Review: Yes Means Yes

Title:  Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape

Author:  various authors, edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti

Published:  December 1, 2008

Page Count:  256

Genres:  Nonfiction, Feminism, Essays

My Rating:  5/5

In this groundbreaking new look at rape edited by writer and activist Jaclyn Friedman and Full Frontal Feminism and He’s A Stud, She’s A Slut author Jessica Valenti, the way we view rape in our culture is finally dismantled and replaced with a genuine understanding and respect for female sexual pleasure. Feminist, political, and activist writers alike will present their ideas for a paradigm shift from the “No Means No” model—an approach that while necessary for where we were in 1974, needs an overhaul today.

Yes Means Yes will bring to the table a dazzling variety of perspectives and experiences focused on the theory that educating all people to value female sexuality and pleasure leads to viewing women differently, and ending rape. Yes Means Yes aims to have radical and far-reaching effects: from teaching men to treat women as collaborators and not conquests, encouraging men and women that women can enjoy sex instead of being shamed for it, and ultimately, that our children can inherit a world where rape is rare and swiftly punished. With commentary on public sex education, pornography, mass media, Yes Means Yes is a powerful and revolutionary anthology.

First let me just state that I found this anthology simply amazing.  And I haven’t seen too many reviews of this book, so I’m thrilled to be able to present it to all of you today.  Especially because this topic is SO very important.  Way too many girls and women are sexually assaulted or raped in their lifetimes.  And way too many people don’t understand the severity of this crime, the toll it takes on a woman’s psyche, how the horrific act of having your body autonomy stolen from you can wreak havoc on your soul for years afterwords.  I know this because I am one of these women.

Yes, I did just share something extremely personal on this blog (shocker, right?).  I was raped on multiple occasions by my now ex-boyfriend.  At the time I didn’t fully understand that what was happening to me was rape.  I was never beaten, I was never shoved up against a wall or woke up the next morning with bruises and black eyes.  But I did find myself trapped under him, sobbing uncontrollably while things were being done to my body that I had no control over whatsoever.  I did say “no” eight or nine times before comprehending that I didn’t have a choice in the matter, and because allowing it to happen was so much easier than dealing with the consequences of actually following through with my “no”.  And at the time, I truly believed that what was happening to me was my fault.  I thought I was a terrible girlfriend, I wasn’t “meeting his needs”, I wasn’t emotionally strong enough and I didn’t demand enough respect from him for him to believe me when I said no.  I honestly did not categorize what happened to me, night after night, as rape.  But it was, and that’s why a book like this is so important.

If someone had put the revolutionary idea into my head that the only thing that should allow someone else access to my body was an enthusiastic “yes”, maybe I could have seen my ex for what he was sooner.  Maybe if I thought I deserved to make my own decisions regarding what happened to my body, maybe if I understood that anyone who can have sex with someone who is crying and saying “please don’t do this” is so obviously a rapist, maybe then I would have ended that relationship a lot sooner than I did.  I don’t know.  But I do know that we don’t talk about this stuff nearly enough in our culture.  We encourage girls to avoid rape, we teach girls to not dress slutty, to not walk alone at night, to always stay in groups at parties, to be careful not to drink too much; we teach them that if they take these precautions they will not be raped.  What we don’t teach them is that the only thing that is the same in all rapes is that the woman is simply in the presence of a rapist.  We don’t teach girls and women that no matter how we dress, how we act, how much we drink, and how few friends we have with us  it cannot possibly be our own faults we are raped.  I could go on and on.

But instead I’ll just say this:  Yes Means Yes is awesome.  It is groundbreaking.  It is courageous.  It is a collection of some of the best, well-written, thorough, most intelligent essays I have ever read.  It is a collection that needed to be put together, and it’s a collection that needs to be read.  Instead of highly recommending it (which I obviously do) I’m just going to ask you – please read this one.  You won’t regret it.

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18 thoughts on “Review: Yes Means Yes

  1. Wow Heather thank you for sharing your personal story. This does sound like a really really important book and I applaud you for helping us to see exactly why.

    I agree with you so much that it is not a woman’s fault if she is raped or otherwise sexually violated and I applaud you for saying so.

  2. Heather, you are so brave for sharing your story this way, and I know that although it couldn’t have been easy, it will certainly help someone else find the strength to get out of a bad situation.

    Jessica Valenti is amazing—I know you also loved The Purity Myth—and I’m so happy to see other bloggers discussing important contemporary young feminists. Keep it coming, girl!

  3. Heather, If I could reach through the screen to hug you I would. You standing up and telling your story will have an impact on so many people!! Thank you for being brave to share this with us and for giving a voice to rape victims and for bringing this important book to us!

  4. What an incredible post! You are in incredibly brave person. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for you to even read this book. It sounds like something every woman (and man) should read.

  5. *hugs* I’m so sorry that happened to you, and I’m impressed with your courage to talk about it. I’ll be putting this book on the TBR list.

  6. Thank you for putting this out there and sharing your personal experiences. I know it must have been hard, but I think it is important to shine some light on this topic and help women who have been through these experiences realize that it is not their fault and that rape doesn’t have to be defined in the conventional way. Thank you for sharing. : )

  7. Thanks for sharing your story — that has to be one of the most difficult things to experience, and a difficult thing to share.

    This book sounds really fascinating to me, mostly because I’m really interested in the way feminism is changing and how we’re starting to change messages along with that. I hope they have it at one of my libraries because I want to read it a lot.

    1. good luck – I couldn’t find it in my entire library district (like 10+ libraries) so I ended up just buying it. I’m glad I did, though, because this one is definitely a keeper.

  8. Heather, I was all ready to comment just from the photo of what book is discussed here, that I just love the kind of books you tackle. and then I read your words and offer you hugs and a resounding affirmative YES that we do need to talk more about this. Thank you. I will read this book.

  9. Well, I think you know my story, Heather, and I’m so sorry that you had to suffer as much as you did. The vast majority of my female friends and family members have been assaulted in either major or minor ways at some point(s) in their lives.

    I don’t know if I agree with the premise of the book, because rape is not about sex — it’s about domination and anger and power. Until we can destroy those aspects of the male psyche, rape and other forms of sexual assault will continue to prevail.

    1. Thank you, Char.

      You are right – rape is not about sex. However, the book absolutely addresses that. It also addresses the fact that rape is not only about one thing or another, and there is absolutely not one solution to rape. The book contains SO many different perspectives, so many different ideas on what can be done, what should be done to prevent (not stop – I don’t think anyone truly believes rape can be stopped altogether) rapes from occurring. I’d encourage you to read the book, you may not agree with the premises, but I believe it’s incredibly valuable food for thought.

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