Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Enthusiastic Consent Could Change Our Rape Culture

So, I'm not going to respond to everything from the original entry because that would just make this post huge, and I would end up repeating concepts a lot, so know that I am picking and choosing, and please go read the OP, it is a great post.

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.)[...]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?"

"Yes means yes, so let's do it" is missing the point behind the "Yes means yes" title, I think. The basic idea being enthusiastic consent, and that it's OK for women to say YES to sex. It doesn't equate not saying yes with being a prude. What's behind it is the idea that if we say yes enthusiastically it puts the clear "no" into even starker contrast, and it makes it clear that resignation, "I don't know," and silence, are not "Yes!" Hugo has a great post about this concept that I would encourage everyone to read through.

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.

Truthfully, the point has been made, yes. But as far as mainstream feminism, I can't tell you how many times I've heard "Rape has nothing to do with sex." I've heard it, a lot, and very adamantly. Does that mean everyone has been saying it? Not at all, and I know I'm still learning, but it IS a dominant message. Addressing rape culture (I emphasize culture because it's not so much the individual act of rape, as the cultural attitudes which form understanding of rape that the book is addressing) as it relates to sex from myriad perspectives would add, if it gets attention, a valuable differing perspective.

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.[...]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'?

I could not agree more with the italicized portion. If that's all this concept was, I would be just as critical of it. However, it's not empowering female sexual pleasure. What I believe the concept of this book is going for is demanding that our society value genuine, empowered, female pleasure. Currently, our society does not value this on any real level. And I do see the link between societal valuing of female sexual pleasure and rape culture. In a society that genuinely valued female sexual pleasure, in a society that expected enthusiastic consent, a man would never get away with the bullshit around rape that they currently do. There would be no "well let's look at how many partners she's had," "I thought she was saying yes!" "but omg she's a prostitute, obviously sex doesn't mean much to her"... On and on and on... If we truly VALUED women's sexual pleasure these things would be laughed out of court, because it wouldn't matter how many partners she's had, there would be no mistaking silence for consent, there would be no deriding women for choosing sex work. It would be impossible for these things to exist because it would be understood that what a woman does to have pleasure (or work) is OK.

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.

Yes! So true! And later on the writer responds to one of the potential topics for essay in the book:

* 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?

No, this is referencing EXACTLY what you're talking about in the above quote. "the whole history of female-female sexual interaction that in more recent centuries in western culture has been driven underground by homophobia". Unless I totally misunderstand, I think this is exactly one of the things they mean.

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?

Now, this sounds good, and I am behind women fighting back. But at the same time, I come back to an article I read in Bitch: Fall '06, "Kicking and Shrugging—Why do we resist self-defense?" I would love to quote it, but I don't have my copy anymore. In the end, Anastasia Higginbotham's point is that ultimately this is not where our primary energy should be going, because teaching women how to fight rape is still a measure of holding them responsible for stopping it. While I think self defense classes are still valuable, I agree with her.

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.

I can only totally disagree. A woman consenting to sexual activities is, at least from my perspective, totally necessary for her enjoyment in those activities. And from a larger cultural perspective, consent is central to female pleasure for the same reason.

* 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.

I totally agree with you here. I truly hope that this aspect will be talked about in the book, because there HAS been GREAT work on this, and it has been largely ignored.

Seriously? Seriously, changing the porn industry will stop rape?

Well, if you support feminist porn, I'm sure you must already have your own ideas on how it is helpful to our cause? But yes, to a point, I think changing the porn industry would definitely help in stopping rape. There is so much misogyny and focus on the pleasure of the male and generally degrading crap that is in porn (even though, I do enjoy some porn)... Changing those things can only help change the attitudes I listed earlier that contribute to rape, can't they?

* 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?

You're right, pleasure is NOT consent, and rape doesn't solely happen to deprive women of pleasure. However, that's not what I think they're talking about. And so I want to just briefly repeat what I said earlier; if our society genuinely valued female sexual pleasure and experience many of the attitudes we currently see around rape could not exist. Specifically because, they disregard the importance of her consent and pleasure.

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!

Again, totally disagree, it's partially about changing women's response to sex, but it's more about changing society's attitudes to women having sex.

* 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?

I'll use this quote as my example, but there are a few times where this is pointed out here, basically that "someone else has already done this." And that's true. But I don't think that invalidates the work. As the original writer stated earlier in her criticism, feminism goes in cycles. Those cycles, I think, have a lot to do with public opinion and consciousness of issues. For better or for worse, Valenti has become "the new hot thing" and thus she is getting attention, because of that attention, she has the ability to reach a wider audience, who probably hasn't read what's already been written. That's a good thing, and that's why this work is potentially so important. It doesn't at all invalidate the work that's already been done, it can only raise more consciousness about it, and hopefully (with a very good reference section in the back) bring more people to it.

* Desegmenting the Market: overcoming commercially enforced sexual stereotypes to organize across race, class, gender, and difference

...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...

Again, I agree. I truly hope to see that aspect addressed in this book. I think, with the gathering of diverse perspectives for contributors, this could happen, and I truly truly hope it will.

* 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?

See to me, this just sounds like a great outline for an essay for the book! And while I will grant that very specifically saying "yes" doesn't contribute to media representations, incorporating the ideals of enthusiastic consent and valued female sexuality into the media is definitely related, and potentially invaluable.

Just to finish, I have high hopes for this book, obviously. Will it deliver? I don't know. But I think the ideas and format of an anthology (thus, hopefully containing diverse and divergent opinions) are good and potentially incredibly important. I look forward to reading it (and plan to submit something for consideration myself).


  1. The effects of rape are micro and macro. Blurring the lines between the emotional effects of rape within the individual and the affect it has on society are often lumped together. This creates a lot of confusion and debate about what rape really is and how it affects society and effects the victim/survivor.

    - Femtique @

  2. I agree that the original post missed the point of the book. One thing to be remembered is that the majority of rape is date rape. When you start digging through the research/women's stories you find a very murky area where we don't talk about sex so consent becomes the default state (even as we see in the case where a no is given). If we broke open some of our fears/taboos regarding sexual communication letting people feel comfortable with enthusiastically consenting, lack of consent might then be more obvious.

  3. Allow me to add my enthusiastic "yes" to this post.

    One thing that has long bugged me is the degree to which our culture encourages women to not say yes ... indeed, our society's hetero-relationship building mechanism, which script many men and women insist on following in forming hetero-relationships, is one of "man pursues woman until woman relents and says 'ok, why not?'".

    Sorry to get into "all heterosex is rape territory", but the hetero-relationship establishment script of our society itself, I think, encourages the rape culture. Unless women are encouraged to say "yes" at and to all phases in relationship building, how is "no" meaningful? How is "no" meaningful when, at key phases in a relationship, a woman is expected to say "no" and play "hard to get"?

    And sorry if I'm relapsing into Nice Guy(TM) hood here, but it isn't just the men who enforce this script. In certain circumstances (where and when I went to college, for example -- UCI, in the late 1990s) woe be unto the man who was uncomfortable with the script. It wasn't just that men expected to be the pursuers, but women expected to be pursued -- many women seemed to want to be entrapped into a relationship rather than being an active participant in building one. Why? Because that's what the script said and it would invite censure for a woman to be too assertive.

    As a society, we really do need to make it acceptable for women to enthusiastically consent to sex and relationships. IMHO, it's just asking for trouble that we have a social script wherein women are expected to (and internalize this expectation) be the pursued and to not pursue. After all, if not saying "no" always means "yes" in the context of all other aspects of dating, c.f. bmac's point about the majority of rape being date rape, isn't it more likely that not saying no to sex per se will be mistaken for a "yes" leading to a situation where the guy does think he has consent but it really was rape?

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