Sunday, March 7, 2010

Meeting Jaclyn Friedman

For those who have never read Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, I have to say, you are missing out. When I first read the book, I was deeply moved, and in its own small way, although it states truths that most of us already knew, having it all in one place distilled the facts and tendrils of knowledge into a revelation of its own. 


Yes Means Yes! was edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti, both famous names in the feminist blogosphere. Jaclyn Friedman is a writer, performer and activist, and has received several grants, done a lot of cool things, like found the WAM! conference. You can totes look her up. Her main site is CounterQuo.org, which is very flashy, but if you can read it, it's got really neat stuff.


Although the talk was on rape prevention, how rapists operate, rape culture and other awful stuff, Jaclyn Friedman was upbeat and cheerful, presenting her argument with pop culture references, using really vernacular language to present her arguments in ways that we all could understand. She broke down the heteronormative system and used gender-inclusive language when possible. So, overall, she was awesome.


She started off with statistics and facts, and Canada, you are worse off than your US neighbour. And we all thought Canada was more awesome... in 2002, under 30% of rapes were reported, with rape cases around 77.64 per 100k people. Compare this to the States, where reporting is under 40% (not much but still), and cases are 32.9 per 100k people. Rates have no declined in the past 15 years, despite rape prevention campaigns.


Friedman proceeded to tell us what many in the feminist blogosphere already know - it isn't a case of young women not knowing how to protect themselves, but the case of society failing to change its attitudes in order to protect women.


She proceeded to explain how society current views sex and relationships: as transactions, to be traded. This is what we call the Commodity model of sex, wherein sex is a commodity, a thing, an item that must be sold at the highest price, obtained at the lowest cost. This model is what fuels the Tucker Max and abstinence-only crowds - although they may appear to be saying different things, they are essentially agreeing on the same thing: the sex from women is a thing, an object. 


So we talked about the Performance model of sex (coined by Thomas Millar, a fantastic writer and ally, and who also upkeeps the Yes Means Yes! blog), in which sex becomes an improvisational activity, to be shared and enjoyed with others, or practised on one's own until we are ready. We don't judge musicians for playing with many other musicians. We don't judge a violinist for choosing to play with a tabla drummer. We don't judge a group of three musicians playing together, or a whole symphony. We take joy in music, whatever the performance. So should we take joy in sex.


She went into pop culture, to show how what feminist slogans we have are taken by the consumerist market, prettified up, and sold. We are consumables. Even our philosophies are consumables, commodities, marketing tools. She told the audience about the Riot Grrl movement, and about Bikini Kill in the 80's, and how the Grrrl Power slogan was co-opted, in the 90's in the form of the Spice Girls, who weren't even that bad compared to their millenial versions, the Pussy Cat Dolls. 


We discussed the advice women get on rape prevention, and how it never gets told to men, even though men are 150% more likely to be victims of random assault and violence in the dark, at the hands of strangers. 


We also played Blame, Shame and Rape Apologism Bingo! I can't remember what we used to get there, but I hit up the "what does she work as?", and when she asked me where I heard it, I replied, "from RenegadeEvolution." (She has since retired that blog, and her new blog is less about sex work, but she was inspirational to me, and still remains so.) 


We talked about believable victims, and non-believable victims. Taylor Swift would be believable as a rape victim, but not Rihanna. Miley Cyrus used to be, but not when she started posing for photographs that assert herself as a sexual being. We ticked off all the things that made a victim believable, a true victim of rape: white, cis, middle-class, able-bodied, bla bla bla - and then she showed us a picture of Samantha Geimer at the age she had been raped by Roman Polanski - a picture that, by all means, should have fit the bill. 


And yet, she didn't. 


As Melissa McEwan said, the only thing rape victims absolutely have in common is that they were in the presence of a rapist who decided to rape them.


We discussed the new Lisak study, and how out of the slim minority of men who rape, only 4 - 8% of that minority commit the majority of rapes, because rapists are repeat offenders. And they are repeat offenders because we give them the license to operate, especially through the myth of miscommunication. And the answer is so simple: not sure if you're going to cross the Rape Line? ASK HER IF SHE'S INTERESTED. If she doesn't give you ENTHUSIASTIC CONSENT, then find someone else to have sex with. Don't ply a girl with drinks until she's loosened up to say yes. That's a rapist's tactic. The social license given to rapists for them to continue, which allows them the benefit of doubt, is eliminated once we instate the concept of ENTHUSIASTIC CONSENT.


ENTHUSIASTIC CONSENT, by the way, is YES MEANS YES. Not, Yes means sort of; not, Yes means fine okay; not, Yes means meh if it'll make you go away; but YES! YES! Let's Do It!


We talked about good intentions that ruin well-meaning advice, particularly in the efforts of universities in doling out "rape prevention tips", which is never anything new we are taught. One young woman shared her story on how she received a forward from her dad, which basically said, don't stop to help a man with his tires, because it's an excuse to rape you (echoing the Tim Bundy case). She sighed, and replied back to him, I know you mean well, but Dad, if you saw a person who needed their tire changed, you would be the first person to stop and help them! 


This is, after all, how rape culture affects all of us. It makes us monsters and victims. It renders us hungry beasts and helpless flowers. It denies us our humanity, it denies our wholeness to communicate our desires in a meaningful, positive way. It renders the normal guy into a potential threat (and here I brought up Schrodinger's Rapist, and she laughed and asked if I read the same blogs she did).


We talked about pleasure as a human right. If pleasure was a human right, then every kind of advice given to us, every excuse we make for rapists, every lack of real action we take, all that affects our security and relationships, would become a crime. Anything that affected our pleasure in life and love would become a hate crime. 


And rape is a hate crime. We know rape is borne out of a hatred for women, even "accidental" rapes. It happens because we don't care and love women enough to see them as human beings worth of all our consideration.


To conclude, she gave the following goals to change society: We need to

  • remove social license of rapists to operate
  • educate people on-  
  1. how rape actually happens
  2. enthusiastic consent
  3. the performance model of sex
  4. pleasure as a human right
  • hold the media responsible for how they report rape
  • have real sex education beyond contraceptives and basic biology
  • have difficult conversations
We then had a really fun Q&A. I'm sure more happened, but I was so busy laughing and listening, I didn't take much notes, plus I'm horrible at taking notes anyway. Although, there was that one issue...

I'm so happy I got to meet her. After the talk, I hung around to talk to her, had her sign my book (I HAVE HER AUTOGRAPH!!!), and then, I took a deep breath, and reminded her, "could you not use 'crazy' and 'lame' next time?" I apologized for calling her out (because I was so scared! so I made sure I got her autograph first), but she was really awesome and nice about it, and remembered about able-ist language, apologized and we discussed how hard it was excising the words from our vocabulary.

I also got to talk to the director for the Avalon Sexual Assault Center, mostly to just thank her for the work she did.  I gave her my card, in case she needed volunteers for stuff. 

I also got to meet others in the crowd, and we chatted and got to know each other better. Some went to SMU and we vaguely sort of kind of but not quite knew each other. Others were Dal students and I didn't know them but they talked to me anyway. It felt good to be in such a crowd, in person, again. A warm fuzzy feeling. It really reminds one, when we fight hard for social justice, we're not alone.

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