“Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape”

Jaclyn Friedman & Jessica Valenti

2008 Seal Press

Easily the best book I’ve read this year, if not ever. Yes Means Yes! is an anthology of essays from women and trans folks (and a few men) of all backgrounds, white, black, Latina, Asian, poor, affluent, queer, hetero, sex workers, dominatrices, bloggers, organizers, educators, artists, and survivors, all answering the question, “How can we create a world without rape?”

This book more than any other opened my eyes to the central importance of female sexual power to movement for progressive social change. Through dissecting sexual assault and “rape culture” from ALL angles, the writers articulate that the objectification and control of female bodies is literally the cornerstone of patriarchal society.  Therefore efforts to reclaim female body sovereignty and sexual power are at the forefront of revolutionary change.

This book does not just offer women tips on how to avoid sexual assault (although it does encourage self-defense classes!), it courageously directs blame at the male-dominated society that puts women in dangerous situations on a daily basis.  Similarly, as should be obvious from the title, this work is not just about teaching men to respect “No”, but showing women (all people really) how to love their bodies and embrace their sexuality, in whatever way it manifests.  Enthusiastic consent, responding to “Yes!” and cautious “Maybes”, and taking things one step at a time without assumptions or feelings of entitlement to orgasm, while respecting the ability of a sexual partner to say “Stop.” at any moment, shows a way to the best and most liberatory sex imaginable.

But the book covers so much more than consent. This is a feminist handbook for the masses: well-written, varied, practical, theoretical, yet accessible.

It’s hard to pick a favorite essay, but the one that spoke to me the most was “Killing Misogyny: A Personal Story of Love, Violence, and Strategies for Survival” by Cristina Meztli Tzintún, a personal story about overcoming abusive and controlling male partners. Cristina relates how she got involved with a “radical, feminist” man of color and bonded through activism.  Before she knew it she was years into an abusive relationship that gave her STDs and an inability to leave him, despite his cheating on her with his students, half his age. The pattern mirrored her parents’ disastrous marriage, which made it even more depressing that she could not break free of the cycle of abuse.

While it’s easy to demonize her partner, Alan, a more honest reading will recognize some of his patterns in each of us who have been male-socialized. For example, entitlement to women’s bodies and lack of consideration for the emotional damage wrought by selfish actions are things I know I have to struggle against. Cristina’s bravery in leaving Alan and demanding accountability for his assaults should encourage all of us, that misogyny can in fact be beaten and that personal transformation is an incredibly political act.

I can’t recommend this collection highly enough. Everyone needs to read this book.

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