Yes Means Yes

Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti

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Feminists have some unfinished business: the lingering threat of sexual violence continues to keep women “in their place.” However, the authors of Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape argue that affirming female sexuality can help stop rape. While some of the book’s essays come across as too academic, the remaining personal stories of struggle and survival deeply resonate, making the book painful to read at times. The book begins with Margaret Cho’s heartbreaking account of sex at 14 with an older man. She didn’t want to, but as a “fat, gothy nerd,” she writes, she didn’t think she had “a right to say no.” But simply telling women to say “no,” be careful or take a self-defense class sends the false message that women can prevent rape and may lead to blaming the victim. In one troubling essay, co-editor Jessica Valenti writes how, until 2008, Maryland law declared if a woman wanted to stop during intercourse and her partner refused, it wasn’t rape, because once a woman is penetrated, “the damage is done.” Before “marital rape” entered the vernacular in the late 20th century, a wife was her husband’s property to do with as he pleased. Yes Means Yes advocates a better idea: that all sexual encounters be marked by mutual enjoyment and respect, beginning with an enthusiastic “yes!”