account that sought to have female fans show support to the men’s basketball team by tweeting pictures of their breasts all done up in their gameday swag. It has more than 3,000 tweets and more than 35,000 followers: as in more followers than the University has undergraduate students, by 15,000. You could say it’s pretty popular. And you could say it’s pretty anti-feminist.

Only I think it’s a little more complicated than that.

That’s how a feminist lens of looking at the world works sometimes. It’s not always clear cut if you get the feminist seal of approval or not, if you’ve earned the complimentary vulva-shaped fruit basket and Maya Angelou mug. And surprisingly, by which I mean not surprising at all, feminists disagree with each other frequently about what’s “best” for feminism, a reality that is very clear in the discussion about KUBoobs and what it means in a feminist context.

There are two sides that have dominated KUBoobs in terms of how it relates to feminism: one claiming it is a feminist expression, and one claiming it’s incredibly anti-feminist. The pro side claims that these women are choosing to tweet pictures of their bodies and send them in order to take control of their bodies in a typically male-dominated arena, a fandom version of choice feminism. The anti side says that this is merely sexism, that it is rape culture cloaking itself as female empowerment, and that, as put it in a recent article on the topic, “doing what feels good to me isn’t always good for women at large.”

I have to say, neither of these sits well with me.

Female sexuality is constantly policed as is. Women are told that they either need to cover up or bare more; to be prettier or to be more professional; to be a virgin or to be a vixen.

I’m don’t support the idea that a woman is “anti-feminist” if she decides she wants to dress in a way that showcases her body however she’s most comfortable, or if she chooses to share her body with the world. Whether that means being covered from head to toe or wearing a miniskirt and cleavage-bearing shirt is an individual’s choice to make, and should be a choice that individual feels safe making.

However, all too often, feminists assume young women who are proud of their bodies must be blinded by patriarchy, that a woman could never possibly want to revel in the fact that she has a really great rack, that a woman would dare want to take her sexuality into her own hands and wield it blatantly.

I’m also not behind the idea that a Twitter account, being run by males who identify as men, that directly objectifies women’s bodies as a way of tribute to a male sports team can be said to have feminism first and foremost in their minds. And as one commentator on the KUBoobs Facebook page put so eloquently, and surprisingly accurately, “The female body has motivated men to strive for success since the dawn of time.”

Ah, yes, to strive for success — that success defined as who can dominate, and that domination defined as what kind of or how many women you can “win.” Where women’s body are a prize to be viewed in the afterglow of a Jayhawk win.

I don’t think these individuals who choose to participate in KUBoobs are anti-feminist in their personal decisions. It’s unfortunate that women aren’t allowed to express pride in their sexuality without having to trouble whether it’s “feminist” because of a society informing us that the main purpose of a woman is to be sexually consumed, and frequently conditions individuals to take that as undeniable fact.

And if you think female sexuality isn’t presented and treated differently in the media than male sexuality, let me ask this: why isn’t there a male equivalent to KUBoobs? Can you imagine KUAbs? KUBiceps? KUBallsack? For a male sporting event, would there be such extreme popularity of a twitter full of men tweeting pictures of their bodies, hashtagging them in order to cheer on our boys in blue and red?

Probably not.

The discussion can’t be laid out in a moral black and white, and my point isn’t to have you try to fit yourself into this binary of feminism. But I do want you to realize that the issue is complicated, challenging, and is worth discussing.

  • Updated Feb. 15, 2013 at 10:51 am
  • Matt Sullivan

    I don’t see anything complicated or challenging about it. What adults choose to do in their free time isn’t my business.

  • Matt Sullivan

    I don’t see anything complicated or challenging about it. What adults choose to do in their free time isn’t my business.

  • Alex Sosinski

    @KUhunks has been on Twitter since September 2012, but hasn’t been as popular at all.

  • Alex Sosinski

    @KUhunks has been on Twitter since September 2012, but hasn’t been as popular at all.

  • fiddleback

    I don’t care how you classify this garbage in terms of feminism. It’s pin-up culture, just a bit more permissible and palatable than softcore pornography. I’m hardly interested in its prohibition; the voluntary self-objectification of women is indeed about as endemic as alcohol consumption. The really regrettable aspect is that KU’s name is attached to it. If you were a smart and serious young person admitted to top schools and considering KU, what would this moronic exhibitionism and oggling by KU students make you think about coming here? Simply put, it’s bad press furthering the impression that KU is a dumb party school.