Yes Means Yes: Visions Of Female Sexual Power & A World Without Rape is an anthology that “moves beyond ‘no means no’ to connect the dots between the shaming and co-option of female sexuality in our culture(s) and some of the ways rape is allowed and encouraged to function.”
The contributors include (but are not limited to) straight women, queer women, transwomen, men, white women, women of color, sex workers, professional feminists and recreational feminists, writing about rape and “not rape” and how to combat sexual violence.
I had the pleasure of attending a live reading Thursday night in DC. Editors Jaclyn Freidman and Jessica Valenti, Racialicious editor Latoya Peterson, “radical doula” Miriam Pérez and author Hanne Blank read exerpts from their contributions, which are wonderfully diverse. The women’s stories and observations both made me despair and pump my fist in solidarity. I haven’t gotten through the entire book, but I from what I have read it’s an awesome, profound collection.
Contrary to the impression one might get from the title – that consenting to sex is the path towards a rape-free world (bringing to mind that “joke:” Prevent rape – consent!) – the book does not propose that rape is an accident of miscommunication. Rather, it is a symptom of misogyny, a consequence of strict gender roles, and a tool of oppression.
I want to talk about why the “No Means No” model of rape prevention, which Yes Means Yes builds upon, is insufficient. It is not wrong, but it is not enough. I am going to speak about male-on-female rape for the sake of simplicity and clarity.
By now, the notion that “no means no” has saturated our society to the point that most people think it’s the “rule” when it comes to rape. It is an important rule to follow. If someone says they don’t want you to do something sexual to their body, you don’t do it. The problem is that NMN implies that women’s default state is consent. It supposes that if we are not protesting, we are inviting. The NMN standard puts the onus on women to say “no” rather than on the man to get clear, affirmative consent. If she didn’t say “no” – if she was too intoxicated, or drugged, or unconscious, or taken by surprise, or coerced, or physically unable to speak – she gets lost in that gap created by NMN.
While NMN is vital to anti-rape efforts, combating sexual violence requires a multipronged approach. Our culture’s views on sex, pleasure, power, masculinity, reproduction, and so much more will have to shift. It’s a daunting task, for sure; but it’s a global emergency.