Yes Means Yes >> Read This Book!

Wow, lying awake on my thirtieth birthday and I continue to
read Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female
Sexual Power & A World Without Rape … and this sends me on a spiral of
thoughts, strong, conflicted, energized, focused, varied.

It may not seem like light reading but I find myself flying
through this book. I’m so happy to find out how many women and men of my
generation have apparently been writing about rape in positive, constructive
ways, without being embarrassed about it! Rape—How many times have I heard that
it’s too serious to talk about? That if I were still talking about it I must be
fragile and full of baggage and in need of a lot of sensitivity? I don’t feel
that way at all. I want to continue to talk about IT—Rape—for as long as our
cultural normalizes it. I’m pleasantly surprised at the distance I’ve come from
the time I was a teenager, from the events and moments that I processed in Goodmorning Senor Alfabus (which, I
realize now, was basically about my personal rape culture) and the exciting
process that thinking and learning about sexuality has taken me on.

For one thing, it’s time to write a letter to my brother and
to my cousins about my own experience of rape and what it means to live in a rape
culture (simply, a culture that includes the all-too-common event of non-consensual
sex). Here we are, these great strong women in a family having raised men …
what better thing to do. And this sends me on to say that it has been really
important for me to meet men, talk to men, and read from men about rape
culture. Not because I think men will have “all the answers” but because for
the longest time “male” sexuality scared me. And I really couldn’t understand
it or deal with it, so it continuously felt disempowering to encounter any
overt form of it. But for quite a while now I see that they—and all persons—are
my allies and partners in dismantling rape culture.

Yes Means Yes
brings up so many important topics for me, and each essay contains points of
identification and misidentification. Ideas that I agree and disagree with.
Feelings that I can empathize with—but may have moved on from. Feelings that I
can’t relate to at all. It’s fantastic.

One of the ideas I struggle with is this term being thrown
about—the so-called “rape apologist”—a person that thinks victims should be
held responsible, should “apologize” for their rape. I struggle with this term
because I generally do think that almost any situation is extremely complex. I
don’t think that victims should “apologize” for their rape; I do think that the
onus should remain on the perpetrators of rape. I also think, simultaneously,
that rape culture implies a certain structure of responsibility that includes
victim and perpetrator, male and female alike.

Society wants us to take positions and hold them, to take
sides. But just plain living shows me time and again that the truth is often
both, simultaneously—both good and bad, both true and untrue. Transitively our
identities are not one thing that can be defined. They are both and always
everything and nothing, all at the same time.

What this has to do with rape is the idea that a boy can commit
rape but not BE a “Rapist” (this is important and probably why my mother’s enthusiasm
for demonizing my first boyfriend doesn’t excite me, it leaves me feeling
misunderstood). I can say, a boy is part of rape culture, but not born a rapist
or, empirically, “A Rapist.”

It is a never a woman’s fault for being raped … but I also
feel strongly that women do play a role in rape culture. That doesn’t mean that
in an instance of rape it is her “fault,” but in male female relations and
growing up, women and men play their roles. There ARE things that girls can do
differently to ensure agency within their first sexual experiences, which are
most vulnerable to feelings of violation (and no, it doesn’t have anything to
do with what she wears or what parties she goes to or how many people she
sleeps with).

Julia Serano says it well in her essay, “Nice Guys Finish
Last,”: “The truth is that rape culture is a mindset that affects each and
every one of us, shaping how we view and respond to the world, and creating
double binds for both women and men. I call this phenomenon the predator/prey
mindset, and within it, men can only ever be viewed as sexual aggressors and
women as sexual objects.”

Because I believe in women’s power, I believe it’s not all
up to men. I also think that young men and women do not have all the tools they
need to navigate the sometimes difficult path of sexual discovery (because sex uncovers
whatever animal instincts we have and brings us face to face with power
imbalances and exchanges). It has to be somehow learned by trial and error. I
do think that as I’ve gotten older I’ve assumed a whole new set of tools (that
I didn’t have as a teenager) in order to be a more assertive, powerful woman
now.

I want to be able to speak frankly about rape and about the
conditions around rape without having to be black and white. I want to be able
to say of my own experiences—that was
rape—but I also want to be able to say—that same situation could have
turned out differently. Not every girl would have—or should—have the same
experience given the same conditions. The context of my first relationship and
everything that happened within it was influenced by so many different factors
that created a force much larger than just the words and manipulations of my
boyfriend.

I’ve explored much of this context for myself—the belief (at
the time) that providing sex meant proving love; fear that my boyfriend would
leave me; feelings of inadequacy in relation to my strong feminist role models—and
simultaneously a false sense of superiority/shame. I could go on. I tried to
explore the context of my boyfriend, who was also, for all surface details, a
very intelligent, even “feminist” forward thinking young man. I’ve tried,
somehow without ever talking to him again, to understand his context by talking
to other men who may be like him, trying to understand them, how they thought
about women, how they thought about sex. It’s been helpful.

Thomas Macaulay Millar presents us with a fantastic view of
how women and men can think about sexual interaction to minimize feelings of
disrespect and manipulation. In “Towards a Performance Model of Sex” he likens
sexual interactions to performance interactions. In a performance interaction, two
people playing music, for example, play together because each one comes
willingly to play; there’s no incentive to play with someone who doesn’t want to
be there. The music won’t be any good. In a performance model, you play to
learn from each other and to create together. In a performance model, the more
partners you play with, the more varied and interesting your personal style
grows to be. In a commodity model, on the other hand, the model that most of us
are used to, women are generally the keepers of a “commodity.” Millar
references an Abstinence-only logo that read, “Guard Your Diamond, Save Sex for
Marriage for a Brighter Future!”

His is just one of the many inspiring writers I’m privileged
to experience in this truly groundbreaking book and why I feel urgent about
responding personally to what I’m reading.


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