Yes Means Yes!

Another month, another trip to Bluestockings, the feminist bookstore on the Lower East Side, for another reading. This time around it was for Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, a great anthology put together by Jacklyn Friedman, awesome co-founder of WAM!: Women, Action & the Media Conference, and Jessica Valenti, awesome co-founder of Feministing.

Flying solo this Monday I got there right on time and found a packed house; I ended up standing squished by the door with limited visibility and a pain in my back from standing for the hour and a half reading. But it was worth it. And I have so much to say I could explode. But I’ll try to contain myself and not babble on forever, although I probably could.

Hosted by Jaclyn and Jessica, who both edited and contributed their own stories to the book, fellow contributors Jill Filipovic (of Feministe) and Anastasia Higginbotham (a hero of mine due to her contributions to my Women’s Studies 121 reader) were both in attendance to read their pieces as well as a bit from others who could not attend.

Yes Means Yes is a welcome contribution to literature on rape; not much has been written on the subject since the second wave’s attempt to ‘take back the night.’ “No Means No” has been the overwhelming understanding since then–if a woman says no, she means no. And although this is absolutely true, and Jaclyn and Jessica are not trying to eradicate that message, they also very rightly believe that if no means no, then we should also believe yes mean yes. Simple, right? So why do the options available to women (thank you slut shaming) only appear to be ‘no’ or ‘…well…ok…’ With no being the only option widely discussed, where is the agency? With yes means yes, they promote the idea of an enthusiastic YES! to sex (when desired) and the agency that comes with that that allows women to explore their sexuality. If we begin to focus upon an enthusiastic yes (and undoubtedly the better sex that would occur between two excited and consenting partners) then sex is better for everyone and this bullshit about ‘grey rape’ (no loud no but no excited yes) would disappear. Expect a enthusiastic yes–what an idea!

Yes Means Yes touches upon incest, partner rape, gray rape, rape culture, shaming, purity, sex education, and positive female sexuality. A great review has already been written, and one article included in the anthology, written by Latoya Peterson from Racialicious, has already been posted online. (And I highly suggest you follow both of those links.) I could go on and on about this reading and this anthology, but I just wanted to provide a bit of an introduction to the overarching theme of the book as well as a few links for you guys to explore. But really–go get the book. I’ll leave you with just a bit from Jill’s article that further discusses female sexual power:

While virginity until marriage is practiced by very few women, deeply held standards of female virtuousness remain, and women are rarely taught how to say yes to sex, or how to act out their own desires. rather, we are told that the rules of sexual engagement involve men pushing and women putting on the brakes.

While this clearly compromises women’s sexual subjectivity, it also handicaps men and prevents them from connecting with their own desires. Men are as well versed in the sexual dance as women are, and when they are fully aware that women are expected to say no even when they mean yes, men are less likely to hear ‘no’ and accept it at face value. When society equates maleness with a constant desire for sex, men are socialized out of a genuine sexual decision making, and are less likely to be able to know how to say no or be comfortable refusing sex when they don’t want it. [...]

Feminists insist that men are not animals. Instead, men are rational human beings fully capable of listening to their partners and understanding that sex isn’t about pushing someone to do something they don’t want to do. Plenty of men are able to grasp the idea that sex should be entered into joyfully and enthusiastically by both partners, and that an absence of ‘no’ isn’t enough–‘yes’ should be the baseline requirement.

Preview more of the book here and feel free to start discussions in the comments.

2 responses to “Yes Means Yes!

  1. “Plenty of men are able to grasp the idea that sex should be entered into joyfully and enthusiastically by both partners, and that an absence of ‘no’ isn’t enough–’yes’ should be the baseline requirement.”

    YES!
    and Amen!

    I read the piece on Racialious this morning, and it definitely made me want to read more about this topic (amazon.com, we may be talking later). It was a profoundly persuasive and thought-provoking essay– yet when I tried to raise the topics addressed in her piece and in the piece above, at lunch today, my fellow lunchers took issue with changing the language from No means No to Yes means Yes. To them, it felt like an affront to 2nd wave feminism and to women today who’ve had to deal with rape culture their entire lives.
    I’m left to wonder, how do you start a meaningful dialogue without alienating survivors and advocates, and also without giving a long-winded explanation and pre-emptory defense? I just wanted them to picture the world as it could be, but the reality of the world as it is seemed to overwhelm any possibility for change. or hope.

  2. I’m finishing the book now. It is wonderfully empowering, infuriating, and comforting all at the same time. I highly suggest it as well!

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