This weekend I talked to Jill Filipovic, one of the contributors to Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Power & A World Without Rape, about her essay “Offensive Feminism: the conservative gender norms that perpetuate rape culture, and how feminists can fight back.” The interview was part of the Yes Means Yes virtual tour, which - to name a few - has stopped at Feministing, The F-Word, Our Bodies Our Blog, Bitch Ph.D. (see the full list here).
Jill is a blogger for Feministe, one of the web’s first feminist blogs, as well as a journalist and recent graduate of New York University’s law school.
Tell me about the book and how it came together.
It was Jaclyn [Friedman] and Jessica [Valenti]’s brainchild. There were a lot of conversations across online feminist communities about how we discuss rape and sexual assault, and a lot of the long-standing issues came to a head when there was this article by Liz Funk called “Underage Women Sidle up to Barroom Risks”, that claimed by going out drinking or engaging a certain way with men that women are putting themselves at risk for rape.
It put the onus on women to avoid being raped and this is something we’re used to seeing in the media generally but this was published in Women’s e-News which is a feminist publication, and that was sort of unnerving for a lot of us. So Jaclyn and Jessica wrote an article on Women’s e-News in response, and there was a lot of good online discussion and they got the idea to put all of that discussion in one place an turn it into a book.
You mention in your essay that what’s missing from the rape equation is any mention of the rapist. We tell the potential victims what they’re supposed to be doing, but nobody’s addressing the young men who might grow up and become perpetrators of sexual violence. How should we be educating those men differently?
I think a lot of men are raised with a sense of entitlement over women’s bodies … which contributes to really toxic cultures and relationships between men and women. When we’re raising young men, [we need to] emphasise the fact that women are sexual agents as much as they are, that women (and partners in general) have the right to say yes without it being a shameful or bad thing. [We should be] framing sex as something that should be mututally pleasurable, and taking the social baggage out of it.
Thomas Macaulay Millar likens it to a musical performance. You don’t want to force someone to perform music with you because why would that be fun? It should be something entered into mutually, consensually and enthusiastically. If we could raise boys and girls with that view of sex, I think that could help in a lot of situations that have been called gray rape, situations where it’s sort of portrayed as maybe a miscommunication. It’s not, but its easy to buy that framing of it.
Is it scary to be out there on the web’s feminist front lines in your work for Feministe?
Yeah, we get a lot of shit, we get a lot of scary commenters, though I think Jessica has definitely got it worse than I have. I’ve had my picture posted on internet forums where everybody can discuss them, people I go to school with posting on what I was wearing or saying that they’ve seen me, so that’s a little scary. I get more freaked out when it’s people who have seen me in real life because that’s a little closer than I want to deal with. [Feministe] has a troll contest where we put up the most crazy ridiculous comment, so we try to counter it by laughing at it.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing feminism right now?
There are a lot. I would say the big one is having any sort of organized movement that also represents the truth that women live. A lot of women don’t identify as feminist, and the feminist movement has long history of being critiqued for not being representative, and I think that’s true when it comes to working class women, women of colour, lesbian, bisexual and trans women. I think a lot of those women are not the power players in the feminist movement; they’re not the ones getting the book deal, or on TV, or whose blogs are getting linked to by Daily Kos. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are, and are doing amazing work, but they’re not recognized for it in the same way.
Does your work in feminism inform your own relationships?
It does, definitely, in good ways and in bad ways. First of all, it’s a really good weeding out mechanism. When it comes up that my major hobby is running a feminist blog and I just submitted to this book about rape a lot of guys that are turned off by that are turned off by it and it saves me a lot of time. And I think it contributes to helping me have more egalitarian relationships, not settling. I see a lot of female friends, myself included, try to be attractive to men; we wear makeup, we blow-dry our hair, but it gives me a reason not to deal with things I see other people dealing with. Not that I don’t make stupid choices, but it’s an extra level of uppityness: I do not deal with certain crap. I think it’s helped my sex life in that I feel more comfortable asking for what I want and those things are all good.
On the other hand, when you’re a little more aware of what male privilege looks like, when everyday you’re reading about violence against women, rape culture all these different things that women face, that aren’t uniquely perpetrated by men but do help prop up a system where men have a certain degree of power that women don’t, it can be really hard to have a male partner who you know has access to things you don’t have access too. That can be frustrating.
Do you have a message for our younger readers at Shameless?
You know, I would just say read the feminist blogs, learn as much as you can, and that feminism isn’t gunna be anybody’s saviour but it sure as hell helps.
Be sure to catch the virtual tour grand finale at Feministe on Friday.