Sunday, November 01, 2009

Yes means Yes: perspectives on and proposals for American female sexuality

I just finished Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power in a World Without Rape, a collection of essays discussing the use of sex as a weapon (as in rape) and how a sex-positive environment that celebrates rather than denies sexuality would discourage this practice. The main argument of this book is that sex should occur not in the absence of objection, but in the presence of (active) consent. Among the interesting perspectives the book provides are the following:
  • There are a couple of essays about how the black female is hypersexualized in our society and how this is harmful. In Trial by Media, Samhita Mukhopadhyay talks about how because our society views the black female as always sexually available, it is not possible for black women to complain about sex crimes committed against them.
  • A related theme in many of the essays is that of "victim-blaming:" the legal system (and society) dismisses rape charges by women who have been dressed provocatively, drinking, doing drugs, consenting to spend time with her attacker(s), etc.
  • In Invasion of Space by a Female, Coco Fusco talks about the use of female sexuality as a weapon in military torture.
  • An anti-rape activist talks, among other things, about how pornography can be positive for people to overcome trauma and figure out their desires. This was interesting to me because I had previously thought of pornography as harmful and anti-feminist.
  • In Why Nice Guys Finish Last..., transgender woman Julia Serano talks about how women help perpetuate the predator/prey relationship between men and women by liking "assholes" rather than "nice guys." Serano says we need to stop viewing women as prey, making the following interesting point: "...many people in both the political/religious Right, as well as many anti-pornography feminists, seem to take what I call the "virgin" approach. Their line of reasoning goes something like this: Because men are predators, we should desexualize women in the culture by, for example, banning pornography and discouraging representations of women... that others can interpret as sexually arousing or objectifying. This approach not only is sexually repressive and disempowering for many women, but it also reinforces the idea that men are predators and women are prey. In other words, it reaffirms the very system that it hopes to dismantle."
  • In Who're You Calling a Whore, three sex workers talk about how in the current sexual environment, being a sex worker can be empowering because it allows for having boundaries (for saying "no") and for experimentation. One quote that stuck with me was Mariko Passion saying that because she had been assaulted, being able to say "no" again and again was very therapeutic for her. This was very interesting because I had always been very confused as to what to think about sex work re: female objectification and empowerment and the only other primary sources I really had before was those of anti-raunch feminist writer Ariel Levy and former sex worker Shelley Lubben. (I've read interviews with Sasha Gray and Jenna Jameson, but the journalist usually paints them as somewhat deluded about their empowerment as a result of earlier trauma.)
The book also made me aware of various issues of injustice: for instance, the rights that illegal immigrant women, sex workers, and drug-addicted, low-income pregnant women have over their bodies. I highly recommend this book, as it made me think about many things. Since sexuality is inextricably involved with male/female power dynamics, it is important to explore one's views about it.

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