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Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power & A World Without Rape

I’m a big fan of Jessica Valenti. Unfortunately, there is a limitation any one writer inherently faces being only one writer—the lack of multiple perspectives. So I was very pleased to finally read Yes Means Yes!, which is an anthology she co-edited (and contributed one essay to).

The essays vary widely in terms of nuance, tone of voice, degree of feminist radicalism, and gender/sexuality (male, female, trans-gender).

I was a little disappointed that the essay entitled “Real Sex Education” (by someone who works for Planned Parenthood, at least part-time) contained this factual misinformation:

[I]n discussing intercourse and pregnancy, you can’t escape the male orgasm. It has to exist for pregnancy to happen.

Um, what?

The “withdrawal method” has long been known to be ineffective as birth control. From Planned Parenthood’s own website:

Even if a man pulls out in time, pregnancy can still happen. Some experts believe that pre-ejaculate, or pre-cum, can pick up enough sperm left in the urethra from a previous ejaculation to cause pregnancy. If a man urinates between ejaculations before having sex again, it will help clear the urethra of sperm and may increase the effectiveness of withdrawal.

Male orgasm does not have to exist for pregnancy to happen.

Other than that—lovely book. I particularly enjoyed Margaret Cho’s introduction, Millar’s “Toward a Performance Model of Sex,” Harris’ “A Woman’s Worth,” Harding’s “How Do You Fuck a Fat Woman?” Corrina’s “An Immodest Proposal,” Serano’s “Why Nice Guys Finish Last,” Higginbotham’s “Sex Worth Fighting For,” Valenti’s “Purely Rape: The Myth of Sexual Purity and How It Reinforces Rape Culture,” and the multi-authored “Who’re You Calling a Whore?: A Conversation with Three Sex Workers on Sexuality, Empowerment, and the Industry.”

Lots of perspectives, lots of agendas. Many of the essays will make you think. It’s almost impossible to agree with all of them—I think that’s what makes this book great. There are some essays I can see even the most avidly self-professed anti-feminists agreeing with, and there are a few that even I, as a self-professed radical feminist, found on the fringes of radicalism. That’s good. I like that kind of diversity.

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Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Jessica Valenti’s almost my hero

A while ago, I read Full Frontal Feminism, and then I just recently finished He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know. There are some things I dislike about Valenti (sometimes she does seem to be trying too hard to be hip and humorous, for example), but she’s genuinely a refreshing feminist voice that is able to articulate well what we all know and often can’t express properly.

The book does get a little tedious by the end (she lays it out as 50 “different” double standards, even though most of them are different facets of the same double standard, just so her publisher can boast a long list as opposed to three really long chapters, I guess). Still, Valenti is able to point out many sexist phenomena without sounding like a whining perpetual victim. She’s also able to get across well how sexism against women is actually harmful to men, too, which is really important to progress. We can’t, if we want to live in an egalitarian society, keep thinking of problems between groups and oppressions as us vs. them. “They” may appear to have privilege and benefits, but even those privileges and benefits come at a cost of freedom for all groups.

For example, the expectation that women will either take their husbands’ surnames or consider it while men always keep their names clearly puts men in a position of privilege (his name is important but hers isn’t). Nevertheless, men are often like Princess Jasmine from Aladdin. If they want to get out of the “royal treatment,” they face many obstacles. I thought it was just social pressures (my parents raised a huge stink about me wanting to take my wife’s last name), but apparently in many states a man cannot even take his wife’s name if he wants to, and in the states he’s allowed to change his name in the procedure is far more costly and involved than the woman-taking-her-husband’s-name procedure is.

Of course, there are also some supposed double standards that she exaggerates. For example, she makes it sound as if women are considered selfish if they don’t want to have kids, whereas men are not considered selfish if they don’t want to have kids. That hasn’t been my experience at all. The extent to which the double standard does apply, I think it has to do with single people thinking about the future, as opposed to married couples talking about the present. In other words, if a single man says, “Yeah, I don’t want to have kids,” instead of thinking he’s selfish, people just won’t believe him. They’ll think, “He just says that now. When he gets married, though, some woman will turn him around. I bet he’d make a great father.” If, however, a single woman says, “Yeah, I don’t want to have kids,” the selfish police will come out in droves.

When married couples talk about not having kids, though, the selfish label isn’t gender-specific. My wife and I definitely don’t want to have kids, and I think we’ve heard the selfish line about equally. No one has said, “Your wife is selfish.” They definitely think both of us are.

She’s no Susan Brownmiller, but Jessica Valenti’s got some good points to make, and she is now my… almost-hero.