Co-editors Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti are seeking submissions for their anthology on rape culture, Yes Means Yes!, to be published by Seal Press in Fall 2008.
Imagine a world where women enjoy sex on their own terms and aren't shamed for it. Imagine a world where men treat their sexual partners as collaborators, not conquests. Imagine a world where rape is rare and swiftly punished.
Welcome to the world of Yes Means Yes.
Alright, let's start with the title. The title, my god. I read the title and was thinking, where have I seen that before? No, not this book of the same name, which I haven't read but seems to be going off in the same direction; maybe the editors of this one would be wise to read Albury's book and see what exactly they're doing. However, wasn't there a Doonesbury strip somewhere in the early seventies about men insisting something to the effect of 'liberated women say yes'? (I'm pretty sure it was that era and that it was Doonesbury, but I'm not finding the strip at the moment.) (Edited past my bedtime 12/15/07: same era, but it was Nicole Hollander's Silvia I was remembering, although for aforementioned reasons I don't have time at the second to pull up the strip. Trudeau may have done one in this vein too though and I just read it much longer ago, hence the forgetting.) Anyway: this is nothing new, folks. Feminism goes in ripples as well as waves, as does the backlash, and the backlash constantly comes with men saying to women (and sometimes men, but I'll get to that later) "No may mean no, but yes means yes, so let's do it. What are you, a prude?" I'm in target age range for sites like Feministing, at 22. Why don't I fall for this bait? Because I actually read history, beyond that which I learned in
Yes Means Yes! will fly in the face of the conventional feminist wisdom that rape has nothing to do with sex. We are looking to collect sharp and insightful essays, from voices both established and new, that demonstrate how empowering female sexual pleasure is the key to dismantling rape culture.
-sputters- Yes, I know there's a field that says it's only about power and that rape is the same as wife-beating and refusing to hire women and that all male/female penetrative sex is rape anyway, but to my knowledge plenty of 'conventional feminist wisdom' is explicitly aware of the link between rape and sex, of the way that women are deemed different from men first by sex (physical sex and as 'sources' of the act, both intensely personal) and that the act of rape is a reminder of male 'supremacy' through violation of the intensely personal. Or have I been just zoning out while the Feministing crowd pays lots and lots of attention, learns their history, and never repeats an argument or action?
…no, I'm pretty sure that's not it.
And empowering female sexual pleasure equals dismantling rape culture? NO NO NO NO NO. Don't get me wrong: empowering female sexual pleasure? Do it. It's great to have a dynamic by which women can engage in sex that is pleasurable. So: where is consent in all of this? Is it possible for sex to be physically pleasurable while not consensual? Because, you know, just because half the men on earth don't know a clitoris from a clavicle doesn't mean that every rapist is the archetypical shove-cock-in-gooshy-part-of-sex-object.
Now, where has empowering female sexual pleasure been high-activity work for decades? Centuries? Oh, right, the whole history of female-female sexual interaction that in more recent centuries in western culture has been driven underground by homophobia taken out in the name of Christianity and has, more recently, fought its way back up (Side note: while some feminists were busy arguing that rape has nothing to do with sex, other feminists were already busy having sex with each other. And making great porn out of it); these women have been ignored and rejected by large portions of the feminist movements and clearly their work continues to be forgotten by some. What has also been important accross history? Women fighting back, not by saying 'yes!' but with fists and feet. Women's self defense classes have been a small but building force in the last few decades; why is this effort not being put towards increasing that? Many brilliant minds are analyzing masculinity (Rebecca Walker's What Makes a Man comes to mind, even if it does ave the disastrous bit from Michael Moore); why not put more work into making sure these ideas are getting to every school, to every town, make sure that every boy growing up has a wide range of people to grow up into and knows ways to treat women with respect that isn't just misogyny masked with a smile?
You don't fight rape by enjoying sex more, just as you don't fight eating disorders by enjoying starving, binging, or vomiting (or even eating in and of itself) more. They're both symptoms of other problems, and the solution here proposed is not only so far from incomplete as to be a joke in its phrasing, it borders on the insulting to the many people who have already worked hard at empowering female sexuality and been rejected by the mainstream feminists. Why reinvent the wheel? Well, if it was invented by a bunch of queer women of color and of all sorts of sizes and shapes, you can bet Feministing will find some flat-stomached white women can 'invent' their own, Jen Sincero style.
Potential essay subjects could include;
* Revamping how public sex education is taught, and to whom.
Is this necessary? Yes. What comes first? In the US, the Bush administration has fought hard against decent sex ed (such as requiring teachers to say that condoms don't work); somehow I wonder just what folks expect to be able to do with revamped programs. Hi, can we get some political support where it's useful? And maybe it's just me, but somehow I don't trust anyone who thinks that the key to fighting rape culture is more women enjoying sex to design a sex ed program that would actually be an improvement.
* The new backlash against rape survivors (i.e., media obsession with drinking, Girls Gone Wild culture being to blame for assault)
AND THIS BOOK ISN'T BACKLASH AGAINST RAPE SURVIVORS? "If you'd just said yes, you wouldn't have been raped! It would have been consensual!" I know their intent is good, but the title alone is a problematic framework that recycles a male supremacist argument against women's consent being relevant to sex, and everything is downhill from there.
* Bringing men back into the conversation, making men leaders in the movement to end rape culture
I'm going to point again to Walker's What Makes a Man and even, in this case, to Michael Moore. A chapter from Stupid White Men, excerpted in What Makes a Man, is "The End of Men": a (mostly joke) primer for the very very basics of How Not To Be a Total Schmuck of a Husband. It's the sexist 'ha ha I'm a funny simple man' crap that you can expect from Moore. It's also written to the people that Yes Means Yes! wants to reach but doesn't have access to (because of the obvious issues of power dynamics and whose voices are valued baced on gender among other things, as well as how Moore's target audience isn't generally looking actively to end rape culture). Moore, in his haphazard and vomitous way (really, don't read this looking for gender progressiveness without, say, watching MSNBC for an hour) is calling upon men to be active both in listening to women and in playing a part in helping fix these problems.
Again: good idea, being done already. Stop saying how much this needs to be done and do it. (I'm not even stepping into the bit of bringing men back into the conversation, this time around anyway, except to say that men have only not been part of the conversation when women needed safe space or called for separatist space).
* Thoughts on “enthusiastic consent”
The term makes me violent, or violently ill, I'm not sure which. How does 'enthusiastic consent' a) exist as a measure of progress we haven't reached yet (because, you know, all women ever in history have just 'lay back and taken it') and b) fight rape culture? Wait, where's the most common place we see enthusiastic consent nowadays? Oh, yeah, in nearly every single movie coming out of Hollywood where the lead character is a male (in other words, nearly every movie coming out of Hollywood). "Enthusiastic consent" is what is assumed of women outside of rape, when consent is actually being considered. "Ladies' man"? "Women love me"? "Of course she'll want me"?
Edited 8:48pm 12/16/07: I was linked to this post about enthusiastic consent, which pulls in some context for those, like me, who consider enthusiasm part of the consent package and found this particular bit confounding.
* Taking Back the Porn: How changing the pornography industry can stop rape
See what I said before on feminist porn being nothing new but it being, like many other things, ignored by mainstream feminism as too gay/dirty/body-friendly/giving feminism a bad face. Also, apparently rape was invented after the creation of porn. I mean wait…
Seriously? Seriously, changing the porn industry will stop rape? The way punk music stopped capitalism in its tracks?
* The power of language (naming rape for what it is, or the new myth of “gray rape”)
Again, an important topic; however, considering their choice of three words for the title, I don't exactly think language is the editors' specialty.
* A primer for men on sexual assault
See my note on sex ed, and here's a list of books because so many people are working on this. How about Men Stopping Violence? If you spend an hour learning a year's worth of history, that's a year you don't have to waste redoing the same old shit. Small-scale comparison? This is also why here on livejournal you'll sometimes see a million and a half communities for the same exact topic: some are constructed in respons to community splits, but plenty more come up because looking for what's been done already is haaaaaard. Plus, it means that someone else gets the credit for starting something.
* How good sex (where women’s pleasure is central) can mean an end to rape culture, and how a society that values genuine female sexual pleasure will make it easier to identify and prosecute rapists.
-flails- PLEASURE IS NOT CONSENT. Rape doesn't happen solely to deprive women of pleasure. It happens to remind women who gets the final say. How many years of activism pushing the importance of consent are being completely squashed and forgotten in the interest of giving fighting rape a Cosmo face?
And because I've been avoiding tackling it: this concept that women can fight rape by self-empowerment through pleasure sends a really clear message: the problem of rape can be solved by changing women's response to sex. It's the fault of the victim, right? YOU DON'T NEED TO EMPOWER WOMEN TO SAY YES! Is shame an issue? Sure, for some folks. Does rape happen any less to women who don't have shame around sex? Does that question really need to be answered? For the sake of the glassy-eyed that are reading: Rape creates shame. Shame may have been there already, but it'll pretty sure mcome in afterwards. Guess what? "She was asking for it" isn't the line usually put on women who are visibly ashamed of and cloaking their bodies who are subsequently raped. Ending shame to end rape is like casting broken bones to stop bones from getting broken in the first place.
Tangent: Folks that know of the racism that feminism has been built on and continues to lean on? The same people who don't understand how anyone could call feminism based in racism are these people here thinking the answer to rape is saying 'yes.'
* Rethinking sexual interaction as a private joint performance, as opposed to as an exchange of a commodity or service
As someone who's had a mess of great sex that was neither private nor (assuming they mean only two) joint, as well as someone who's engaged in sex as an exchange of services (and when done in the interest fof mutual pleasure, isn't that an exchange of services as well?) I'm rather uninclined to shove sex back into the marriage bed where it never needed to be restricted to (and never successfully was, anyway). Sexual interaction comes in more flavors than jellybeans. It comes in more colors than your bright shiny book covers. If you personally don't enjoy them that doesn't make them rape. It just means you shouldn't give consent to engage in them yourself. Sweet christ on a crouton.
* An analysis of the economics of female sexual alienation/oppression, and an economic model for resistance
Hm, didn't Emma Goldman and even Marx and Engels write a mess of work on this? Why do I somehow suspect that that's not where this will be going?
* Holding the MSM accountable for torture porn, kidnapping crusades and faux feminism.
So I'm guessing they mean men's supremacy movement or masculinism and not men who have sex with men…and instead I'm going to critique these people's use of 'faux feminism' as a term that implies a) that all feminists are unified and want the same thing, and b) that these writers own feminism does not need to be challenged. Because if there's such thing as 'faux' feminism I'd be inclined to say that these women are it; but I'm not so partial towards wasting time on divining real versus fake feminism and rather like to look at the ideas themselves. And in case it isn't entirely clear, these ideas? Are bad. They undercut and render unimportant and invisible past action to combat male supremacy; suggest that women are responsible for rape throughout society if they do not personally make efforts to enjoy their own sex, and and and… -fumes-
* Desegmenting the Market: overcoming commercially enforced sexual stereotypes to organize across race, class, gender, and difference
While Aaminah posts on this much better here, I'll summarize simply: when I think of people to go to to organize across lines of race or class or a myriad of other differences who are actually willing to take into consideration the unique needs and intersections of oppression dealt with by those who are not able Christian/atheist straight white women? Mainstream feminists aren't who I tend to think of. Historically, the feminist movement has aimed to organize women across lines of race, class, and 'difference' by assuming that all women deal with identical oppressions, which has lead to such things as the framework of domestic abuse whereby primarily straight white women wind up actually able to access services that only really help a person 'rehabilitate' into a straight white woman anyway (See Priya Kandaswamy's "Innocent Victims and Brave New Laws" in Nobody Passes, ed. Mattilda aka Matt Bernstein Sycamore); welfare systems primarily helping white women while women of color catch the stereotype, especially as 'welfare queens', because that stereotype is used in the development and 'improvement' of these programs to say that women of color exploit the system (as though the system doesn't exploit them anyway! Karen Brodkin has an awesome writeup about this in How the Jews Became White Folks); I can go on and I'm sure most of you can too.
Which isn't to say that it wouldn't be nice to see these women work towards overcoming their own classism, racism, homophobia, sizeism, ableism, and other 'differences' they can't name. However I've got this little crazy idea that says maybe they could go read the librariesworth of literature already available calling them to task on these issues - but they can't take it seriously, of course, until it's written by 'someone like them'. I sure as hell hope they're not complaining when Michael Moore's audience continues not to read their work, although if they snatch up an idea like 'yes means yes' I wouldn't be too surprised.
* On pulling out the invisible lynchpin of rape culture: homophobia
AAAAAAAAAHHHHH. Say what? Maybe I don't understand their use of lynchpin: is this to mean that homophobia is the actual root of rape culture? Because I'm pretty sure that that's what this means. Where exactly did they miss the bit where homophobia, rooted in sexism (NOT the other way around), came around long after both sexist societies and rape? How about how modern-day same-sex/gender sexuality is in so many ways different from versions even a couple centuries ago and that homophobia is one of many permutations of sexism as sexism evolves over time? What, do they think getting rid of homophobia will stop rape or sexism? Because the last time I checked, Pride parades were hardly sexism-free spaces, and the queer community wasn't exactly rape-free either. Oh but wait, actually considering queer issues rather destroys the rhetoric of men rape, women get raped (unless they say yes and Have Pleasure?)
* Creating accurate media representations of rape
Step 1: Fight male supremacy that prevents progressive women from working in the media and acting contrarily to enforcing male supremacy without risking their jobs
Step 2: Fight male supremacy that causes the majority of society to be complicit with positive sexualization of rape by presenting images of women as complete humans and NOT just sexual beings who aren't doing anything else, anyway
Step 3: Wonder how saying 'yes' has anything to do with creating accurate media representations of rape. Perhaps they are proposing that a media industry promotions system based on sleeping with those in power is feminist after all?
Edit 1/1/08 6:10 pm: Going through older Mimi Nguyen writings, came accross this, figured I'd add it. Same shit, except that Sprinkle was actually pushing some new boundaries.