Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Friday night, feminist writer/activist Jaclyn Friedman spoke at Haverford’s Stokes Auditorium. The talk was titled Beyond Consent: How Reclaiming Sexuality Combats Sexual Violence. This is a live blog of that talk.
From the Haverford College Calendar:
Jaclyn Friedman is a popular speaker on campuses and at conferences across the U.S. and beyond. She has been a guest on BBC World Have Your Say, Democracy Now!, To the Contrary and numerous other radio and television shows, and her commentary has appeared in outlets including CNN, The Washington Post, The Nation, Jezebel, Feministing.com, The American Prospect, Bitch, AlterNet and The Huffington Post. She is a SheSource expert and a Progressive Women’s Voices alumna, and was named one of 2009’s Top 40 Progressive Leaders Under 40 by the New Leaders Council.
Friedman is a founder and the Executive Director of Women, Action & the Media, a national organization working for gender justice in media. She is also a charter member of CounterQuo, a coalition dedicated to challenging the ways we respond to sexual violence. Friedman holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College.
7:40 Haverford students open the talk. It is sponsored by Allied Students for Consent (ASC). Their blog can be found at consentissexyhc.wordpress.com.
7:42 The event’s organizers have distributed flyers that let audience members write down what consent means to them.
7:43 Julia Hunter introduces Jaclyn Friedman, recounts her experience of reading Friedman’s book on consent, “Yes Means Yes.”
7:44 Jaclyn Friedman takes the stage. She says she is usually loud, but has a subduing cold today.
7:45 She is going to make jokes and tells people they are allowed to laugh at them, even though they may deal with sensitive subjects. She is open to questions throughout the talk, not just at the end.
7:46 “We are going to go beyond consent.” She means enthusiastic, affirmative consent. Not saying no is necessary, but not sufficient. “If you can’t tell, you have to ask. That’s consent.” Consent leads to a better world and a “better sex life.”
7:48 Sexualization and sexuality must not be confused with each other, says Friedman. What is sexualization? Friedman shows a video of a performance of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” The performers are 7 to 8-year old girls.
7:49 “How many of you felt uncomfortable watching that?” She says the performers were good dancers and seemed to be having fun, yet many feel uncomfortable with it. Audience members point to their clothing as overly sexualized, especially given the girls’ age.
7:52 Friedman says there are several hallmarks of sexualization. One is the idea that the most important thing about a human being is their sexual behavior.
7:54 She cites a story of a 14-year old girl who was asked to give a blowjob to her boyfriend. They had broken up and he tried to coerce her, even filming it. “The internet went crazy blaming her.” She says the boys were treated as heroes, while the girl was only seen as a sexual object.
7:56 Another mark of sexualization is equating physical attractiveness with “sexiness.” She says this is a heteronormative model. She shows an ad that tries to promote extramarital relationships by juxtaposing a skinny woman with one that is overweight.
7:58 She shows a Rush Limbaugh quote that objectifies women as sex and sex-tape providers.
7:59 She is now speaking about the psychological effects of sexualization. Sexualization could cause much of the STEM gap between genders, says Friedman. Eating disorders, self-esteem issues, and depression could be other results.
8:00 She feels that other effects of sexualization have not been sufficiently studied, like sexualization as an economic wedge. The dominant sex paradigm portrays sex as a commodity that women can entice men with.
8:02 “Women’s bodies are treated as chips” that could be used to negotiate.
8:03 Sexualization supports rape culture and creates license for violence.
8:04 People who promote sexualization inadvertently promote rape culture, says Friedman. High-school “slut lists,” for example, are about policing girls who are “too loud, the wrong color, shape, or size.”
8:05 She is now speaking about a Canadian rape case that the judge called “a case of misunderstood signals and inconsiderate behavior,” letting the rapist go free.
8:06 The projector now shows a Bingo card with various phrases that perpetuate rape culture, like “why were you wearing those fuck-me heels, then?”
8:07 Cases of rape get convicted at a much lower rate, Friedman says, a reflection of rape culture.
8:08 An audience member contradicts her point that women are unlikely to accuse men of rape for no reason, such as white women accusing black men.
8:09 Friedman agrees that there are race dynamics involved, but we should be careful not to give too much weight to individual anecdotes.
8:10 Another audience member says that men are often portrayed as not susceptible to rape.
8:10 Friedman: The majority of adult rape victims are women. The discouragement of male victims to come forward is misogynistic.
8:11 A still from Hunger Games is up on the screen, showing a black character. Friedman says the sequel is “fucking awesome.”
8:12 Girls of color are more sexualized and seen as “less innocent,” Friedman says. “It’s less sad to kill black people,” says Friedman, citing social attitudes.
8:13 Sexualization “pits us against each other,” Friedman says.
8:14 “Disney princess shit” is sexualizing, emphasizing prettiness over all other qualities. Sexualization divides women into categories.
8:16 Many people, such as queers, are excluded from society by being excluded from these categories.
8:17 Friedman is now talking about Miley Cyrus, says she is a victim of a heavily sexualized music industry.
8:17 People “flipped out” when she transitioned from her “Disney” phase to a more overtly sexualized image.
8:18 “When I was 17, my sexuality felt like someone had given me a European sports car.” The audience laughs. She says that the picture of the 17-year-old Miley Cyrus is an example of this transition and the reaction people had to it.
8:20 An audience member says that women of color have not been given the chance to express themselves as princesses. Friedman says that as long as there is agency, the princess image should be accessible to everyone. “Princess good/princess bad” is the wrong question, says Friedman.
8:22 Miley Cyrus is a “mixed case.” The image is sexualized, but we cannot simply see her either as a victim or a “moral tramp.”
8:23 An audience member says that the problem here is mainly that she is seventeen in the picture.
8:23 Friedman: We don’t need to “protect everybody.” A seventeen-year old should be allowed to experiment as long as it is their decision.
8:25 “The cure for bad ideas […] is more ideas” about sex. We shouldn’t subdue sexuality, Friedman says, we should make it more open and inclusive.
8:26 “Reclaiming our sexuality is an act of political rebellion.” Stripping yourself of all influence is impossible and undesirable, she says. “Become aware of the ways you’ve been influenced.”
8:28 Friedman: Feeling safe is not the same as being safe. The idea that there is a set of rules of how not to get raped may make women feel safe, but makes them less safe because it makes them feel in control if they are not.
8:29 Self-defense classes, for instance, makes you more safe, but it may make you feel less safe.
8:30 “Bad sex is good,” says Friedman of sexual experimentation, stressing that it has to be consensual. Bad sex is the “only fucking way to learn,” she says, “literally.” When it comes to sex, people are encouraged not to try new things. Enthusiastic consent doesn’t mean you have to physically enjoy it, it just means that you are completely okay with doing it.
8:32 With this in mind, she says, we should not pressure people to have sex and experiment if they don’t want to. Sexual liberation is about agency.
8:34 “We need to re-think how we do risk assessment.” There is no way to have a risk-free sex life, even abstinence has its risks. She encourages the audience to assess the risks of each sexual act individually, then assess the rewards. Then everyone can make an informed decision.
8:39 Friedman: We should teach young people how to assess risks and rewards instead of making decisions for them.
8:42 She wants to end the talk with some “cultural pushback.”
8:43 What do we replace sexualization with?
8:44 She is citing examples of women subverting sexual norms in media.
8:47 The floor is open for questions.
8:47 An audience member asks about risk-assessment, which he was confused by.
8:48 Friedman agrees it can be confusing, some factors are vague or unknown.
8:50 Another audience member asks about how to educate children in light of sexualization. Would she allow her daughter to participate in a “Single Ladies” dance such as the one she showed?
8:50 “Fail to impart sexual shame,” says Friedman, except when it makes other people uncomfortable. She adds that she is not a child educator and would be open to others’ suggestions.
8:53 “Enforce the idea that sex can be great.”
8:54 An audience member cites examples of supportive parents who encourage kids to explore various interests and hobbies that others consider taboo.
8:55 Friedman tries to compliment kids on things that are not about appearance.
8:56 Someone in the audience asks how the internet has affected Friedman’s work.
8:57 The internet “accelerates the good and accelerates the bad,” Friedman says. Nation-wide anti-rape activism has been enabled largely by the internet. In other cases, cyber-bullying can lead to people killing themselves.
8:59 Another audience member: what would you say about sex toy safety?
9:00 “Always clean your toys.” Use condoms if you share them with someone else. As for materials, she is not an expert.
9:01 Member of the audience: Can you talk more about consent? How does it relate to social context?
9:02 Risk-assessments and everything else is deeply affected by social location. She also emphasizes trust as an important factor.
9:09 “Things are fucked up and bullshit.” The world is not perfect yet.
9:10 An audience question about slut-shaming and whether the word “slut” should be reclaimed, as it is usually heard hurtfully.
9:10 “I would push back on your assertions.” Re-claiming “queer” has made the word lose its hurting potential. The same can be done for “slut.”