Campus / News / May 27, 2010

Making ‘yes’ mean yes

Jaclyn Friedman was a force on stage. Though her microphone broke halfway through the presentation, she remained strong and clear, pausing only to flip it off and continued delivering a message that provides a breath of fresh air to what has become a stale axiom in the world of college sexual interactions: no means no.

Speaking to a large crowd in Harbach Theatre on Thursday, she instead proposed a new vision for better and safer sex: yes means yes.

Though on face value the statement may just seem like the reverse of the phrase we have all heard since high school, it implies instead a new model of enthusiastic consent.

Enthusiastic consent relies on a different view of sex.

In an analogy that stretched throughout the entire talk, Friedman compared the way we currently think about sex to a transaction where women must make the best deal for their sex, whether that is a husband and a ring and a white picket fence, or, as one audience member suggested, some goats. Men must get sex as cheaply as possible.

Instead, she suggested we think of sex as musical collaboration, where we view each other as equal partners doing something we both enjoy. This model leads to a more enjoyable experience all around. Quipped Friedman, “I’m for better sex for everyone except rapists.”

Drawing on her experience as a sexual assault survivor as well as her background in activism, Friedman took some time to debunk some myths about sexual assault and used them to talk about our sexual culture. Everyone has at one time or another heard her list of things that are commonly seen as risk factors for rape: the way women dress, whether they have been drinking, walking home alone late at night or engaging in other sexual behavior.

However, said Friedman, this list ignores the number one and perhaps only important risk factor for rape: “Being in a room with a rapist.” Though these supposed risk factors are repeated by society to the point where they are accepted to be true on face, not one of them is an accurate predictor and serves only to switch the blame from the perpetrator to the victim.

Friedman closed her talk with a call to action, saying paradigms do not shift unless they are forced to. It is necessary for people to go forth and practice this new model in daily life and talk to their friends about it. In this way, Friedman espoused a form of persuasion known as retail politics. Through one on one interaction, the message can be spread. And though it might require what she terms “uncomfortable conversations,” it is valuable in that it promotes an open dialogue on issues that matter to all of us.

Shea Strausman

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