Reviews: Yes Means Yes & Female Chauvinist Pigs

At last!  It’s March and I’ve finally managed to read another of the books from my list for the Women Unbound Challenge!  I’m having to make substitutions to the list because my library does not have Bluestockings (which, oh, I really wanted! but never mind, life is pain), and although it claims to have Foreign Correspondence, it has not been shelved where they claim that it is shelved (in Biography).


Yes Means Yes, ed. Jessica Valenti and Jaclyn Friedman

The subtitle of this collection is Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  It’s a collection of essays about feminism and rape culture, addressing these issues in the context of immigration, transsexualism, army training, virginity, etc.  I thought the editors did brilliantly at getting a wide variety of authors and perspectives.  I was particularly struck by the essay about rape of illegal immigrant women, as it highlighted an issue of which I was previously unaware and explored the ramifications of leaving such women without any legal recourse.

IT WAS ALL VERY UPSETTING.

Oh, except for the one by Hanne Blank, she of Virgin: An Untouched History.  Her essay, “The Process-Oriented Virgin”, began by narrating a “good” virginity-loss story from a girl she interviewed for her book.  The girl was in her late teens and in a loving relationship with a guy who was not pressuring her for sex; eventually she decided to have sex with him, and although she didn’t really enjoy it, it didn’t hurt that much.  (That’s not the undepressing part.)  Blank said that although this was a fairly typical “good” virginity-loss story, she frequently had women tell two stories: the story of when they think other people would consider they had lost their virginity (e.g., first instance of vaginal sex), and another story, of the first time they had sex and wanted it and enjoyed it.  “The sex that counts,” Blank writes, “is sex in which they are involved and invested.”  That was pleasing to read.

Another essay, “Why Nice Guys Finish Last”, by male-to-female transsexual Julia Serano, talked about the value of transgendered people in exploring the ways that males experience the world vs. the way females do, on the basis that such people have often navigated the world as both.  Serano says:

When I was male-bodied, it was not uncommon for women to cross the street if I was walking behind them at night, or to have female strangers misinterpret innocent things that I said as unsolicited sexual advances.  It is telling, I think, that I had to deal with the sexual predator stereotype despite the fact that my appearance was about as unthreatening as it gets….While the predator stereotype affects men’s interactions with women, it probably has an even greater impact on their interactions with children.  When I was male-bodied, I found that if I interacted enthusiastically with children, women would often give me dirty looks….Obviously, men make up the overwhelming majority of sexual predators.  But that does not mean that all men are necessarily sexual predators.

The point of which, I suppose, is that rape culture is hurting everyone.  (But women are the ones who can’t walk alone at night.)  (That really pisses me off.)  Anyway it’s food for thought.  Yes Means Yes! is full of well-written and thought-provoking essays that will inevitably make you angry with society and how it handles gender.  Enjoy!

Other reviews:

things mean a lot (thanks for the recommendation!)
Book Addiction

(Tell me if I missed yours!)

Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, Ariel Levy

I don’t have much to say here.  Female Chauvinist Pigs deals with the kind of supposed “feminism” that encourages women to get naked and rejoice in displaying as much of their bodies as they can, as often as they can.  It was a quick read partly because it was short, and partly because it wasn’t very insightful.  I agree with Levy, but I did before she started, and I didn’t feel at the end that my understanding of what she calls “raunch culture” was any deeper or more complex.

Other (better) reviews:

Book Addiction
Burning Leaves
Mad Bibliophile
Adventures in Reading

(Tell me if I missed yours!)

  • I just finished “Tipping the Velvet” by Sarah Waters in which the female protagonist decides the only safe way to go out and about in London is to dress as a man. And I remember the feeling of liberation I had when I first when to the Castro (gay, mostly male gay) district in San Francisco, and I could walk down the street at night without any fear when I saw men! It was great!

    • I remember that part! I remember thinking it was very foolish of her to stand at a shop window dressed as a boy, and I was right, as it turned out. I need to reread that!

  • Female Chauvinist Pigs is on my to-read list. I’m sorry to hear it falls a little short of expectation. It came highly recommended from a newsletter I subscribe to. I’m at least glad that if I don’t like it much, it’ll pass quickly due to its length!

    • It’s not a bad book at all, and yes, it does go quickly. I just didn’t find any new insights in it, and reading it right after Yes Means Yes made me expect great things from it.

  • I intend to read Yes Means Yes. Your description of “Virgin: An Untouched History” reminds me a lot of one of my favorite YA novels, Hillary Frank’s Better Than Running at Night.

    • I’d never heard of that book before. It looks delightful and I shall add it to my reading list!

  • Maybe because I’m six feet tall, I haven’t experienced the kind of physical fear a lot of women talk about. Or maybe because I’m oblivious, or because for the past 20 years I’ve lived in a small town.

    Now that I’m getting older, I notice I get less friendly looks from mothers when I grin at their children. My husband has told me for years about the kinds of distrustful parental looks he gets for smiling at the antics of toddlers in public. But part of this may be that we do live in a small town, so many parents of toddlers know each other.

    • I’m sure those things are all factors. I live in a middle-sized town that has its fair share of crime; there is a lot of anxiety hardwired into my brain to start with; and I’ve been the victim of a crime myself. So I know all of those things have colored my perception of how (un)safe the world is. On the other hand, nobody’s ever given me a dirty look for beaming at their adorable children (so far).

  • First one sounds awesome and right up my alley. Second one sounds a little “meh.” Will be romping through my ‘brary shelves looking for Yes Means Yes!

    • It is awesome! I’ve said it filled me with rage at society, but it also at times made me feel hopeful for a better society.

  • That passage about the fact that men’s interactions with children are so scrutinised gave me pause too. And shortly after I read this book, my brother flew to the UK and was asked to switch seats because an unaccompanied minor was going to be on the place next to his, and it’s apparently not allowed for them to sit next to men. This is something I’d never considered (as a woman, there’s so much ELSE to worry about), but it is indeed another example of why the way we handle gender completely sucks.

    • I’m afraid I’ve been utterly snarky when I’ve heard this problem articulated by guys before, because as you say, there’s so much else for me to worry about as a woman. It’s not really fair. No decent person likes to see other people afraid of them, and I can imagine it would be a nasty experience to be suspected of being a sexual predator at every turn.

      Having said that, I have to sit on my hands not to go on and list all the things I have to worry about as a woman that never even cross most guys’ minds. 😛

  • Mumsy

    So much about the men/women dichotomy is fascinating to me…unlike other dichotomies, women cannot simply decide to remain separate from “the oppressors” – they are our husbands, brothers, sons, lovers – so, impossible for us to view them as the enemy. And the damage they suffer from the oppressive nature of male/female relationships mirrors the damage that other oppressive groups suffer, that we are often deliberately ignorant of. I might need to put Yes Means Yes on my reading list.

    • Oh dear, Mumsy, I have to stop returning books to the library two seconds after I finish reading them. I remembered to keep The Unlikely Disciple for Daddy, but I returned Yes Means Yes two library trips ago. Want me to check it out again?

  • Ooh this is a tricky area, isn’t it? I can see how this book has had a weasel way with your brain, insinuating more fear and anxiety than you had before you read it, making you cross about the terrible things that happen. And it is undoubtedly true that terrible things happen – people are unkind to one another because structures of oppression exist in all societies, and the worse the are, the more people will take it out on one another. And sometimes, just sometimes, I wonder whether these books fan the flames of dislike and distrust.

    I honestly don’t know – I can quite see that people ought to know what goes on in the world in all its gory detail, and yet I feel uncomfortable if any book like this doesn’t also include some sort of prescription for how things could be better, how attitudes could shift, what politically and practically might be done. Perhaps it does, and I am nit-picking unnecessarily. Forgive me, if so! 🙂

    • Oh, it does. I should have said! A lot of the essays offer solutions, with particular emphasis on changing and expanding sex education, teaching students that consent is the presence of “Yes”, not the absence of “No”. If this review has a depressed tone, it’s because I don’t foresee the solutions being put into action. Women’s rights have never been this country’s top priority or, it seems, even on a top ten list of priorities.

  • I had Yes Means Yes out from the library earlier this year but didn’t get to read it before I had to send it back — reading this review makes me upset I didn’t get to it because the issues it covers are really important.

    • I hate it when that happens! I just had to return The Wire without watching it, and it broke my heart. If you get a chance to check it out again, do! (Though I would be thrilled if it were in such demand that it was hard to get. :P)

  • ==>Consent is the presence of “Yes”, not the absence of “No”.

    I like this. I will use these words in this order. I like very much.

    • I’d love to take credit for putting those words in that order, but honesty compels me to admit I was not the one who came up with it. But I like it very much too, and I will definitely be repeating it.

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