Author Jaclyn Friedman says rape can be prevented through principle of Yes Means Yes

03/08/11 Dawn Morgan Elliott
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Jaclyn Friedman is a writer, feminist, activist, and survivor of sexual assault. Friedman is co-editor of Yes Means Yes!, a book of essays that visualizes not only a world without rape, but one where women can express their sexuality with no fear or shame.

WMNF’s Dawn Morgan Elliott began the interview by asking Friedman about the idea behind her 2008 book.

"What Yes Means Yes is about is a principle that we’re calling enthusiastic consent or affirmative consent. That means is that every partner to a sexual interaction is responsible to make sure that their sexual partner is not just not saying no, not just laying there not objecting, or that you wore them down. But that is actively, enthusiastically consenting to what’s happening. It makes us all active participants in our sex lives, which I like to say makes sex better for everybody, except the rapist."

Can you talk about the role that the media plays in rape culture, or the culture of rape in this country?

"A lot of people don’t like the term rape culture, but whatever you call it, I think it’s real. What rape culture means is there are a system of structures and patterns in our culture that enables rapists. That allows rape to flourish. So that misunderstanding, that cultural idea we have that rape is perpetrating accidentally by well meaning guys who just didn’t know, that’s part of rape culture. And media absolutely perpetrates that idea.

"Another thing that the media does is it really portrays very limited ideas about women’s sexuality. So basically, you get to be either Taylor Swift or the Pussycat Dolls and there’s really nothing in between in terms of women, models of women in the media who are sexual on their own behalf, in pursuit of their own pleasure.

"And how that relates to rape is this: when we rely on the virgin-slut dichotomy, which is all we really get in the media in terms of women’s sexuality, a number of things are happening. One, we are sexualizing all women. We are saying you’re value is based on what you do or don’t do with your body sexually. Even if your value is in that you’re a virgin, that’s also sexualizing women, saying that we value you because you have not had sex.

"But if a victim comes forward and says I was raped, the immediate cultural response is to find ways to discredit her. And one of the number one ways to discredit women who accuse people of rape is to say that she was a slut. And therefore they obviously wanted it. So we say that any number of ways: why did you go to that party, why were you wearing that, why were you flirting with him? You have regretted it the next day. Any number of these things are all tied into that concept of sluthood."

Why is it important to put yes Means Yes out there in the conversation?

"When two people know each other, which is over 80% of the rapes committed, are committed by someone who knows their victim. And a lot of times the excuse that gets used is “I didn’t know that my victim wasn’t consenting.” And it becomes like, “It must have been a sexual miscommunication problem.” And we minimize it, and those people get to go on and raping other people.

"In order to combat rape, we need to not just talk about how horrible it is, although we have to talk about it obviously, but we have to talk about the world that we’re fighting to get to. And that is a world in which women are free to be as sexual as we want to be in our own terms without shame or violence. So we have to work towards something. And the vision of Yes Means Yes is about what we want to work toward."

You can hear more from Friedman in Dawn Morgan’s International Women’s Day documentary.

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