Titstare: Desire Isn’t The Problem, Harassment Is

Sep 10, 2013 • Technology

Disrupt is a conference hosted by the tech media giant TechCrunch. This year, their San Francisco hackathon came under fire after two programmers showcased their offering to those convened: Titstare, an app where everyone can post images of themselves looking at women’s breasts. The presentation, more comedy routine than the usual discussion of features, praised the app as a way for men to stay healthy, citing some junk science about how looking at breasts increases a man’s life and hypothesizing that a recent decrease in male life expectancy is the result of the widespread adoption of Cleava, a strip of fabric that can be worn by women over a bra to hide cleavage while donning low-cut shirts.

I’m going to start this conversation by saying that there’s nothing wrong with us for liking breasts.

Liking breasts is not problematic. Looking at breasts is not, in itself, problematic. Breasts feature in major works of art, in photography, in mainstream film and adult film. And these things are culturally significant, as well as occasionally thought-provoking, arousing and entertaining. But there’s a bit of context here: art, photography, film and porn are things that are created to be seen. People are not created to be seen. Unlike artistic creations, we are not objects to be acted upon — we are individuals. As the protagonists in our lives, we constantly choose whether we want to do this thing or that thing, go out this person or that person, go into this or that career, renew our lease on this apartment or move closer to the beach, and so on.

Put simply, there is a difference between looking at my tits when I post them on Twitter and peeking in my bedroom window. This difference is grounded in my participation — when I post my tits, I am a subject, acting to show you my tits. When you look in my window, on the other hand, you take that choice away from me and make me something that is simply acted upon — an object.

Of course, you would never peek in my bedroom window because that is creepy and criminal. Likewise, if you saw me at a coffee shop, you probably wouldn’t stare blatantly at my tits. Staring blatantly is creepy, no matter who is doing the staring or what they’re looking at. The problem with Titstare is that in “making fun” of how guys just can’t help being creepy all the time (which should piss you off, by the way), it dismisses consent. Most of the women pictured in the selection of photos shown on the app seem unaware that, when posing for photos, they were basically being set up to take part in a tit-stare. The attitude of this app that consent isn’t really necessary is what’s wrong here.

That’s the problem with Titstare. That’s how Titstare is different from this year’s AVN nominees for porno of the year or a sext from me showing you nothing but cleav. It’s not that it’s breasts. Breasts are amazing. It’s not that breasts are being called “tits” (mileage varies, but I love “tits”). It’s not that men are sick because some of them want to look at breasts.

Titstare’s premise hinges on dismissing consent as some absurd sort of uptightness on the parts of breast-owners. “Women just aren’t that warm to it,” says co-creator David Boulton, as he and Jethro Batts try to hold back the lol.

This is what’s wrong with Titstare, right here.

This is why I don’t think TechCrunch should have lumped the apology it issued about Titstare with the other “trouble” presentation at its hackathon, Circle Shake, an app that was presented with a vivid act of air wanking. It’s not male sexuality that is the problem here. It’s consent. The masturbation stroke-ranking app is between a man and his cock (and his iPhone, I guess). That’s great. Rank away. I used to time my masturbatory sessions when I was younger. I think it’s part of getting to know your body (maybe even the extent of your OCD? I’m speaking for myself here, not you) and that’s not a bad or hateful thing.

Sadly, by putting both presentations together, TechCrunch isn’t really helping. The solution to sexual harassment isn’t banning any and all hints of sexuality, it’s banning harassment.