So, as you may be aware, Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti are working on book. I've seen a variety of responses to the project- some people are really excited about it, some people are a bit on the fence, and some people are pretty upset. There's been some criticism to the call- even the post, some people have remarked that they're unhappy with the wording:
One quibble: Yes Means Yes! will fly in the face of the conventional feminist wisdom that rape has nothing to do with sex.
I dislike the implication of this claim to "fly in the face of conventional feminist wisdom," because it seems to me, paradoxically, to score a point for this new feminist project at the expense of existing feminism(s) and feminists.
Which is, you know, fair. A more thorough criticism of that point was also made by Andrea Rubenstein, over at Shrub. Andrea's point is a good one: Language is important, and we have to particularly careful about how we use it, because it can actually do harm to our cause if we don't. She points out that lines like that one create an oppositional framework with different types of feminists on each side, when it isn't necessary to do so. Ultimately, all of us want to end rape, so why set up strawfeminists and, in the process, alienate our allies? It's a very good post and I think Andrea is very fair.
I'm not the only one, either- there's a really interesting discussion happening there right now, including a comment from Friedman, who agrees with Andrea's criticism:
Thanks for a great post. As a co-editor of the anthology (and, of course, the call) I don't think it's picking nits -- you're not the first person to point out the unintentional oppositionality in our phrasing, and I regret it. We in no way want to create or re-inscribe false divisions between feminists. What we more meant is that the concept of "sex has nothing to do with rape" has gotten twisted to the point where it's difficult in some quarters of rape prevention to talk about changing the sexual culture as a means to eradicate rape culture, and we're seeking to take that silence on in this anthology.
This post, by imfallingup, I'm less impressed with.
I like righteous indignation as much as anyone else, but while I think that Andrea's comments were fair and justified, I find this post really vitriolic. A lot of the criticisms strike as particularly unfair. I don't know whether it's accidental, or intentional, but many of the points seem like serious misreadings of what the proposal is suggesting.
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?"
In other words, the author thinks that the title is suggesting "If only women would consent more, they wouldn't get raped." Really? I'm sorry, but how, exactly, is that the most obvious reading of the title? Look, we all know and understand that "no means no", right? Yes? The "problem" with "no means no" is that there are a lot of people who have taken that to mean that "only no means no." In other words, if someone doesn't say no, it means yes. The title of the book is an attempt to reframe that. In other words: Lack of "no" doesn't mean yes- only "Yes Means Yes".
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. And if all you're doing is teaching women to have pleasurable sex during some shove-cock-in-gooshy-part-of-sex-object type action that was going to happen anyway, the only people you're empowering is men. Have we all forgotten the word 'consent'?
Again, I don't understand how someone can honestly read that proposal and think that this is what Friedman and Valenti are suggesting. The key isn't just getting women to enjoy sex (although, yeah, that's a great goal, too), the point here is that we, as a society, devalue women's sexuality. In a society where women's sexual experiences are devalued, where sex is thought of as a commodity, and where women are punished for wanting or enjoying sex, we end up with a lot of people who have really screwed up visions of sex and rape that allow them to justify why what they did wasn't really rape. I can't be the only person who went through college and saw some of these disturbing attitudes firsthand. It's only in a world where women's sexuality is so completely devalued that you can have, for example, some frat guy rape a passed out woman at a party and say, with a straight face, that it wasn't rape because "she didn't say 'no'".
Is that all rape?
Obviously not. But those sorts of cases are disturbingly common, and, at least as I understand it, they're a pretty big part of the things we're talking about when we talk about rape culture. Do I think that reframing our understanding of consent will actually end rape? Well, no, obviously not. But, then, I also recognize that it's a book and a book proposal, which means that it's going to be worded more strongly than it ought to be. Is it fair to criticize the strength of the wording? Absolutely. Even if you criticize it for being worded too strongly, I don't think it's fair to pretend that it's saying things that it's not, though.
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?
Again, the point of the book isn't that victims should be saying yes. That's just not an honest reading at all. Quite frankly, it strikes me as the reading of someone with an axe to grind. I'm certainly aware of the anger and resentment that came about after Valenti's last book, so I can absolutely understand being apprehensive and cautious about other books that she's involved with- but I don't think that excuses or justifies intentionally misrepresenting what this project is about. And you know, it's true, women's self defense classes have been a small but building force in the last few decades... and, as I recall, Friedman, in fact, endorsed that... Oh, that's right. She did:
And yet it's true; women and girls can keep themselves safe using our very own bodies. No pepper spray. No whistles. Even women who don't work out, or are "overweight" or are physically impaired...
...Regardless of this resistance, we must all learn how to defend ourselves and insist that our schools and other public institutions teach all girls and women the same skills and not just for our own safety. Because the most practical way to reduce the risk of rape for all women is to create a culture in which the rapist has to worry that he'll get hurt.
And the bit about masculinity and raising boys properly? You mean, for example, by making sure that they understand that lack of resistance isn't the same as consent? You mean by making it clear to them that a woman who isn't giving active consent should be understood to be saying 'no'? By, making it clear that only yes means yes?
And, honestly, I get really tired of reading the "why isn't more effort being put into X, Y, or Z?" Because, you know, there are a lot of us, and there's plenty of work to go around. This book, however problematic the wording of the proposal was, sounds like it does want to address issues around how boys are raised to understand women's sexuality, and how we view rape and sex in our society. That's an important message and I think that it is an important part of battling rape culture. I don't think that it's the only part, but it's an important part none-the-less.
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.
Okay, time out.
I've seen a couple of other people mention this kind of thing, too- that this is a "feministing project." Or talking about "Jessica's new book." Now, the last time I checked, which was... um... just now, the editors of this book are "Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti." Jessica Valenti is from feministing. Jaclyn Friedman is not. This author mentions Jessica's name and feministing a few times, and seems to think that Friedman and Valenti are the same person... they're not. Jaclyn Friedman is the program director at the Center For New Words, and a member of Big Moves. She's the driving force behind the annual WAM! conference- which, you know, seems to be trying really hard to help bring less mainstream feminist's concerns up so that they get more attention and to help all women's voices be heard. Are she and Valenti working on this together? Absolutely. But it doesn't mean that every complaint about Valenti's past work, or about feministing in general, is fair to levy against this book. Before going off about how they're going to ignore "queer women of color and of all sorts of sizes and shapes" it might behoove the author to make sure that, you know, that's actually the case. Because, as it turns out, Friedman does, and continues to do, work with queer women of color and of all sorts of sizes and shapes.
In other words: This isn't a "feministing" project, and continuing to refer to it as one, and continuing to talk about it as though it's the exclusive property of Valenti ignores the fact that there are two names associated with the book, and that, in fact, Friedman's name comes first. So, maybe it might be a good idea not to pretend that she doesn't exist and that her input into the book isn't important or worth examining?
And, you know, nowhere did I see the suggestion that enjoying sex more is the solution. What I saw was the suggestion that getting society to understand that women already do enjoy sex, and that sex isn't a commodity that women have that men must get through any means is important. Is there already work being done on this? Absolutely. But, as the author notes, the message isn't getting out. And you know, on a personal level, can I just point out that dismissing Friedman and Valenti as "flat-stomached white women" isn't a criticism of the book. Also: Factually inaccurate. But, let's conveniently ignore that Friedman also does work on size issues with Big Moves, because that'd make it hard to dismiss the effort as being one from a flat-stomached white woman, wouldn't it?
The author then goes on to attack, one by one, the list of "potential essay subjects".
* 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.
And if that was even remotely what Friedman and Valenti were suggesting, I'd totally agree. But, honestly, I just don't see how anyone can honestly believe that either of them are seriously suggesting "you know, if you'd have just said yes, you wouldn't have been raped." The insanity of that statement alone should suggest "You know, that's probably not what they're saying." So, in short, no, I don't think that this book is a backlash against rape survivors. I'd point out that one of the authors has already written about her experiences as a rape survivor, but, you know, whatever.
* 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"?
a)It's a measure of progress not yet reached, because it's not the standard view of consent. We don't, in our society, generally view sexual consent as a positive action (that is, we don't see it as something that people do, not that we don't see it as a good thing), rather, it's seen as a lack of something else. Consent isn't a thing unto itself- it's the absence of rejection. And, even then, it's often portrayed as the lack of strong rejection, not just rejection.
b)The quotes given by the author are exactly the sorts of things that they're talking about- those attitudes "of course she'll want me" aren't enthusiastic consent. They're, in fact, the opposite. If you're going into the bedroom with that attitude, you're not looking for enthusiastic consent, you're assuming you've already got consent, and nothing short of a serious rejection is going to convince you otherwise. The point is to make people understand that anything less than enthusiastic consent from the other person should give you pause and make you think "Maybe the other person isn't into this".
* 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?
Yes, feminist porn is nothing new. And, yes, like many other things, it has largely been ignored by the mainstream. How, then, does it make sense to criticize Friedman and Valenti for proposing it as a topic help bring the conversation into the mainstream? They haven't suggested that this is something new- they've suggested it as a topic that people might be interested in writing and reading about. If you think that this is an important topic, I'm not sure I understand the value in criticizing them for pointing it out. And, yeah, again, it's worded too strongly. No, changing the the industry won't, by itself, stop rape. I also don't think that recycling is actually going to end global warming, either- but I certainly think it's an important part of it, and I recognize when I see commercials that say things like "Save the Earth: Recycle" that they're using hyperbole.
-flails- PLEASURE IS NOT CONSENT.
-flails- NOBODY SAID IT WAS!
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?
Again, where do Friedman or Valenti say that rape is about denying women pleasure? The point was that a society that values women's pleasure wouldn't push the idea that a lack of "no" is the same thing as consent. It wouldn't tolerate or accept the really common attitude that "if I get her drunk enough, she can't say no" isn't rape. Because, if society actually valued women's pleasure and their sexuality, then people wouldn't act in ways that seem specifically to work against it.
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 author would have done well to continue avoiding it, because it's not a concept that anyone else is promoting. Nobody is seriously suggesting that if women would just start enjoying sex, we wouldn't have rape anymore. Again, that idea is so clearly insane that I don't understand why the author would jump to that conclusion. I really don't.
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.
And, see, that's exactly why reading it that way is so clearly wrong. If you've got the choice between reading the suggestion as "If women would just say 'yes' more often, there'd be less rape" (which is, again, fucking insane), and "if society valued women's sexuality more, there'd be less rape" (which is, at the very least arguably true), why would you go with the insane reading? I just don't get that.
* 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.
I can sort of agree with the author about the phrase “private joint performance” in so far as I’m uncomfortable with the word “private” there, but I think, again, that
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-
I know, I'm a broken record, but... seriously, they're not suggesting that women are responsible for rape throughout society if they don't personally make efforts to enjoy their own sex!
Again: That. Is. Insane.
Think whatever you want about FFF and of Friedman and Valenti, but I've never been under the impression that either of them are victim blamers, and I've certainly never gotten the impression that either of them was insane. So, I'm not inclined to jump to the worst possible reading of their words when there are other, less blatantly bad readings.
And you know, I get where a lot of the above is coming from, I think. Because, yeah, there's a lot of ugly history around mainstream feminists ignoring certain issues, and, yeah, the blowup around FFF has created a lot of bad blood. And, yeah, there are some legitimate concerns to be had- and I think that it's wrong for someone to pretend that the issues of white, middle-class women are the only issues that women face or the only issues that feminists should be concerned with. But I also think it's really wrong and harmful to misrepresent what is actually being proposed in an effort to discredit the works of those feminists you don't personally like.
There are lots and lots of people that I find personally unpleasant or with whom I have serious issues. I don't think that excuses or justifies misrepresenting their words, though. I'm totally for criticizing the actual content of the proposal, but, just like I don't see the value in attacking the strawfeminist of "conventional feminist wisdom" (which, as Andrea points out, plays directly into divisiveness of the sex-pos/anti-porn debate) when they could be reaching out to all feminists, I don't see the value in taking a personal grudge to the extreme by deliberately misreading and misrepresenting the work that's being attempted here.
Is all of it new? Of course not. The reality is that most feminist discourse isn't new- feminists have been busting their asses for, you know, a long time now, and they've done a lot of work, so, yeah, a lot of this stuff is stuff that's probably been said in some form or another. Does that mean that nobody else can write about it, now? The fact that it's been said before doesn't stop people from still talking about it again, and if the message hasn't reached the mainstream yet, maybe there's some value in collecting some of these ideas in one place, and trying again?
I'm just not sure what the value is in tearing down this project like this. Justified criticism of some of the wording aside, I don't understand trying to tear the project down. I don't understand the vitriol being offered here. Do any of us really believe that female sexuality and pleasure is valued by our society? Do any of us think that we'd be worse off if it was? No?
At worst, you might believe that we'd be no better off if people believed that only yes means yes. If that's the case, don't offer support, or offer that criticism. But, there's plenty of room for differing opinions on that without suggesting that this book is somehow going to set us back and OMG! It's going to BLAME THE VICTIMS! Because, right, it's not.
You don't have to like the editors or agree with their premises to treat their proposal fairly.
And that post doesn't.
Edited - Saturday Dec. 22
It has been brought to my attention that "the He your quoting in all your desperate need to be fair and show how nuanced you are
is a TRANSPERSON ( but way to set up the kind of underhanded privileged male picking on women jab yeah you EXCEPT NO)"
I used the pronoun "he" here: "I can sort of agree with the author about the phrase “private joint performance” in so far as I’m uncomfortable with the word “private” there, but I think, again, that he's giving a really unfair reading to what is being suggested and said"
If anybody else interpreted that as an example of a privileged male picking on women jab, or my attempting to suggest that it was such, that was not, in fact, my intention, and I'm sorry that it came across that way.
While I was aware of the fact that imfallingup identifies as a transperson (the , the profile from the LJ page indicates "I'm a radical queer with a body that tends to be read as male-to-female-that-needs-to-learn-to-shave and an actual history slightly more complex than that (ftm is relevant but for now I'm just calling myself tranny)." I used the pronoun "he" based on the "ftm" comment, but if "he" is inaccurate, I sincerely apologize. Based on the main page, which makes it pretty clear that imfallingup identifies as trans, I made sure to check the profile, to see how sie identifies, and I'm sincerely sorry for my misunderstanding and getting it wrong. I've striked out the pronoun, to correct the error, but have not removed it since there are other comments that reference my mistake.