Review of “Yes means yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World Without Rape”

So you may not be a horror movie fanatic, but I certainly am.  Part of the comfort of watching American slasher movies is that we are always able to point at the victim being ripped to shreds onscreen and go “Oooooo…she shouldn’t have done that…” waving our fingers from side to side.  It gives us the false sense of security that, as long as we don’t investigate the strange noise in the bushes, or go out the front door wearing nothing but a satin nightie, we’re never going to fall prey to the knife-wielding maniac.

One of the most disturbing, yet prevalent, myths about rape  in our culture is”s/he asked for it”.  If she was dressed provocatively, she asked for it.  If she was drinking alcohol, she asked for it.  If he was acting too flamboyant in public, he asked for it.  This is often sufficient to shut the minds of normally upstanding citizens and somehow block District Attorneys from prosecuting rape cases–even fully testing rape kits (listen to this Human Rights Watch Podcast on the issue:  http://www.hrw.org/en/audio/2010/03/18/untested-rape-kits-rights-watch-27 ).   The essays in “Yes means yes!”, edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti of Feministing.com, examine what the world would be like were these ideas not standing in the way of help and defense for victims of harassment, sexual assault and rape.

Some of the essays describe personal journeys and experiences of moving from a victim of assault to a survivor and even a thriver; beginning with the foreword written by comedienne Margaret Cho, continuing with an essay about body image and sexuality by fat-acceptance blogger Kate Harding, to the boyhood discovery by Brad Perry, indie rock drummer and violence prevention worker, that the paradigm of “getting some” from the neighborhood girls was embarrassingly flawed.  It also describes the plights of men, women and transgendered people who experienced rape and incest (and all the undisclosed “not-rapes” that traumatize and shape the experiences of far too many women in our country) and their struggles to come to an understanding of their situations and abolish their fears.

Other essayists examine the mechanisms in our society that perpetuate female objectification and tries to guide the reader into envisioning a sex-positive culture, where normally taboo subjects are freely discussed and female sexual pleasure is valued equally to male sexual pleasure.  One of my favorite essays was written by Thomas Millar and called “Toward a Performance Model of Sex”, which demands enthusiastic rather than reluctant consent, and focuses on communication and focus on the act itself rather than a limited “commodity” view: that sex is something that men “get” from women.

I am, naturally, all for female empowerment and autonomy in sexual relationships, as well as I believe in the right for everyone to feel safe no matter where they are/what they’re doing/ and what they are wearing.  In reality, it’s not the slasher-victim’s fault they were slashed because they were walking home alone.  It was obviously the guy with the black cloak and the Bowie-knife’s fault.  “Yes means yes!” reminded me that our culture needs to move away from the idea that only men should be allowed to inhabit public spaces at all hours without fear, and hold perpetrators responsible for the crimes they commit.  Our own illusions that we can prevent violence against ourselves by criticizing the actions of the victim only prolongs our risks of being victimized ourselves, and when such victimization does happen, our not being helped or believed.

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