Can we stop misrepresenting our own movement?

So, Feministing is soliciting submissions for a new book called Yes Means Yes! (hat tip: feminist_writer LJ community). The book aims to brainstorm constructive ways that a more positive attitude towards sexuality, especially female sexuality, can help dismantle rape culture:

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.

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.

Now, I am 100% behind the intent of the book. If I had the time, I would definitely submit something (unfortunately I barely have time to write my WisCon paper, and I have until May to finish that). It’s no secret that I’m a sex-positive feminist and I believe that sex-negative attitudes — both conservative sexual shaming and liberal forced sexuality — are harmful to a truly equal society and I think this book is an excellent opportunity to get some positive ideas out into the mainstream (or at least feminist-leaning mainstream). The book will go on my Amazon wishlist when it comes out.

However (there’s always a “however” with me, isn’t there?), I am not so pleased with this part of the pitch:

Yes Means Yes! will fly in the face of the conventional feminist wisdom that rape has nothing to do with sex.

There are two basic problems that I see with that line:

  1. It perpetuates a fundamental misunderstanding of what “rape isn’t sex” is saying.
  2. It is setting the editors/contributors in direct opposition to “conventional feminist wisdom”.

Below I’ll go into more detail as to the problems and talk about why I feel that this way of presenting feminist theory is problematic and ultimately hinders feminism as a movement.

I. Understanding the difference between rape and sex

The problem with sayings like “rape isn’t sex” is that while they’re catchy and easy to remember, they erase the nuances. Those nuances get further erased/distorted when the phrases get paraphrased, such as the one above where the call for submissions incorrectly ascribes the idea that “rape has nothing to do with sex” with the feminist belief that rape and sex are separate and distinct.

The idea behind the “rape isn’t sex” phrase is to emphasize the difference between two acts which are on the surface similar. For an idea of why this is an important distinction for people, and by extension society, to make let’s look at this example from About.com’s article Rape Is Not Sex:

Sex, by definition, requires consent. Without consent, sex is, by definition, rape. This is a vital distinction, but attorneys, judges, juries, and society in general just can’t seem to grasp it. Defense attorneys seek to exploit this confusion, and survivors have to be alert to these attempts to manipulate the jury’s perspective. “So he dragged you to the bedroom, and that’s where you had sex?” the defense attorney will ask. “No,” the survivor must reply, “he dragged me to the bedroom, and that’s where he assaulted me!

Sex is most basically defined as various sexual acts in which people engage in. The details of what constitutes “sex” varies from person to person; the most common idea of sex is penis-in-vagina intercourse between a man and a woman, but it can include acts such as anal sex and fisting, and it can be between three or more partners or even just limited to one person (no partner required). It can be good or bad; sexy or silly. It can even be violent. But it always needs to have the consent of all participating parties.

And that is the most important idea that the “rape isn’t sex” line is trying to convey; when consent disappears it ceases to be “sex” and becomes “rape”. Rape, unlike sex, isn’t done for the mutual pleasure of both parties, but rather is linked to issues such as control, domination, and humiliation (and not in the kinky way) as well as usually including the will to do emotional and/or physical harm. At best, it is an act of selfishness, with the rapist not knowing or caring whether or not the person they’re raping actually wants to participate in sexual acts with them.

An understanding of this distinction is important because if “rape” is seen as a subset of “sex” then it is trivialized as a form of assault. The term “surprise sex” that is often used “jokingly” to describe rape illustrates one of the ways that this misunderstanding of rape as primarily sexually-motivated rather than as an act of assault manifests itself. The appallingly low rape conviction rates as well as the media’s tendency to put the victim’s past sexual history on trial speak to how this kind of conflation of concepts serves to hurt the ability for victims to be taken seriously and get the help that they need.

Ultimately, a useful way to think about it is this: rape is a kind of assault that uses sex as a weapon against the victim. Rape uses sex, but is not a form of sex.

II. Perpetuating feminist infighting

The sex-positive versus anti-porn debate/war/divide is possibly one of the largest conflicts within the movement (not counting conflicts that arise from intersectionality, such as problems between white feminists and feminists of colour). For me, it’s a very frustrating one because of how often both sides vilify each other rather than work towards solidarity by finding common ground and accepting the validity in different approaches to problems.

The misrepresentation of the “rape isn’t sex” line by the call for submissions is an example of my “side” creating division. It’s no secret that radical feminists, who tend to be the most vocal anti-porn feminists, are the feminists who utilize that saying and the theory behind it in ways that are visible in the mainstream. They are also the feminists who are pointed to as “feminazis” in mainstream, at least when the person using the slur deigns to acknowledge that feminism is a multi-faceted movement. I would also go so far to say that a lot of “conventional feminist wisdom” has ties/roots in radical feminism, or at the very least a lot of what people typically think when they see/hear “conventional feminist wisdom” has ties to that branch of feminism (Andrea Dworkin comes to mind).

In this way, the positioning of the book in direct opposition to the “rape isn’t sex” theory positions it in opposition to radical feminist theory. Now, there is a chance that most radfems would be turned off by the concept of the book, or the title, or the fact that its editors are, if not explicitly sex-positive feminists (I don’t know if they label themselves as such), then at the very least subscribe to a lot of sex-positive feminist theories. But is that an excuse to stick in a line that specifically alienates a part of your potential author pool who could bring in valuable perspectives on the radfem views on the connection between rape and sex? I don’t think so.

Not to mention a related, but no less important problem: setting up “good” feminists versus “bad” feminists. I personally don’t see much of a difference between ragging on “conventional feminist wisdom” and the “I’m not a feminist, but…” line that makes most feminists cringe. While I am not on board with every single feminist theory I’ve heard — ranging from my outright rejection of racist/homophobic/transphobic/etc rhetoric to preferring to follow a different route to the solution — I still don’t think that there’s any real value in creating a false dichotomy between “conventional” feminism and the feminism being used in the book.

If anything, that kind of tactic is an expression of internalized sexism because it’s creating a hierarchy of feminisms, with the “new” feminism positioning itself above the “old” feminism in order to gain legitimacy with the mainstream. Which looks suspiciously like women pushing down other women to raise themselves in an attempt to gain the approval of the patriarchy. It unintentionally sends out the message: “Hey, we’re not unreasonable like those other feminists! We take a sensible approach to rape which allows it to be a form of sex, which is in line with your patriarchal values!” Which is, of course, not the point of the book at all but sets a disturbing tone nonetheless.

III. Conclusion

Instead of setting up the strawfeminist interpretation with “conventional feminist wisdom” crack, which ultimately plays into the sex-pos/anti-porn division that exists within the feminist movement, I firmly believe that it would have been much wiser for them to reach out to all feminists. All it would have taken was a little thought as to the frame of the pitch, and how it could be said in a way that retains the spirit of the work without creating divisive discourse.

What it comes down to is this: while there are a lot of areas in which sex-positive feminist theory and radfem theory can’t and never will intersect, our basic goals — creating a sexually positive culture such as the one described in the opening of the pitch — are the same. Hopefully the pitch won’t be a deterrent to radfems looking to explore the connection between rape and sex and, if they receive such submissions, the editors will be willing to include different voices and perspectives on the issue.

In any case, even if the perspectives all come from similar parts of the movement, I’m sure that the articles chosen will be insightful and well worth a read. And, who knows, there might even be a few surprises in it that will speak to even a grizzled and embittered veteran of the minefield of discussions about sexuality like me.

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This entry was posted in Abuse, rape, and domestic violence, Eradicating Divisive Discourse, Feminism, Sex, sexuality, and sexual politics. Bookmark the permalink.

71 Responses to Can we stop misrepresenting our own movement?

  1. jfpbookworm says:

    When I first read that description, that sentence jumped out at me as a clunker. It sounds to me as if the marketing department (even if it’s just the “marketing department” in the editors’ heads) has started taking over.

  2. I’m with you on the ‘conventional feminist wisdom’ thing, which made me cringe. I’m also with you on wanting to read this book!

  3. Vilda says:

    I think your section on understanding the difference between sex and rape would be a great submission, really. (I totally dig the entire post, but that section in particular would be important for the type of collection I think this book aims to be.)

  4. tekanji says:

    Vilda: Thanks :) I was actually thinking that myself as I wrote it, and if I had the time (and access to a university library; the lack of that is a serious hindrance to my ability to write academic-level articles) I would definitely do so. I love living in Japan and learning the language, but sometimes it’s rather inconvenient :/

  5. steve says:

    I am glad for this

    For a sympathetic hetero male, Modern radical feminism can feel like a field of land mines. Especially if you have beeen the victim of sexual politics for strategic gain as I have been. ( I do not blame feminism but the individual)

    This book allows people like me to feel as though we are not always the enemy. While I understand the need to feel a safe place for radical feminist venting, I sometimes have trouble figuring out where the boundries of these safe places are. This is a refreshing attempt to describe the boundries. Or at least that is what I assume part of this book to be. Correct me if I am wrong.

    Not all of us are attractive or skilled enough to fluidy slide across the boundry line without raising hackles and sometimes we don’t even know where the boundry is.

    So in short this is a good idea

    Thanks

  6. You’re really arguing more with the rhetorical posturing than the idea behind the book. I don’t think they’re trying to promote feminist in-fighting or denying radical feminist theory at all. The idea was hatched after reading message board after message board where guys were like, “If I do this, is it rape? If I do that?”, basically seeking affirmation that some amount of coercion is acceptable within limits. Their idea was, basically, coercion is *part* of sex, because women’s role is gatekeeper and men’s role is to try to wear down a woman’s role. This idea is why people can’t tell the difference between rape and sex, because we use “consent” (whether arrived at through enthusiasm or through merely giving into heavy pressure converging on force) as the model of when sex should happen, not “enthusiasm”. If these men were conditioned to look for sex to happen only if a woman is like, “Yes, god, yes please now!” instead of, “Fine, if you must and that’s the only way I’ll get you to leave my house, stick it in but please be quick about it,” then they would not run the risk of raping someone through pursuing pressure-and-coercion methods of getting laid.

  7. tekanji says:

    Amanda Marcotte said:

    You’re really arguing more with the rhetorical posturing than the idea behind the book.

    You know, I have to deal a lot with people coming here and ignoring the positive things I say about something to focus only on the critical things. If you had bothered to properly read my introduction, you would have known that of course I’m not talking about the idea behind the book, but rather the tone and language of the pitch. I expected better from a popular feminist blogger like you, especially one who has been known for her fisking of others’ posts.

    Frankly, you’re the second feminist blogger to do this to me on a post where I discuss the importance of language, and it’s starting to piss me off. The big picture isn’t the only important thing out there, language may be subtle but it also counts! You’d think feminists would get this, as subtle use of language is a staple of sexism.

    My point is that the way that the pitch was phrased was divisive and played into a lot of negative stereotypes that the mainstream has about feminism. I’m saying that language matters and that we, as feminists, need to understand that and to try not to carelessly use it in hurtful ways. And, frankly, I think this kind of stuff is very, very important and but it’s something that too many feminists write off as “nitpicking” (just as misogynists write women/feminist complaints of sexism as “nitpicking” or being “oversensitive”).

  8. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! This is pretty much everything that was bothering me about that call. I’m completely on-board with the big picture, but the wording and nuance (or rather, lack thereof) made me cringe.

    I also loved this line:

    Ultimately, a useful way to think about it is this: rape is a kind of assault that uses sex as a weapon against the victim. Rape uses sex, but is not a form of sex.

  9. Pingback: Everything I wanted to say « Feline Formal Shorts

  10. Fire Fly says:

    Amanda Marcotte said:

    The idea was hatched after reading message board after message board where guys were like, “If I do this, is it rape? If I do that?”, basically seeking affirmation that some amount of coercion is acceptable within limits. Their idea was, basically, coercion is *part* of sex, because women’s role is gatekeeper and men’s role is to try to wear down a woman’s role. This idea is why people can’t tell the difference between rape and sex, because we use “consent” (whether arrived at through enthusiasm or through merely giving into heavy pressure converging on force) as the model of when sex should happen, not “enthusiasm”. If these men were conditioned to look for sex to happen only if a woman is like, “Yes, god, yes please now!” instead of, “Fine, if you must and that’s the only way I’ll get you to leave my house, stick it in but please be quick about it,” then they would not run the risk of raping someone through pursuing pressure-and-coercion methods of getting laid.

    So you admit that the anthology is based on privileging one mode of sexual violence over all others? And that by framing itself as “they key to dismantling rape culture,” it is privileging certain kinds of women over others?

  11. M says:

    If these men were conditioned to look for sex to happen only if a woman is like, “Yes, god, yes please now!” instead of, “Fine, if you must and that’s the only way I’ll get you to leave my house, stick it in but please be quick about it,” then they would not run the risk of raping someone through pursuing pressure-and-coercion methods of getting laid.

    Do you realize that this approach once again puts the onus on the victim to always bounce into “yes yes yes yes GOD YES YES YES” before having sex with a person? Shouldn’t more of the focus be turned to the “pressure and coercion” aspect of rape? If we look at how Tekanji frames it here —

    At best, it is an act of selfishness, with the rapist not knowing or caring whether or not the person they’re raping actually wants to participate in sexual acts with them.

    –it’s slightly more accurate to what’s going on. Perhaps there should be a paper coupled with the one about enthusiastic consent that deals with what it takes for a person to ignore enthusiastic denial and continue “having sex” with someone who doesn’t want it.

    I would think that an anthology proposing to end rape culture would do more than devise hoots and whistles men can recognize so they slow down. That’s not ending rape culture even in the dynamic presented in the call.

  12. Sudy says:

    Damn.

    This is good.

    Damn good.

  13. donna darko says:

    Hello, first time commenter.

    Yes Means Yes! will fly in the face of the conventional feminist wisdom that rape has nothing to do with sex.

    I have problems with this line too because rape is about power. Firefly wrote a very good post about this. However, I agree shifting from a commodity to performance sexual paradigm will help end rape. That is male privilege made it so men viewed sex as something women owe men due to the imbalance of privilege and power. In the mutual performance model, women only have sex when they want to.

  14. donna darko says:

    Looks like it comes down to class, race, intersectionality, state, government issues again.

  15. Jaclyn says:

    Tekanji-

    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.

    I do disagree (as Fire Fly asserted) that we’re privileging one form of rape (and victim) over another — in a culture where there’s no shame in women liking sex, where sex is no longer considered by reasonable, good-acting people of any gender, or by the larger culture, to be a commodity that women are responsible for controlling and men are responsible for “getting,” rapists of any kind or gender — strangers, dates, family, spouses, whatever — will be much easier to identify and prosecute. Imagine if the law assumed you could easily tell if a woman was having a good time! If juries had no more reason to expect a woman to lie because she “had regrets”! There will always be rapists, because there will always be sociopaths. But there doesn’t have to be a culture of rape, and that’s what we’re trying to address in this book.

    A couple more things:

    1) Tekanji, dare I hope you might still find time to submit?

    2) Donna darko, I couldn’t agree with you more about the intersections. We’re looking for submissions that address undoing the systems of rape culture (if you read the list of suggested topics in the call you’ll get more of a sense of that), and we can’t do that without addressing intersectionality. We want to address who benefits economically from rape culture, how race, class and sexuality are used as wedges to sustain it, all that. I hope Donna and other folks reading this blog who are interested in those issues will submit!

  16. Roy says:

    If these men were conditioned to look for sex to happen only if a woman is like, “Yes, god, yes please now!” instead of, “Fine, if you must and that’s the only way I’ll get you to leave my house, stick it in but please be quick about it,” then they would not run the risk of raping someone through pursuing pressure-and-coercion methods of getting laid .

    Do you realize that this approach once again puts the onus on the victim to always bounce into “yes yes yes yes GOD YES YES YES” before having sex with a person? Shouldn’t more of the focus be turned to the “pressure and coercion” aspect of rape?

    I’m not sure I agree with this. I don’t think that discussing enthusiastic consent and talking about the ways that our society and culture excuse rape in some instances, and the ways that it pretends that there’s this mythical grey area, puts the onus on victims. The implication isn’t that potential victims need to bounce into “yes yes yes GOD YES YES YES” before having sex, but, rather, that sex is something you do with someone, not to someone. Currently, sex is treated like a commodity, with our society treating it as something that women have that men must try to get from them. As I read it and understand it, the proposal isn’t about telling victims they need to change their behaviors, but, rather, that society needs to reframe the way we think about sex and consent. Right now, for a lot of people, consent is “she didn’t say no.” It doesn’t matter if the victim didn’t say yes, or didn’t actively participate, or didn’t do anything but lie very still… as long as the victim didn’t say “no” there are people who think that there’s nothing wrong with what they’ve done.

    What’s being suggested is that this is a bad frame- consent shouldn’t be read as “lack of no” but, rather, as affirmation. If the person you’re with isn’t engaged with you, isn’t actively participating, isn’t giving you enthusiastic consent (which can take any number of forms), then you should be seriously checking in with that person, to make sure that s/he is actually consenting. As I read it, the onus is being placed on society and on the people who think that “lack of no is yes” to change, not on the victims.

    If we look at how Tekanji frames it here —

    At best, it is an act of selfishness, with the rapist not knowing or caring whether or not the person they’re raping actually wants to participate in sexual acts with them.

    –it’s slightly more accurate to what’s going on. Perhaps there should be a paper coupled with the one about enthusiastic consent that deals with what it takes for a person to ignore enthusiastic denial and continue “having sex” with someone who doesn’t want it.

    Are those scare-quotes? I don’t think that anyone here is suggesting that victims are “having sex” with their attackers. Victims are raped. People who are not being victimized have sex.

    That aside, I think that’s certainly a lot of truth there. My experiences in college certainly suggest that there were a lot of guys who didn’t particularly care if the other person was really interested in sex, as long as that other person wasn’t actually saying “no”. That’s definitely a selfish attitude towards sex, and one that I believe is encouraged and perpetuated by a society that commodifies sex.

    I would think that an anthology proposing to end rape culture would do more than devise hoots and whistles men can recognize so they slow down. That’s not ending rape culture even in the dynamic presented in the call.

    I’m really not sure what that means- my impression, again, wasn’t that this was a book talking about how women can show men that they’re interested, but was about discussing ways to reframe the model of sex to force men and our society to acknowledge that women are already doing these things. If it’s what you’re describing, that’s… well… screwy. And, yeah, seriously problematic. But, I don’t know… it seems to me that this is supposed to be more about changing the way that society views women and women’s sexuality, and saying that we should read anything less than enthusiasm as reason to believe that consent might not be present, and less about telling women “here are the ways you can show that you’re really consenting”.

  17. Roy says:

    Do you realize that this approach once again puts the onus on the victim to always bounce into “yes yes yes yes GOD YES YES YES” before having sex with a person? Shouldn’t more of the focus be turned to the “pressure and coercion” aspect of rape?

    The more I read that line, the more troubling/confusing I find it.

    It’s like I said, victims don’t “have sex.” If a rapist has assaulted you, you didn’t “have sex” and you most certainly shouldn’t be expected to bounce into anything. If you wanted to have sex with someone, and you consented, then you aren’t “the victim”.

  18. Clarita says:

    Language is exceptionally important because it is the best tool with have in interpreting the world. It’s important on blogs, and it is even more important in real life where communication between sexual partners takes place. Rape, sex, and desire can get mixed up in a quagmire of misunderstanding so that questions arise about consent. What a woman says or does not say and how her partner/perpetrator understands it can be the impetus for sexual acts that can take a lifetime to heal. Yes means yes sounds like a fascinating book, and yes the authors need to get their language right. Rape is what can happen when language is misinterpreted, and apparently this book is looking to address that, so it should start from the beginning.

  19. Sara says:

    Do you realize that this approach once again puts the onus on the victim to always bounce into “yes yes yes yes GOD YES YES YES” before having sex with a person?

    In a word, no. But then again, that could be because I don’t understand why we’re calling a woman saying “yes yes yes yes GOD YES YES YES” a victim.

  20. Daisy Bond says:

    (Hi, I wandered here from A Woman’s Ecdysis.)

    The original post said:

    I am 100% behind the intent of the book. . . . The book will go on my Amazon wishlist when it comes out.

    However (there’s always a “however” with me, isn’t there?), I am not so pleased with this part of the pitch

    To which Amanda Marcotte said:

    You’re really arguing more with the rhetorical posturing than the idea behind the book.

    Forgive my language here, but, wow, no shit Sherlock.

    : (

  21. tekanji says:

    First of all, thank you all for your comments so far. This is the kind of discussion I love to see (and wish that my posts would generate more often!).

    Jaclyn: I’ll see what I can do. 2000 words is not that much, but if I’m going to present an argument I need to back it up and that’s where lack of access to an academic library really hurts. I’ll try to get a draft off during the break; there might be some good sources in online journals that I can use.

  22. M says:

    It doesn’t matter if the victim didn’t say yes, or didn’t actively participate, or didn’t do anything but lie very still… as long as the victim didn’t say “no” there are people who think that there’s nothing wrong with what they’ve done.

    Yet this approach really doesn’t appear to be reaching out to those people. It’s painting (in a very heteronormative framework) that the conduit for this recognition of mutuality is through the victim, not on the mindset that both partners have to reach an understanding. While rape doesn’t hedge on “they didn’t say no,” it also doesn’t necessarily hedge on “well, they were into it.” I don’t think it’s as simple as “well, if the person says they want to, then we shall proceed.” In that way, enthusiastic consent is an incomplete framework.

    Are those scare-quotes? I don’t think that anyone here is suggesting that victims are “having sex” with their attackers. Victims are raped. People who are not being victimized have sex.

    Yes, the scare quotes are around “having sex” because denial through verbalization or through physical action (or inaction) isn’t enough to get through to someone that they’re committing rape. I feel incredibly pessimistic because I think that if people aren’t looking at one group of signs, they won’t necessarily look for the other group.

    If someone’s willing to take sex from you they’re not looking for signs that you’re willing to give it. And I don’t see how this anthology reaches out to those people that are taking sex from people or how it will stop this phenomenon. Beefing up the criminal muscle for prosecuting rape and stopping rape are two different things.

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  24. BLackamazon says:

    * blinks*

  25. “Imagine if the law assumed you could easily tell if a woman was having a good time!”

    I’m trying to imagine that, and what I’m picturing in my head is a lot of emphasis on how easy it is to tell if a woman is having a good time — because hey, as long as you can reach that agreeable conclusion, it clearly wasn’t rape!

    M.’s point, if I understand her correctly, is that you put both women and men in a ridiculous position by trying to substitute enthusiasm for consent. Consent is a requirement based on the right of two unconstrained individuals to engage voluntarily in sex; it respects individual freedom and equality. Enthusiasm is an emotional state, and absolutely, positively should not be incorporated into legislation or defined as any particular series of verbal or physical behaviors. Otherwise you are telling people how to feel and how to express their feelings. What’s next, cheerleading costumes for the sexually enthusiastic?

    If these men were conditioned to look for sex to happen only if a woman is like, “Yes, god, yes please now!” instead of, “Fine, if you must and that’s the only way I’ll get you to leave my house, stick it in but please be quick about it,” then they would not run the risk of raping someone through pursuing pressure-and-coercion methods of getting laid.

    What an unbearably creepy comment. The new wave of feminism is really going to be conditioning women to be sexual enthusiasts, and men to wait for the woman to start acting like an extra from The Red Shoe Diaries? As if, in this brave new world, men wouldn’t feel even more justified in pressuring women, by accusing them of frigidity whenever they didn’t start pleading and taking the Lord’s name in vain. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sex-positive feminism, but this is something else entirely. Ultimately, it blames women by implying that the only reason rape is a difficult issue is that women who are consenting aren’t enjoying themselves enough or aren’t enjoying themselves, I don’t know, loudly enough, and therefore aren’t creating enough of a contrast for juries.

  26. donna darko says:

    Hmmm maybe this book should center marginalized women or at least be a fully integrated anthology like Listen Up (2001) also by Seal Press. BA has a point here that black women are already stereotyped as oversexed:

    And that very fact has been used to render us UNRAPEABLE.

    this mythos of our purported pleasure seeking, the culture artifacts of our sensuality have rendered damn near incapable of being seen as anything BUT seductresses,geishas, hot blooded black ass.

  27. donna darko says:

    On the other hand, don’t many WOC also fit into this paradigm? That WOC don’t have to have sex any more when a man buys them dinner or supports them and that they only have sex when they want to?

    Here I am in the middle again so I will shut up now.

  28. tekanji says:

    Just a quick note: I’m going to be in transit tomorrow until the 21st, so I won’t be able to moderate comments. Since I don’t want the discussion on this thread to come to a standstill, I’ve asked some of the other contributors here to take over moderating. I don’t know what their schedules are, though, so please be patient during my absence.

    donna darko said:

    BA has a point here that black women are already stereotyped as oversexed:

    Actually, BA made a lot of really salient points. Since blogspot doesn’t do pingbacks, I am going to direct people’s attention to the post here: Semantics,Pneumatics, Erotics, and Dirt.

    One of the things that especially stuck out to me about her post was her questioning of what “culture” is. I mean, in some ways it’s a no-brainer that the definition of “culture” depends on who’s speaking, but I’m ashamed to say that it was the first time I really thought about the difference in the reality of white women’s “rape culture” and the “rape culture” that WOC have to deal with.

    Ideally what “rape culture” means — including how it differs depending on what background a woman is coming from — would be one of the first essays included in the anthology. I think that, before we can even begin to understand and combat sexual assault, we have to have a fundamental understanding of what kind of positions women are put in when it comes to subjects such as rape and other forms of sexual assault.

  29. Roy says:

    Ultimately, it blames women by implying that the only reason rape is a difficult issue is that women who are consenting aren’t enjoying themselves enough or aren’t enjoying themselves, I don’t know, loudly enough, and therefore aren’t creating enough of a contrast for juries.

    That’s patently untrue.

    Nobody here is blaming the victims of rape for anything. What is being said, and what has been said in dozens of other places and on dozens of other blogs is that the contrast is already there, but that our society devalues women’s sexualities. Nobody is suggesting that women aren’t enjoying themselves, or aren’t enthusiastic enough, or aren’t loud enough- the suggestion is that there’s very little emphasis (read: None) in our society about actually caring about what women’s experiences with sexuality are. The implication is that there’s a serious problem with the way that society frames our understanding of sex, not that there’s a problem with the way women experience sex or with the victims.

    The idea of enthusiastic consent isn’t that women need to yell more or create a “contrast for juries”. It’s an attempt to reframe the point of concern. Right now, there’s this idea that if someone doesn’t say “no” then they’re really saying “yes.” Enthusiastic consent is an attempt to redraw the line- if you’re not getting enthusiastic consent- if the person you’re with isn’t engaging with you, isn’t actively participating, isn’t actually saying “yes” in some way, then maybe you aren’t getting consent.

    I think that there’s a difference between “I disagree with the premises of the proposal” and “your proposal blames victims for being victimized.”

  30. Roy says:

    And, yes, there’s also a sense that if women *do* enjoy sex, that it’s impossible that they were raped- that enjoying or being enthusiastic about rape at some point means that you’re always enthusiastic and consenting to it, which is *also* some serious bullshit. And also, I *think*, relates to *devaluing* women’s sexuality. If a society really values a woman’s sexuality and sexual experiences, it wouldn’t permit that assumption. In a society that really values women’s sexuality, there wouldn’t be those kinds of assumptions.

    But, yeah, I will totally admit that my understanding and discussion about rape culture and society is coming from a very specific place, and that there are certainly cultures and societies that I’m unfamliar with or can’t speak to.

    Which is to say: I agree that rape is a problem that doesn’t have one solution, and that anything written on it is necessarily going to be limited to certain types of rape or certain cultures, and it’s wrong to suggest otherwise. Tackling one type of rape or one aspect of a rape culture may not do anything to address the others, and I can see how suggesting that THIS IS THE KEY! perpetuates the problem of leaving some people out of the discourse. If your experiences aren’t solved by this disourse, and this discourse is THE KEY, what does that mean about your experiences? To which, yes, this is an incomplete framework.

    So, I can totally understand and agree with criticisms that the proposal is worded too strongly, and that the book isn’t THE KEY to ending rape culture in any general sense. I still don’t think that makes it unworthy, or unimportant, or bad though, and I’m still not really understanding the readings of it that assume the editors are victim blaming or suggesting that they’re putting the onus on women to be a certain way.

  31. Kai says:

    When I think about rape culture, some things that come to mind are the Rape of Nanking, the ongoing legal struggles of the so-called “comfort women” in Korea, Taiwan, and China who were raped by Japanese and US forces in government-run rape camps, and the ongoing institutionalized rape of female inmates in prisons across the US. I can’t see how this book idea remotely impacts such things. So yeah, this presumption about the meaning of “culture”, about what constitutes “the key”, “the lynchpin”, etc, is a big problem. The vast majority of women on this planet are not white, and many are probably more concerned about being raped by men in uniforms and kidnappers in the sex trade than the kinds of situations being discussed here; but the incessant need of some middle-class white folks to act as though their insular world is the center of the universe, and that all others simply don’t count, is rather astounding.

    Peace.

  32. So, I can totally understand and agree with criticisms that the proposal is worded too strongly, and that the book isn’t THE KEY to ending rape culture in any general sense. I still don’t think that makes it unworthy, or unimportant, or bad though, and I’m still not really understanding the readings of it that assume the editors are victim blaming or suggesting that they’re putting the onus on women to be a certain way.

    (emphasis mine)

    I’ll leave the last bit to the people making that argument… but I do want a word about the bolded bit. This issue comes up again and again and again in discussions like this. (Apparently, abnormally frequently when book deals are involved, particularly within the dynamic of this particular community… but in general, whenever certain types or arguments are made by certain types of people about certain types of phenomena)

    Criticising a book doesn’t mean it’s not worthy, it shouldn’t have been made, or the author should shut up. Saying that a person did something wrong, or that they could have said something differently, or that their words/actions had consequences (unintentional or not) doesn’t mean that they are a bad person, that they can’t be a feminist, that they’re Forever And Ever Wrong.

    Really.

    And while I don’t think that you’re trying to do this specifically, it generally works as a distraction in a conversation of substance. If we’re talking about, in this case, the way the framing of the book is problematic, then stopping to argue about whether we’re really talking about whether or not the author is a Good Person or not is derailing, to say the least. It’s not about that. It’s not about them. It’s about the book, and the framing, and the problems that could arise from it. To have to continually go back and make soothing noises about how we’re really not saying it’s unworthy detracts from the entire conversation and tends to shut things down in a hurry.

  33. And, yes, there’s also a sense that if women *do* enjoy sex, that it’s impossible that they were raped- that enjoying or being enthusiastic about rape at some point means that you’re always enthusiastic and consenting to it, which is *also* some serious bullshit. And also, I *think*, relates to *devaluing* women’s sexuality. If a society really values a woman’s sexuality and sexual experiences, it wouldn’t permit that assumption. In a society that really values women’s sexuality, there wouldn’t be those kinds of assumptions.

    That makes sense to me; on the broadest possible scale, I think there are interactions between sexual repression and sexual assault. I’m basically in favor of books that aim to be liberating, though I would give credit first of all to feminist versions of and participation in the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s for initiating that work — sexual liberation is very much part of “conventional feminist wisdom,” though not all feminists subscribe to it. That said, the “society” isn’t a monolith; harmful, sexist attitudes will persist for a very long time, and we certainly shouldn’t make laws that assume otherwise.

    Right now, there’s this idea that if someone doesn’t say “no” then they’re really saying “yes.” Enthusiastic consent is an attempt to redraw the line- if you’re not getting enthusiastic consent- if the person you’re with isn’t engaging with you, isn’t actively participating, isn’t actually saying “yes” in some way, then maybe you aren’t getting consent.

    Actually, in a lot of these hypothetical cases there may not be adequate grounds for assuming consent, as the laws currently define it. The word “no” is, of course, significant, but it is already possible to prove that (for example) a woman who is silent is not consenting, or that an intoxicated woman is not consenting.

    Again, you don’t want to be in the business of legislating how people should feel. Take a different crime of coercion: kidnapping. Obviously, we all go on trips with people who are much more excited than we are about going. The fact that we are not enthusiastic does not make the trip a kidnapping.

    There’s this hazy, hypothetical scene that keeps recurring in this conversation, somewhere between “end of the night at a frat/sorority mixer” and “joyless domestic life.” Yes, there’s some reason to hope that educating men about consent, and educating women about sexuality, will help in these situations. But putting all the emphasis on an imaginary end to “rape culture” is far too simplistic. To begin with, can you possibly imagine a more heteronormative discussion than the one we’re having right now? If a woman is living in the closet, the more she learns about her sexuality, the less she’ll feel for her male partner. She may have to suddenly contemplate a divorce, a move, conversations with her family, and who knows what else. The initial experience will not be an access of pleasure, but rather a great deal of hardship. Feminism has helped make such fissures in a life survivable, but not by being so myopic as here.

    Sexuality is also not the only issue. If women have an unequal share of household or parenting duties, or if they do not have enough personal time because of a grueling work schedule, all the liberatory advice in the world isn’t going to prevent exhaustion and a loss of enthusiasm. So, issues like maternity leave, adequate child care, domestic equality, and a living wage all indirectly affect sexuality as much as the continuing issue of repression.

  34. Pingback: The Feminist Bookstore Video and Yes Means Yes « The Kugelmass Episodes

  35. Katie says:

    Oh SNAP, BA and donna and Kai!

  36. Roy says:

    Magniloquence: You’re right, and I apologize- the criticism here hasn’t been “this book shouldn’t be written” and I can see how replying like that can be distracting from the rest of the conversation. I’ve read some crticisms that were a lot less about the substance and structure (totally fair), and a lot more about the people making the proposal (a lot less fair), and I reacted from that place, which is neither helpful nor fair. Thanks for pointing it out, and or linking to that post. It makes a lot of sense, and I’ll watch that.

    Joseph:

    Actually, in a lot of these hypothetical cases there may not be adequate grounds for assuming consent, as the laws currently define it. The word “no” is, of course, significant, but it is already possible to prove that (for example) a woman who is silent is not consenting, or that an intoxicated woman is not consenting.

    I certainly think that’s true in some cases, but there seems to be- and I suppose that this might be a product of biased news presentation, but I suspect it’s bigger than that- a push towards making it harder and harder to get rape convictions, and, indeed, to get crimes that certainly sound like rape even called rape. I keep reading about cases of judges, police, and lawyers who seem to be feeling pretty free to explain why such-and-such a case wasn’t rape because: the woman was a sex worker and, so, clearly must have consented, even though she says she didn’t/ the woman wasn’t traditionally attractive, and should have been happy for the attention, even though she says she wasn’t/etc. It’s certainly possible to prove these cases, but I do think that it’s problematic that the legal system’s starting assumption (as I see it, at least) seems to be that people who say they’ve been raped are probably lying.

    Regarding the kidnapping example: I absolutely agree- not every case of being less than excited about leaving is a case of kidnapping, and the concept of enthusiastic consent doesn’t assume that it is. If I may shift the analogy a bit:

    Imagine that there’s a person who wants to dance with someone else. Person A asks Person B to dance. It could be that B is really excited about the idea, and jumps up, grabs A’s hand and drags A out onto the floor (YES YES YES!). I don’t think any of us would doubt that, in that situation, B is pretty clearly consenting, and is, in fact, enthusiastically consenting to the dance. But, let’s imagine a situation where B isn’t. Maybe A takes B’s hand and asks B to dance, and sort of pulls B onto the dance floor. B isn’t really dancing, doesn’t really give A any feedback, and maybe is just staring over A’s shoulder at the wall. Now, it’s possible that B does want to dance, but is really shy or nervous or feeling apprehensive about dancing in front of other people, etc. Nobody (I think) is suggesting that A is automatically wrong or committing some crime- what’s being suggested is that, in that situation, A should be checking in with B, and making sure that B really does want to dance. Since B isn’t giving A affirmative consent of any kind, A should be seeking it. It’s not enough that B isn’t saying “no”- A needs to make sure that there’s actually a “yes” there. And if there isn’t, A needs to stop. And I think that there’s a lot of room between those examples- it’s not an either/or proposition. The point isn’t that every case lacking enthusiasm is a crime- it’s that lack of enthusiasm should at least give you pause, and be reason to check in.

  37. Theriomorph says:

    Thank you for this, Tekanji.

  38. tomemos says:

    Kai, I’m having a lot of trouble with your comment. I agree with you that institutionalized rape, whether in China seventy years ago or in Sudan today, is, broadly speaking, more horrific than rape culture in the United States. Similarly, Third World poverty is often much worse than poverty in the United States, but I wouldn’t see a book about American poverty as somehow “insular,” or complain that it was ignoring poverty in Bangladesh. Or, to take a real-life example: a female gay friend of mine once dismissed a male gay friend’s work for the Human Rights Campaign, on the grounds that the focus on gay marriage was middle-class and inessential; she was working on helping gay youth overcome depression and discrimination, which she saw as much more crucial. It seems clear to me that we can choose our battles– I’ll work with gay teens, you work on gay marriage–without arranging them into a hierarchy of suffering, a kind of triage where those who are better-off, but still not equal, have to wait their turn. These wars are big enough to fight on a lot of different fronts; indeed, they must be fought that way. If women’s rights and causes couldn’t advance in one place until they had caught up everywhere else, women here still wouldn’t have the right to vote.

    I also feel that comments of this kind have the effect of silencing, rather than adding to, dialogue. When you say that “…the incessant need of some middle-class white folks to act as though their insular world is the center of the universe, and that all others simply don’t count, is rather astounding,” it seems to me that you’re doing exactly what you’re accusing others of doing: acting as if only one kind of suffering “counts.” A hypothetical rape victim–even if she’s American, white and middle-class–will by necessity have a somewhat narrow view of rape culture; she probably will have it easier than millions of women worldwide, but I assure you, when she “thinks about rape culture,” she’s not going to think about the Rape of Nanjing; she’s going to remember her own victimization. The idea that this is somehow privileged or insensitive is itself both of those things.

    I agree that American/Western feminism needs to incorporate more non-white, non-Western viewpoints, but I think that process needs to be additive, rather than subtractive: we should focus on contributing to dialogue, rather than dismissing projects as unhelpful before they’ve even been completed.

  39. Pingback: A lightbulb moment - books and controversy, again, some more. « Feline Formal Shorts

  40. Chris Clarke says:

    Shorter tomemos: Kai, how dare you silence we the privileged by observing that we’re privileged?

  41. Theriomorph says:

    tomemos, I’m having trouble reading your comment as something other than concern trolling: what Kai raises is not only extremely valid and a widely shared point of view, but is not a ranking of suffering. I think that’s a straw man argument. Calling out privilege, narrow focus, and the dominance of narrow and privileged voices is not creating a hierarchy of pain. Pop culture privileging of the concerns of upper & middle class American women, most of whom are white, again, still, is.

  42. Kai says:

    tomemos, it’s okay if my comment gives you trouble because my words are never intended to be easy or trouble-free. I freely admit to being a polemical agitator, but can’t we all just get along…? Actually, the thing I’d like to point out is that most of what appears to be troubling you are things that I didn’t say or even imply. You came up with those things yourself and projected them onto me. I never said anything about “more horrific” or “much worse”, you did. And it makes me wonder why. Maybe you should wonder about that too. Look at my words and ask yourself where I said anything about hierarchies of pain or what middle-class white rape victims should or shouldn’t say or think. I simply responded to the concrete substance of a specific book idea with a fairly limited critical reflection which will in no way silence the authors or editors or anyone else. Truth is, I’m a passionate advocate of multi-front, pluralistic, distributed, collaborative, non-hierarchical, transnational progressive activism, and I have a substantial body of writing and activist history along those lines (not that I should need that to make my point, but there it is). If your principal concern is that middle-class white Americans are getting marginalized or silenced within the current shape of the world, then I think the problem isn’t that other people are proposing an imaginary hierarchy, but rather that you’re consciously or unconsciously defending an existing one.

  43. tomemos says:

    You know, Chris Clarke is doing such a good job imitating my position that I don’t feel a need to respond. Let me respond to Theriomorph instead.

    First, I have a genuine question–where does disagreement end and concern trolling begin? If it’s just a matter of sincerity, well, I’m sincere, though I don’t know how to convince you of that. If, as I suspect, it’s about showing up and disagreeing without permission, I don’t know what to do with that either.

    As for the supposed straw man: Kai’s position seems to be based on two premises. First, that the book cannot be relevant to institutional rape (“I can’t see how this book idea remotely impacts such things”). Second, that the book and the people who are associated with it are selfish and insensitive: they are “act[ing] as though their insular world is the center of the universe, and that all others simply don’t count.” (Incidentally, I agree with what Magniloquence said at #32, but here, it seems that if Kai isn’t trying to say that the book is bad, s/he’s going about it wrong.)

    The first premise seems unjustified to me–it is, after all, a book idea, and enthusiastic consent is only one part of the proposal. Nevertheless, granting this premise for the sake of argument, the second premise is where the hierarchy comes in: since the book doesn’t deal with these issues that I have prioritized, it is necessarily an unproductive book. I believe in critiquing the book on its content: if the focus on enthusiastic consent or sexual pleasure seems misguided or unhelpful, then that can be reasonably critiqued, and if the book claims to have a wider focus than it does (as Full Frontal Feminism did), then that’s worthy of attack as well. But if the only critique is that it doesn’t address the Most Important Issues, then we’re back at my American Poverty/Third World Poverty example: this issue may be less important to you, but it makes quite a difference to others.

  44. Donna says:

    tomemos the triage I see going on is that those WORSE OFF than the middle class white Americans are the ones told to wait their turn. And we are always told that the advances that are soooo very necessary just happen to be the ones that the middle class white people want. Check your liberal or feminist blogs and see just how many are covering working class issues, disability issues, race issues, etc beyond lip service. Check congress and see what ‘important’ work they are doing, like the war against Christmas bill.

    People are getting angry not because they want to stop this book. They want to stop middle class white people with their middle class white causes from saying that they are saving the world, when they are not. This is twice that Valenti has been caught doing this. She said that FFF was for all girls, when it is clearly for middle class white girls. She and Friedman are now saying this will put an end to (all) rape culture, when it is about only aquaintance rape and even a subset of that. If you want an example of what I mean, just go to Roy’s blog and read the post about the girl attacked in the bar. She wasn’t raped but that exact scenario is how many acquaintance rapes play out. The rapist just grabs his acquaintance and does what he wants to her. There is no, oops, I wasn’t sure if her silence was a yes, it’s all – who cares what she wants.

    I particularly felt your comment about voting to be a slap in the face. I’m native american. Do a little research to find out how many decades it took between giving white women the vote and people like me. Always gotta give the white people what they want before they can get around to us.

    The point is, American/western feminism is already subtractive. If you cared about that you might want to listen to some of us who have been subtracted. It’s been about middle class white women all along and there you are waving your hands about in panic because the rest of us want some of that attention too. “Oh gosh no! Don’t leave out the middle class white women! You mean selfish WOC, non-American women, poor women, disabled women, trans women, etc!”

  45. Chris Clarke says:

    You know, Chris Clarke is doing such a good job imitating my position that I don’t feel a need to respond.

    I was actually more summarizing than imitating. And my comment — while perhaps a bit frustrated and brusque with yet another repetition of the same old, abundantly debunked arguments from privileged ignorance — was made as a good faith analysis of your scolding of Kai. I find it telling that you chose to just walk on by.

    I’d be interested in hearing a counter to my point — that you responded defensively to Kai because he pointed out yet another example of privileged exclusionary universalizing — if in fact you have one.

  46. tekanji says:

    tomemos said:

    You know, Chris Clarke is doing such a good job imitating my position that I don’t feel a need to respond.

    This is a borderline ad hominem attack. As is made very clear by the little red text above the comment box, this blog has discussion rules. Do not attack other commenters in order to make your point. If you feel that they have misrepresented your argument say so but do NOT make these passive aggressive attacks. Chris, that goes for you too. Your snark was out of line.

    This goes for everyone commenting here, as well. I value civilized debate and discussion and have very little tolerance for people breaking the rules. Play well with others, or you won’t be able to play here anymore.

  47. Chris Clarke says:

    Your blog your rules, of course, tekanji. Sorry for crossing the line.

  48. tomemos says:

    Rather than respond to each point individually–I apologize if this looks like intellectual cowardice, but I’m on my way out of town for the holiday–I want to make a general point about the way “privilege” is being used in this discussion.

    Earlier today I was reading this comment thread at Ezra Klein, about Ron Paul’s opposition to abortion rights. Things got heated, as they often will regarding abortion, and finally one commenter, in dismissing the importance of abortion as an issue, ended a comment with, “So please, save your [expletive] lectures about the importance of abortion to civil rights. You could [expletive] care less about civil rights. You just want to make sure that privileged white people like you get access to abortion.” Someone correctly pointed out that, in fact, privileged white people had much less trouble than the underprivileged in getting abortions even when they were illegal, and that legal abortions could therefore be much more important to underprivileged women. The response was simply denial: “you’re not here because of anyone but privieleged [sic] white women. It doesn’t matter if poor people get abortions too. THATS [sic] not why you defend the right to an abortion.”

    This, to me, is the problem with using privilege as the sole basis for critique: privilege is a pervasive bias, but it isn’t an absolute and its effects are unpredictable. In the Ezra Klein thread, the people arguing in favor of abortion rights were clearly privileged: they all had access to computers, some were clearly educated, and some were clearly men. It would be fallacious to conclude, as the quoted commenter did, that their defense of abortion rights was therefore based in privilege. By the same token, from what’s been said here and elsewhere, it isn’t at all clear to me that Yes Means Yes is solely or mostly applicable to privileged women, at the expense of under-privileged women; nor that it claims to deal exhaustively with the subject of rape (which, as Donna says, was the central problem with Full Frontal Feminism: a presumption to speak “for all girls”). I’m not trying to be obtuse, I just haven’t seen where the description of the project does that; if there are specific examples, by all means please point them out. So it seems to me that what the accusation of privilege is based in here is either 1) not addressing the subjects that some find most crucial, in which case we’re back at the American Poverty problem (that is, the book’s inability to address every topic); or 2) residual frustration with the mainstream feminist movement, including Full Frontal Feminism, Valenti herself, and Feministing and other “mainstream” feminist sites. I think this frustration is correct and generally important and productive, but in this case I think it’s resulted in unfair prejudgment of a specific, potentially helpful project (which, whatever, it’s just one book) and, more seriously, the kind of prioritizing I mentioned above, where (for instance) a focus on sexuality is presumed to be counterproductive and privileged.

  49. Theriomorph says:

    (whoops, didn’t appear to go up the first time, reposting – apologies if it doubles)

    Look, tomemos, I realize how it can feel when several people react strongly against something you comment all at once. But I would ask you to think about why that reaction is there, and ask also how you can miss what Kai said:

    If your principal concern is that middle-class white Americans are getting marginalized or silenced within the current shape of the world, then I think the problem isn’t that other people are proposing an imaginary hierarchy, but rather that you’re consciously or unconsciously defending an existing one.

    This is what I was trying to point out (only, you know, clearer). And the other points Kai made, about your worries about dismissal of this book vs. what the commenters are actually saying, bears close examination.

    Jessica is going to be fine. She’s a smart, tough woman with a massive audience, and a lot of support and privilege of many kinds. I don’t see anyone attacking her personally; I see legitimate criticisms of the ‘framing’ of the book(s) as being about something much larger and more globally relevant than it actually is. So a rush in to defend her against a non-attack *while ignoring the issues actually raised* makes people angry; it confirms, rather than denying, the defense of privilege at the expense of less mass-marketable experiences of less mass-marketable people.

    I spent a lot of years doing rape prevention work on college campuses, working with the privileged groups this book might speak to in a useful way. I will be glad if this book turns out to be a useful tool in that work. I do *not* think it is useful to ‘frame’ it as anything other than that, or to continually resist and resent the larger work we all need to do, and I am deeply skeptical of the motives of anyone doing so.

    I am sick of the only books getting mass support being based in the same old privileged arguments and concerns, and, as Donna said, even focusing on acquaintance rape in privileged contexts of American life, a whole lot of people are left out, because rapists do not care about my orgasm, for god’s sake! This is one of several fundamental problems with the call for submissions against which people are legitimately reacting. The implicit and explicit assumptions are of profound concern.

  50. I’d be interested in hearing a counter to my point — that you responded defensively to Kai because he pointed out yet another example of privileged exclusionary universalizing — if in fact you have one.

    You’re assuming here that tomemos responded the way he did because he personally is interested in the continuance of false universalisms that provide cover for privilege. As I read the comment, tomemos is simply willing to hope that Yes Means Yes won’t try (as Full Frontal Feminism did) to be a universal text. For example, since issues like “enthusiastic consent” (and even the way the book raises homophobia) seem so focused on date rape, the book might have claimed that it wanted to make date rape its primary focus. Even though there are other situations where rape happens, there’d be nothing inherently wrong with such a book.

    Unfortunately, the authors have made it clear that they are aspiring to universality once again, and given these premises they’re bound to make a hash of it. It’s the same with the proposed topics, which, taken individually, could be given a sympathetic reading. For example, it is a good idea to have male participation in the feminist movement. Homophobia does play a role in the cultural production of sexual assault. But read together, the proposed topics trivialize rape and feminism and exclude voices from the margins. That oversight is particularly troubling since the processes of marginalization and silencing are so intimately bound up with the sexual violence of rape.

  51. Donna says:

    tomemos, I happen to agree with the poster at Ezra Klein’s. It works the same way as conservatives who say they are against abortion because they want to save the babies. You know they don’t, because they would be supporting other pro-child initiatives after the babies are born, but they don’t. They resist funding WIC, or healthcare for children, or education, or even sex education and birth control to avoid abortions in the first place. The anti-abortionists just want to punish women for having sex. I think that most pro-choicers are as self serving, they talk alot about caring about poor women, but somehow the only issue they really want to work on is choice and not any other poor or working class issues. If they cared that much about poor women they would be working just as hard to get federal funding reinstated for abortions for women on medicaid/welfare. All they care about is keeping it legal for themselves/their wife or girlfriend.

    You almost got it with number 1. Reread the call for submissions, it is supposed to end rape culture and stop rape (all rapes). So using your example it would be as if a book about only American poverty says in the call for submissions that it will end all worldwide poverty. We are not telling them they must cover our particular issue we are telling them to stop pretending that they are. For once it would be nice if they would be honest and said that the book is narrowly focused. It’s a worthwhile project within the confines of that narrow focus.

  52. Pingback: a couple of points. « Problem Chylde: Learning in Transition

  53. Ravenmn says:

    The cfp says:

    “Imagine a world where rape is rare and swiftly punished.

    Welcome to the world of Yes Means Yes.”

    That is a pretty clear statement of universality. Since the subject is merely date rape, it’s a total misnomer. Unless we’re saying that the world where rape is rare is ONLY a white, middle-class, U.S. world and only white, middle class U.S. citizens can hope to live in a world without rape.

    Remove that statement and you remove the objections.

  54. donna darko says:

    Huh. I just read the submissions guidelines and am just thinking/speaking for myself here. Chris said at his blog this disappears the vast majority of rape victims in human history. That’s why the proposal says Imagine a world in which…It reminds me of anthropologist Riane Eisler’s books, the Chalice and the Blade and Sacred Pleasure. She speaks of moving from a pain to pleasure paradigm I wholly agree with. She chronicles the history of sexual pleasure in the second book and looks forward to a world that has moved from the pain to pleasure principle.

  55. donna darko says:

    Chalice and the Blade (Amazon website): She convincingly documents the global shift from egalitarian to patriarchal societies, interweaving new archeological evidence and feminist scholarship. In her scenario, as women once venerated were degraded to pawns controlled by men, social cooperation gave way to reliance on violence, hierarchy and authoritarianism.

    Sacred Pleasure (Amazon website): From Sumer to ancient Athens and Rome, medieval Europe, the Islamic world and traditional China, rigidly male-dominated societies, argues feminist historian Eisler (The Chalice and the Blade), relied on pain or the fear of it to maintain hierarchical relations of dominance and submission. Patriarchy, she believes, represses sexuality, distorts the natural bonds of erotic pleasure and love between men and women and diminishes women’s status. Drawing on archaeological evidence and Paleolithic and Neolithic art, Eisler argues that prehistoric societies were relatively free of the domination, exploitation and misogyny that have marked Western societies up to the present. She emphasizes that Christianity’s hostility toward sex and, particularly, women’s sexuality has conditioned men and women to accept coercion and repression. Discussing abusive child-rearing practices, genital mutilation, natural childbirth, abortion, sex education, the men’s movement, AIDS and much else, Eisler outlines a new sexual ethic that aligns pleasure with our capacity to feel and act empathically. Her visionary, passionate scholarship is a revealing psychosexual exploration of love and power relations.

  56. donna darko says:

    Sacred Pleasure: Eisler calls for a new sexual revolution, centered on a move toward partnership sexuality and its integration with spirituality and society in order to develop a place where everyone can realize a more satisfying and pleasurable life. She traces the course of sexual relations from prehistory through the present, along the way deflating sexual myths and misconceptions. She also examines the prevalence of sexual violence today and projects a future in which men and women will thrive together in harmony. Principally, however, Eisler examines the history of humanity’s deep and powerful yearning for connections within intimate relationships.

  57. tomemos says:

    (Very long comment follows. Apologies.)

    Donna, of course I agree with you about the Democratic Congress. And I agree with you to some extent on political bloggers–I stopped reading Daily Kos because of its interest in the horse race above actual causes–though I read Digby and think she’s quite good on working-class issues (see here, for instance). As for whether this is “lip service”… well, lip service is usually described as words that are not followed by action; the Democrats talk a good game on social issues but won’t vote for controversial spending bills, e.g. Given that the blogosphere is almost all words, how are we to tell the difference between authentic and inauthentic attention to these issues?

    That brings me to your agreement with the commenter at EK, and more generally with your points about “most pro-choicers.” First of all, in the specific thread, the pro-choice commenters that soullite was describing as self-centered also objected to Ron Paul–and to any progressive support of his candidacy–for issues aside from abortion, including some that would be absolutely disastrous to the American poor: the elimination of the minimum wage and all government-funded schools, just for starters. Beyond that, though, my deeper problem is that once you are accused of being self-motivated or inauthentic, there is no way to demonstrate that this isn’t true. If someone supports abortion rights, and what’s more “pays lip service” to the argument that abortion rights are especially important to lower-income women, I’m happy to accept them as an ally without performing an ideological test. Coalition-building often involves working with people who are more focused on one issue than others which are just as worthy, and also with people and groups that are self-motivated: many large companies support universal health care for self-interested reasons, but I’m not going to disavow their support, even though I may fight them on every other issue.

    As for the scope of Yes Means Yes: Ravenmn, thanks for calling attention to those excerpts from the book’s description. I do see them as somewhat grandiose, although I read this as merely rhetorical: it is common to claim that a book (or event, or activist) is going to accomplish absolutes that are in fact out of reach. Helping to plan an anti-war march, I was told that we shouldn’t advertise “march to stop the war,” since we weren’t going to be able to stop the war; I argued that an anti-hunger campaign wouldn’t use the phrase “Assuage World Hunger.” I also think that a collection of essays is by implication not attempting to be universal, since it presents a range of viewpoints rather than a single one, though I know there are other ways to interpret this. Still, I agree that the claim is overblown and ill-chosen here, especially given the previous problems caused by such exaggerations. I also would add that “the key to dismantling rape culture” is reductive, since there isn’t any one key, nor (as has been pointed out) any one rape culture.

    However, I very much disagree that the book is only concerned with date rape. It’s true that “enthusiastic consent” is closely related to date and acquaintance rape, but I don’t agree that this is necessarily applicable to the concept of the book as a whole, because the issue of women’s sexuality is obviously not limited to one issue, nor one class or culture. Theriomorph’s objection to the premises of the book–“rapists do not care about my orgasm, for God’s sake!”–is very similar to an argument against The Vagina Monologues, published in UC Irvine’s conservative newspaper, that ran like this: “How is a woman yelling ‘I am the master of my c*** [sic]‘ supposed to stop rape?” The response to this is also my answer to Theriomorph’s question: men who care about women’s sexual health and pleasure–who care sincerely, rather than as some kind of gambit–are unlikely to be rapists. That may sound facile, and if I thought that the (as yet undetermined) authors of this book thought that this was a simple matter of writing a single book, I’d be dismissing them as well; again, I think the wide range of topics indicate that they are aware of the complexity of this task.

    While I’m on the subject, The Vagina Monologues also functions as a way of conceiving of the relationship between sexuality and rape as global, rather than only Western. This is the play from which I (embarrassingly) first learned about the Comfort Women, in a monologue featuring the words of surviving Comfort Women themselves. It contains material about both working- and middle-class sexuality and sexual victimization, and about institutional rape (in the section on the Balkan rape camps). It’s a play that is the basis for an organization dedicated to ending sexual violence worldwide, and it takes as its explicit thesis that increased appreciation and awareness of women’s sexuality are vital to that cause. Obviously Eve Ensler is not an incontrovertible authority, but I do think that her play and movement provide a clear model for how sexuality can be used as the key to sexual violence, across class and cultural lines. I don’t see anything in the submission guidelines suggesting that Yes Means Yes could not potentially provide a similar service.

    I don’t in any way think that middle-class white Americans are getting marginalized or silenced. If the book ends up being another exclusionary distortion of feminism, then my optimism will have been misplaced and I will be due for a “told you so.” I am not advocating the right of the privileged to speak without criticism; but I am advocating that we not prejudge a project as privileged without good reason to do so–not out of an empty principle of support or charity, but to ensure that our anger is applied where it is most needed.

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  59. BetaCandy says:

    I’m bothered by the fact that this is being framed as something to do with “the rape culture”, when it doesn’t even touch on the rapes of children (who often “enthusiastically” consent because they’re desperate to please adults who have power over them) or of men. I don’t mind that the book isn’t about every type of rape on earth: I mind that “the rape culture” is once again being defined as something adult men do to adult women, when really the rape culture is so much broader and more multi-faceted than that.

    Honestly, how many feminists ARE survivors of molestation? How many of us learned from our fathers or uncles or teachers how to distinguish a man who thinks “some coercion” is okay from one who doesn’t? How many of us were dismissed by third wave feminism as a bunch of old un-liberated prudes because we made that distinction (without ever implying “sex is bad”? What does this book offer OUR rape culture?

    Exclusion. I should be used to it by now, but nope, it still hurts.

    Ultimately, a useful way to think about it is this: rape is a kind of assault that uses sex as a weapon against the victim. Rape uses sex, but is not a form of sex.

    This is why I say rape should be conflated with torture, not sex.

    Which looks suspiciously like women pushing down other women to raise themselves in an attempt to gain the approval of the patriarchy.

    That’s precisely the feeling I’m getting, to be honest.

    I would like to see something else challenged: the very idea that men who think ANY degree of coercion is okay are just mixed up and in need of education troubles me. Maybe my experience is weird, but since my father taught me how to distinguish a man who thinks even slight coercion is okay from one who doesn’t, it’s always been very apparent to me that truly healthy men – fully capable of empathy toward others, aware of women and children as complete and complex humans – INSTINCTIVELY back off if a woman even seems unenthusiastic, because they don’t enjoy sex with a partner who’d rather be somewhere else, let alone who’s resistant to the whole idea. I don’t think that needs to be taught – I think it’s a normal human response that is UN-taught, and we need to look at how men are being programmed to ignore their natural understanding that sex is supposed to be good for all involved, not a commodity to be cajoled out of some people by others.

  60. BetaCandy says:

    since my father taught me how to distinguish a man who thinks even slight coercion is okay from one who doesn’t,

    I realized too late the irony might be lost here: I meant that he taught me that distinction by being a man who thought coercion of the female was a natural and acceptable part of sex.

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  62. donna darko says:

    The terminology of the proposal is very middle-class, white and trivializing but I agree with Riane Eisler’s dominator to partnership, pain to pleasure paradigm shifts. Amanda Marcotte wrote a post about this. Basically, the conservative framing of sex is about conquest and liberal sex is like playing a duet.

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