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.

Review: The Purity Myth

Title:  The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Woman

Author:  Jessica Valenti

Published:  April 1, 2009

Page Count:  300

Genres:  Nonfiction, Feminism, Womens’ Issues

My Rating:  5/5

The United States is obsessed with virginity — from the media to schools to government agencies. In The Purity Myth Jessica Valenti argues that the country’s intense focus on chastity is damaging to young women. Through in-depth cultural and social analysis, Valenti reveals that powerful messaging on both extremes — ranging from abstinence curriculum to “Girls Gone Wild” infomercials — place a young woman’s worth entirely on her sexuality. Morals are therefore linked purely to sexual behavior, rather than values like honesty, kindness, and altruism. Valenti sheds light on the value — and hypocrisy — around the notion that girls remain virgin until they’re married by putting into context the historical question of purity, modern abstinence-only education, pornography, and public punishments for those who dare to have sex. The Purity Myth presents a revolutionary argument that girls and women are overly valued for their sexuality, as well as solutions for a future without a damaging emphasis on virginity.

I really don’t know how to review this book without sounding preachy.  What I’d like to do is type huge passages directly from the book for your own reading, but I don’t have the energy to do so (neither do I think many people would read the large amount of passages that I’d like to highlight).  What I will say is that The Purity Myth is an important book.  It’s a book that every young woman should read.  It’s a book that I think most people should read, in general.  And it’s a book that I absolutely agree with.

Let me say this straight out – Jessica Valenti is not saying that virginity or purity are bad things, in an of themselves.  In fact, she makes it abundantly clear that she fully supports and encourages women to abstain from sex if that’s their choice – well, it’s more like she thinks that we shouldn’t care WHAT women do with their sex lives.  The point of The Purity Myth is that a woman’s sexuality has absolutely nothing to do with her value as a human being or her morals.  Yet, in the United States there is an incredible amount of weight placed on a woman’s sexuality – from Purity Balls to slut-shaming to abstinence-only education, in the U.S. we care very deeply about the choices woman make about their own sexuality.  And Valenti’s point is that it should not be this way.  It is completely irrelevant to a woman’s personhood the sexual choices she makes, and to place value on sexuality as we do is damaging and extremely hurtful to women.

The Purity Myth is a great book for adolescents and young women because of Valenti’s no-nonsense, casual way of writing.  She writes as if she’s talking to you, not preaching or sounding overly stuffy, she’s telling it like it is.  And most young women appreciate that kind of relateability.  Unfortunately, I think the book will be lost on some older men and woman because of the tone she takes in the book.  Some of her best arguments and facts are in the footnotes, and a lot of what’s expanded on is opinion and personal experience.  This is not to say that her opinions and personal experiences aren’t supported by research and data – they definitely are.  But I think that the way she writes may turn off some readers to such a degree that they won’t be interested in reading about the research and data.  However, I personally am a fan of Valenti’s style so I think it works for her, and it works for the book.  But if I’m being impartial, I can see the downside to writing in the style that she does.

I highly recommend reading this book.  I learned a lot about abstinence-only education, rape laws in some states, and how the Virginity Movement has been subtly pushing their agenda for years.  The Purity Myth is not only highly informative, but it’s very accessible and fun to read.  And like I said, it’s an important read.

More reviews –

Review – He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut

He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know by Jessica Valenti

From the back cover –

Double standards are nothing new.  Women deal with them every day.  Consider the following examples:

  • He’s a Hipster, She’s a Ho
  • He’s Gay, She’s a Fantasy
  • He’s Angry, She’s PMSing
  • He’s Independent, She’s Pathetic
  • He’s Successful, She’s a Showoff
  • He’s Dating a Younger Woman, She’s a Cougar

Women are held to a different standard than men.  And mostly we just put up with it – but we don’t have to.  Jessica Valenti offers 50 solutions to 50 of the most pressing double standards that women confront.  With sass, humor, and in-your-face facts, she informs and equips women with the tools they need to combat sexist comments, topple ridiculous stereotypes, and end the promotion of insidious double standards.

My thoughts –

The good news is, I feel like this book will be really helpful for younger feminists, middle school, high school, or college women, who are just beginning to understand the ways sexism permeates their every day lives, and who are just beginning to have those light bulb moments where they realize feminism is important for EVERY woman.  This book will help those women expand their developing feminist thinking, understand how the larger world really does discriminate against women in almost every situation, and have a better idea of how to deal with these double standards when faced with them in daily life.

The bad news, however, is that I wasn’t the biggest fan of this new one by Valenti.  I am a huge fan of hers, I love her website (Feministing.com) and love her first book, but this book honestly did not provide me with any information I did not already have.  There’s a reason she chose to write about these double standards – they are SO pervasive, so obvious, such common experiences of most women that to not know about them and understand them would be a problem as a woman living in today’s world.  While I appreciate what she did with this book, I simply didn’t get much out of it.  Valenti explained everything well enough and used very current examples, but her “what do we do about it?” sections also fell a little flat for me.  Her most common solution was “call people out on their bullshit” or “don’t let someone treat you this way”.  While both those suggestions are important and should be done, I wouldn’t say either of them would actually solve these real problems or teach a more ignorant individual about the importance of NOT using a double standard.  At the same time, what else can one person really do except educate the people they know?… not much, I suppose. 

So while I think this new one by Valenti is an important contribution to feminist literature, it simply was not one of my personal favorites.  I’d still recommend reading it to anyone eager to learn more about feminism, and especially anyone who does not believe double standards exist… this book will help clarify the very real fact that these double standards do in fact infect our lives on a daily basis.

Review – Full Frontal Feminism

Full Frontal Feminism:  A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters by Jessica Valenti

A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters

From the back cover –

Feminism isn’t dead. It just isn’t very cool anymore. Enter Full Frontal Feminism, a book that embodies the forward-looking messages that author Jessica Valenti propagates on her popular website, Feministing.com. Covering a range of topics, including pop culture, health, reproductive rights, violence, education, relationships, and more, Valenti provides young women a primer on why feminism matters. Valenti knows better than anyone that young women need a smart-ass book that deals with real-life issues in a style they can relate to. No rehashing the same old issues. No belaboring where today’s young women have gone wrong. Feminism should be something young women feel comfortable with, something they can own. Full Frontal Feminism is sending out the message to readers — yeah, you’re feminists, and that’s actually pretty frigging cool.
My thoughts –
So I’m a bit biased for two reasons; 1. I am completely an out and proud feminist, and I’m not ashamed to admit it, and 2. I love, LOVE Jessica Valenti, I’m very familiar with her work and I read feministing.com every single day.  So having said that, I think this is a really excellent, very important contribution to the wealth of feminist literature that is out there.  Although Valenti writes in a very casual style, and she is not afraid to throw out a swear word every few pages or so, I think that for this particular book, her style works for her.  She wrote the book especially for teens and young women (perhaps 15-25), and because of that targeted audience her writing style is acceptable and probably works to her benefit.  She’s very relatable and she simplifies and breaks down complex feminist issues to help younger readers more easily see how important these topics are for them to understand and analyze in their daily lives.  She makes feminism seem like the most obvious choice for women, in fact the only choice (and I completely agree with that, I definitely feel that it is the only choice for women if we’re going to understand ourselves and the larger culture), and I think the way she talks about it will help to open a lot of readers’ eyes. 
While I think this is a good start, it is by no means a very intellectual or exhaustive study in feminism.  I think this is a good book for anyone curious about why feminism is important, what it is, and how it relates to their daily lives, but I do not think that it should be the last book about feminism that someone ever reads.  It is kind of like a primer (albeit a hip, casual conversation type primer), and after finishing it if one’s eyes are open there are PLENTY of other books on feminism that should be tackled to really examine the issues in a deeper way.  But really, I’m a huge fan of Valenti and I think she wrote an excellent book that many readers will get a lot out of.
Rating: 9/10
Question – I’m thinking about purchasing another copy and doing a giveaway, simply because I feel that this book is a really important one and I would love to share it with a budding feminist out there.  Please let me know if there would be any interest in this giveaway at all, because I’d be purchasing another copy (obviously, I want to keep mine) so I won’t do it unless people actually want to win it.  So let me know if you’d want to read this book!  Thanks 🙂