There's been a brilliant discussion about Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti's Call for Submissions for 'Yes means Yes'.Firefly, BlackAmazon, Sylvia, Tekanji, Chris Clarke, Sudy, Magniloquence, and Theriomorph are just some of the people who have written about the original Call for Submissions (and when the discussion became about the criticisms of the proposals there were more fantastic posts Sly Civilian, brownfemipower and Ilyka Damen for a start). The discussions has been far-ranging and it's well worth tracking through the links, following the trackbacks and reading the comment threads.
So it seems a little ridiculous for me to be responding to a revised call for submissions for Yes means Yes. The debate has well and truly gone beyond that, and some women of colour have, rightly, cried enough. But I stopped blogging in a timely manner a few months back, and I have a tangent I want to dart off in. A tangent much informed by the posts above.
There's a new sentence in there that's response to criticisms like Firefly's:
The use of sexualised violence to dominate and control people isn’t addressed by consent-based activism, and often there’s no legal protection against this kind of assault because it occurs in government institutions or is otherwise mandated by the state. For instance, women in Australian prisons are subjected to daily strip searches and cavity searches, where no hygiene is observed. Evidence shows that these women exhibit similar symptoms to rape survivors. Sisters Inside, a women’s prison advocacy group, have a research paper about it here.The new Call for Submissions lists a potential topic for the anthology as:
Beyond consent: state-sanctioned and institutional rape that even the healthiest sexual culture won't stopThe most obvious problem with this statement, that I might charitably call a wording problem, is that implies that you could have a healthy sexual culture and still have state-sanctioned and institutional rape. I don't believe that's true, and I hope that Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti don't either. But I think this wording problem reveals a problem with analysis. Institutional and state sanctioned rape are part of our sexual culture. Some stories:
A thirteen year old girl in a logging town walked past a police station. She knew the police officer, he worked on search and rescue with her parents. He called her inside. He raped her.
A woman went to the police to make a report about being sexually abused by a relative. The male police officer interviewed her alone in his car, he put his hand on her knee. Then, years later, he rang her up at 1am, told her he's coming over and demanded sex. He forced her to perform oral sex and left.
Or, we'll move to another time and place. A woman grew up in a revolutionary movement in exile. She was raped when she was 13 by the men involved in those movement all friends of the family. She grew up the movement won, or sold out, and one of those revolutionary friends of the family became vice-president. She was at his house and he raped her.
Brad Shipton, Jacob Zuma and the Murapara police officer who still has name suppression all wielded institutional power granted by the state and they were also all acquaintances of the women, or girl, that they raped.
Police officers, politicians, employers, border guards, soldiers, priests, and prison guards* have huge power over so many women's lives. They can demand sex in a way that makes it clear that the answer must be 'yes'; they can all ignore 'no'. They can do this to women they know and to strangers. The more power a rapist has over a woman the easier it will be for him to rape her, the more entitled he will feel to her body.
These are not a side category of rape - our understanding of rape must include an understanding of power. I think that means that rape is, by definition, beyond consent. If a man has the power to force a woman to have sex with him, and is prepared to use that power if she does not give consent, then that limits her ability to say 'yes' as well as 'no'.
I might put things in a different order than they did in the call for submissions. I would also say that until we build a society that doesn't give men the power to rape, female sexual pleasure is always going to be constrained by the fact that our 'yes' may be irrelevant.
There's a Möbius strip involved, obviously, and I do believe that one of the things that give men the power to rape is the belief that women's sexual pleasure is irrelevant. But it's not the only place men get power from, and, most importantly, there are intersections between the different sorts of power men have - they can't be understood in isolation.
* not intended to be an exhaustive list