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Excerpt of interview with Jaclyn Friedman from HBOMB magazine -- the Harvard magazine of sex, power and counterculture

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Planet Waves
Jaclyn Friedman.
Allow me to introduce you to Jaclyn Friedman. A performer, poet, writer, and activist, Jaclyn is most recently co-editor of the groundbreaking anthology, Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power & A World Without Rape. Program Director of the Center for New Words in Central Square, Jaclyn organizes workshops, open-mics, speakers, political discussion, concerts, book groups and a slew of other events and activities all related to creating spaces "where women's words matter." Jaclyn also worked as Program Director of the LiveSafe Foundation, which organizes its advocacy around self-defense and reducing violence. I first saw Jaclyn speak when I went to the book reading of her new anthology at the YMCA in Central Square. I left there with tears in my eyes, breathing a little easier. I was overwhelmed by this book's impact on my own life and its un-apologeticness around positive female power

CP: Can you explain the history of your title, "Yes Means Yes"? Where does this framework come from, and what are you trying to suggest with it?

JF: I think most people are familiar with the concept "no means no," and that's not an accident. A lot of activists worked a lot of decades to get the concept of "no means no" into the mainstream consciousness. "No means no" is to say that when a person says "no" to a sexual encounter or a sexual advance, you ought to stop. It's very basic at this point. And still needs work today. I don't think it's a fully universally accepted concept unfortunately. But the problem with "no means no," as important as it is, is that it doesn't go far enough. And most of the time when we're talking about "no means no," we're talking about men needing to listen to women's "no's." And when we leave it there, it underlines all of the sort of diseased ideas about sex and sexuality that we have in our culture, which is that women are the keeper of the "no," women want to say "no," women don't like sex, only bad women give it up, and men only want "yes." It leaves all of those messed up dynamics in place. So "yes means yes" is about suggesting that none of us can have a complete independent sexuality – a full healthy sexuality – unless we have access to "yes" and "no" equally.

CP: What is the feminist model of enthusiastic consent and how does it tie into "yes means yes"?

JF: So "no means no" has brought forward this idea that if a woman says "no" – and I'm saying woman here in particular because that's the construct that most of us imagine around "no means no" – you have to stop. And the corollary to that that you hear very often is, "Well, she didn't say no." That leaves what people consider a very blurry area where a lot of people do things that they know their partner isn't into or doesn't want, but will do anyway because they can "get away with it." And what we're saying is that those things are still sexual assault and rape. Unless you have enthusiastic consent, which is more than just the absence of "no," consent is not complete. When all you're relying on is the absence of "no" to equal consent, you leave out coercion, you leave out the possibility that someone is panicked or terrified, or even that the person is confused in the moment about what they want and isn't given the space to figure it out. A healthy sexual encounter – one that is free of coercion or violence – requires enthusiastic consent, which means it's your responsibility to make sure your partner is having a great time. Not just that they're willing or will let you, but that they really are excited about doing whatever it is you want to do with them. And that also is where that "yes meaning yes" comes in. And that requires a culture where women are allowed to want to have sex without being ashamed or blamed for that.

CP: How might extreme gender roles lead to a culture of rape?

JF: I think that the commodity model is a good framework for this. The commodity model is this: sex is a thing. It's something that women have. They have The Sex. And they're supposed to keep The Sex as long as they possibly can, because they can only give it away once for something of worth. After they give it away once, it has much less value, so they have to make the best trade they possibly can for their Sex, because it's really valuable, and they only get to give it away once. So they have to play keep-away with The Sex until they find the ultimate trade, which is "a good husband." That involves money and a ring [ed: thanks Beyonce] and whole bunch of other social constructions. On the other hand, on the other side of the commodity model are the men, and they're tasked with getting The Sex for as little as they can, because this is a capitalist model. Supply and demand. It's a very standard market, right? So that is where you get coercion and pressure and all of those "grey areas" because men are trying to trick women into it or sweet talk them into it or get them drunk to sort of convince them to give The Sex away without the sort of "husband" part. Now few men stop to think in this model, "Do I want The Sex? Do I want sex from this particular woman? Do I want sex right now?" Men are told from very early on, "You must get The Sex. Get it however you can. Get the best kind you can." And that's about valuing peoples' looks, peoples' skin color, peoples' youth, a whole bunch of stuff. So how a woman looks, and how she presents herself, her race, her body type – those things all play into the value of her Sex as well as whether or not it's ever been given away.

But her ability to do the Sex never comes into play here. It's about an object. So men don't have very much agency in this either – they're just playing out a script. And women on the other hand, they're not saying, "Well maybe I want to give away The Sex! Maybe I feel like having The Sex right now!" One of the most insidious things that comes out of it is that once a woman consents to give away The Sex, however tacitly, even if she just leaves it unguarded and does not object if you try to take it, then it's all fair game. Maybe he sweet talks you into it, or gets you drunk until you say "no" fourteen times but on the fifteenth time you say, "Okay, fine, take it and stop bothering me." This is all fair game in the commodity model. And then once you've said yes, it's done, it's a contract, you've signed it. You can't change your mind in the middle, you can't say "yes" to part of The Sex.

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