Saturday, July 11, 2009

Review: Yes Means Yes!

So, this book, which came out earlier this year, is revolutionary.

It is chock-ful of discussions, stuff to agree with, stuff to disagree with - this book is thoughtful.

There is so much going on in here: discussions centered around young women, around immigrant women, around minority women, around transwomen. Discussions about legislations, about how larger narratives hurt women personally, about how women deal with their crises and the obstacles between them and owning their sexuality.

There were 27 essays, all about women on some level. Three directly, clearly addressing men and men's role in turning around the sexual narratives we currently have for a true sexual revolution.

Some quick thoughts about each:

Essay #1 by Jill Filipovic of Feministe: This is a great introduction to the general ills which face women today, whether consciously or not. I find it to be quite North America specific at some points, but there are definitely carry-overs to other cultures and countries -some of the stuff I read definitely applies to Malaysia.

Essay #2 by Thomas Macaulay Millar: This was rather revelatory. I read on Pandagon once how sex, to paraphrase, shouldn't be a commodity to be traded, but rather it should be seen as an activity with enthusiastic participants (like Lego Star Wars). Millar offers a similar paradigm: as opposed to sex being judged as a commodity, sex should be judged as a performance, which has its performers who must work together in order to achieve good sex. Brilliantly worded essay, and wonderful ideas which would really give people a turn and make them think about how they view sex.

Essay #3 by Rachel Kramer Bussel: Dealing with consent, this makes for a very good 101 on the importance of verbal communication in getting consent.

Essay #4 by Javacia N Harris: This essay was dear to me because it talked about exploitation, and how a woman may be seen as being exploited when she clearly enjoys what she's doing, but at the same time, she may be exploited while not feeling so because she's clearly not explored her choice in-depth and looked beyond her own choices. If feeling empowered only comes as a side-benefit and only during, Houston, we have a problem. This was close to me because I've done nude modelling, and although I never felt exploited, I can clearly see how the whole industry lends itself to exploitation, and how women have to work twice as hard to dismantle it (hi RenEv!)

Essay #5 by Kate Harding, of Shapely Prose! This amazing woman tackles the issue on the attractiveness of fatnesses, within and without the mainstream culture, and how frustrating it is to buy into the idea that fat = unattractive because it leaves you with little self-esteem to capitalize on and succeed, romantically or otherwise, and how, in North American culture, any body-shape that is not thin is seen as less than ideal, and thus, open for abuse.

Essay #6 by Kimberly Springer: This was difficult for me to parse, because I'm not a black woman. Springer gives us a rundown on how black women are viewed, to the point where they cannot claim their sexuality in any meaningful way for themselves. She then suggests the idea of "queering" black sexuality - that is to say, de-center traditional notions of sexuality, much like what the queers did back in the day, in order to reclaim a piece. It really reminded me of the de-centering theory of Derrida's I had to read in Prof. Heffernan's Post Modern Novel class way back when, and I'm pleased to see my favourite theory in application.

Essay #7 by Leah Laksimi Piepzna-Samarasinha: This is a deeply personal, and deeply moving story of one woman's trip through survival, the many ways she dealt with it, and how she's still dealing with it. It really drives home the fact that the story does not end with fluffy rainbows, and the nightmares follow us the rest of our lives, and we just do what we can to deal with it, and the more we open up about, the easier it will be for other survivors to come out of the dark.

Essay #8 by Lee Jacobs Riggs: This essay starts out perky, and dives into how working at a sex toy store is also working for anti-rape goals, because the opposite of rape is not just consent, it's a whole-hearted YES! While anti-rape initiatives which encourage people to pay attention to "no" and how to articulate consent (or usually, lack thereof) are important, it's just as important to bring about a culture that encourages a full-blown YES! to sex.

Essay #9 by Stacey May Fowles: Again, another essay which was close to my own troubles, dealing with female submissives in BDSM and why so many feminists find them problematic. I find it problematic too, because the mainstream likes to co-opt BDSM images and put on a specific focus which is a very far cry from what actually goes on in the BDSM community (it's like cultural appropriation, BDSM edition!) and as someone who does have female submissive fantasies, it's necessary for me to engage with these questions, and I was glad for this essay because it helped me articulate some of my own concerns.

Essay #10 by Coco Fusco: This. This was. This was eye-opening. There is no other word for me to describe this essay which deals with the role of female interrogators - how female-ness is used against the men being tortured and how, basically, the US government exploits women in order to torture human beings. We hate it when women are exploited in the porno industry, right? Well, the people you vote for are doing the same thing.

Essay #11 by Miriam Zola Perez of Feministing: Yet another issue which does not directly impact my life, which is sexual violence being visited on immigrant women. Just because these women may use illegal methods of getting into another country doesn't justify violence being visited on them and it comes from everywhere: the men they travel with, the guards who stop them at the border, the officers who deal with them after. This essay highlights this issue which we privileged folks get to ignore.

Essay #12 by Samhita Mukhopadhyay of Feministing: More on black female sexuality and its portrayal in the media. It really gives us an insight into how the media controls, affects and influences our cultural narratives which dominate our lives unless we realize what's going on.

Essay #13 by Lisa Jervis: Tackling one of the new favourites of the new millenium: Gray Rape! As if it even existed. Lisa Jervis gives us a rundown on why this is bullshit, how it's not new at all, how it persists being shitted out of North America's cultural asshole, and why it keeps getting swallowed whole.

Essay #14 by Hazel/Cedar Troost: This essay on verbalizing consent, consistently and constantly, has a very interesting exercise! I never thought about it that way before, but I can see how it can definitely "reclaim touch", as that's what the essay is all about. It sounds like great practice, and quite affirming to be able to say "yes" when someone offers a hug or even hear "yes" when offering a hug.

Essay #15 by Heather Corinna of Scarleteen: This essay is yet another amazing essay - it tackles the traditional narrative of what an ideal first time is like, and really illustrates the absence of female desire within most sexual narratives. I'm trying to address this whenever I write heterosexual sex, but this essay quite perfectly, quite neatly, turns our assumptions around and really broadens the horizons on what a girl's first time could be like.

Essay #16 by Brad Perry: One of the few male-oriented essays in the book, this was relevant to me by way of the fact that I have many guy friends, some of whom may be taken in by mainstream guy culture, which is often damaging to the concept of healthy sexuality. It was interesting to see the rape culture broken down from a male perspective - something we women don't see enough of.

Essay #17 by Latoya Peterson of Racialicious: This essay I'd already read, since Latoya had put it up a long time on Racialicious before I got to the book, but it's no less powerful a read. The "not rape" epidemic really puts a spotlight on how we spend so much time defining rape that we don't pay attention to the sexual assaults done to our persons by assailants who will often go on to actually rape others, and how silence is complicity in supporting the rape culture at large.

Essay #18 by Toni Amato: A powerful essay on how shame is used to silence minorities from being honest about their identities, particularly transgender folk. My favourite quote: "If how we choose to clothe our bodies is more important than who murders us, how can we learn to savour all the pleasures of nakedness?"

Essay #19 by Julia Serano, who wrote the Whipping Girl: I can't say I agreed with this fully, but then, I have never been male. However, the suggestion that women as a mass should reject the asshole men strikes me as particularly laying the onus, once again, on women to change the culture rather than on men to change their behaviour. Nonetheless, it was interesting to see the predator/prey binary so well articulated.

Essay #20 by Anastasia Higginbottom: I'm one of the last to suggest self-defense as any form of meaningful defense against potential rapists, and I'm very wary of anything which appears to celebrate violence as any kind of solution, but she found her peace through self-defense training, and her journey and anecdotes are well worth the read.

Essay #21 by Cristina Meztli Tzintzun: This was deeply shocking to my system. I have always known that there are women out there who actually need to go through horrible shit before they realize they need to get out, but I felt for this essayist, because like her, I theorize about being a feminist all the time, and there are some times when I feel detached and judgemental as a result. This quote galvanized me:

My analysis was so emotionally empty that it had allowed me to become a womon I despised

And I thought, that's it. That's why I shouldn't be getting mad at others for being worked up over being abused and hurt. Because I can sit back and theorize and calmly, objectively think things through, whereas they don't, they don't have that privilege of not engaging, and not engaging directly, body and soul, in these issues means that for all our analysis, we still fall short of recognizing the inherently human problems suffered by the survivors. I discussed it further here.

Essay #22 by Tiloma Jayasinghe: This was another privilege-jerker for me, as it talks about the choice of women who are drug addicts and pregnant. It's a good 101 on how abominably we take away the right to have children from women we somehow deem "less worthy" as mothers. Before this, I had always been of the opinion that "drug addicts really shouldn't be having children", but now it's getting clearer to me that "drug addicts really need to get off drugs and we need to help them do so".

Essay #23 by Susan Lopez, Mariko Pasion & Saundra: It's a triple-threat! A dialogue between three women from the sex work industry, speaking to us straight from their own mouths about the issues they face: choice, safety, pricing, the differences between the different kinds of sex work, stigmatization, STDs, decriminalization.

Essay #24 by Hanne Blank: WHOA. SO THIS ESSAY? I'm not even sure how to describe it without summarizing it. The nifty idea is this: virgins get to dictate when they're virgins and when they're no longer virgins. And losing one's virginity doesn't have to be based on whether or not one has had PIV intercourse. Hard to swallow? Of course! But wow, like, how much more sex-positive can one get?! Particularly for virgins? Also, a quote from Augustine of Hippo: "The integrity of the body does not reside solely in its parts" - that's BIG, especially for our time when we're still very much defined by what we do with our bodies. And this quote is 2,000 years old. I guess when good ideas really entail giving young women control of their bodies, they're really resisted.

Essay #25 by Jessica Valenti of Feministing: Ms. Valenti, who has since released a book on the very topic dealt with in this essay, on the purity myth, gives us a nice rundown on how women are told to be nice, personally, and naughty, by every kind of media available. "Sexy but not sexual" is the term here, which is good for the Male Gaze, but useless for women.

Essay #26 by Cara Kulwicki of the Curvature: Cara gives us her ideals on what sex education should really look like, and I gotta say, some of that, I didn't think it fit in sex education, but it really does.

Essay #27 by Jaclyn Friedman: Ms. Friedman gives us a nice wrap-up of the book with a defense of going wild, much like our brethren who do so without any ill consequences, and a call to change the culture at large which prevents our doing so.

So this book? This book is a must-read. Not matter what your orientation, what your sex, what your gender, what creed, whether or not you identify as feminist, sex-positive or radical.

Now I know what they mean by "this book is a buy two, give one away".

I may have gotten some names or blogs wrong. If so, mea culpa.

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