Season 1, Episode 4: Consent
Find Out More
About Jaclyn Friedman:
About Jaclyn's work on consent, sexual liberation, anti-rape activism, and related topics:
- Yes Means Yes, by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti
- Coming soon: Unscrewed: Women, Sex, Power, and How To Stop Letting The System Screw Us All by Jaclyn Friedman
- Unscrewed podcast
Labels of Love logo designed by Jen Sung.
Show notes photography by Jonathan Ichikawa.
- "Labels of Love Jingle Music" by Carrie Jenkins. All rights reserved.
- "Musical Mathematics" by Lee Rosevere. Creative Commons License.
- "Swiftwind" by Lee Rosevere. Creative Commons License.
- "Planet E" by Lee Rosevere. Creative Commons License.
Labels of Love is a research creation outcome of the Metaphysics of Love Project, supported by The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Additional financial support for the project comes from the Canada Research Chairs program and the University of British Columbia.
I am grateful for help, guidance, feedback, and support from:
Drusilla, Jaclyn Friedman, Ray Hsu, Jonathan Ichikawa, and Mezzo.
[Speaking in this episode you can hear: Carrie Jenkins, Jonathan Ichikawa, and Jaclyn Friedman.]
Jaclyn: It's OK to be awkward. You won't die of awkward.
Carrie: Right, no-one ever died of awkward.
Jaclyn: No-one dies of awkward.
Carrie: That's important.
Jonathan: You're listening to Labels Of Love.
Carrie: Hi, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Carrie Jenkins, a professor of philosophy at the University of British Columbia, and the author of What Love Is and What It Could Be. Today I'm talking about consent with Jaclyn Friedman. Jaclyn is a writer and educator. She's the author of Yes Means Yes along with Jessica Valenti, and the host of one my favourite podcasts, the Unscrewed podcast. She also has a new book coming out this November, called Unscrewed: Women, Sex, Power, and How To Stop Letting The System Screw Us All. I spoke with Jaclyn about consent both within and beyond sexual contexts, and how the concept relates to gender, education, ethics, and humanity.
Jaclyn: I call myself a pleasure activist, a sexual liberationist, a feminist troublemaker ... you know, I'm a woman of many hats.
Carrie: Those are all really good hats!
Jaclyn: Yes! I focus my work at the intersection of anti-rape movements and the movements for sexual liberation. And those two movements are actually the same movement: we have to address both issues to get anywhere. Each of us has the responsibility to make sure that our sexual partners are not just allowing us to act upon them sexually, but are actively into whatever's happening. The rest is details, right? Silence is not consent, whether in or out of the bedroom. The rule in general is: if you can't tell if your sex partner is into what's happening, or is going to be into what you do next, you have to ask. I think right now, a lot of conversations about consent are stuck on the rules-and-laws level. And, you know, look, there need to be rules and laws. But I do think that consent actually becomes much less confusing, and much more liberating, when you get to that deeper ethical level with it. And I feel like when you're starting to ask what you can get away with before it becomes rape, you're asking kind of a rapey question, instead of centring what I think is a nearly universally held value, which is: if you stop and think about it, of course you only want to do stuff that your partner wants to do. It's ultimately about recognizing their humanity. I think that when you--especially repeatedly--dehumanize other people, it dehumanizes you. Part of the reason I think that a lot of men especially don't seek consent is because they're afraid of the answer, and they're afraid of what it means about them. Because of this model that says, you know, if you can't get the woman who you've decided is high-value you're not a real man, you're not a good enough man, there's a lot of brittleness among men when it comes to sexual and romantic rejection. It feels very deep and personal. And it also is about teaching emotional literacy. How do you feel that sort of pain of rejection--that's human, right--how do you feel that in way that it doesn't feel like a crisis? That doesn't mean that this person is bad, or has done something to wound me. Like, however bad this feeling feels I know it will eventually ease. I have some coping skills to deal with it in the meantime. These are skills that we don't teach very much, and especially we don't teach or value in men. It's not a referendum on your value as a human whether an individual person that you want to be with in some way does or doesn't want you. Men are often assumed to want to have any kind of sex at any time ...
Jaclyn: ... and don't have a lot of room to say "no" in that sense. Like, you know, it really can go in every direction. Consent's important no matter what you're gender, and what the gender of the person that you're having sexual interactions with. Even those of us who have queer sex do it having been raised in this culture that has taught us, like, you're either the pursuer or the pursued. Prevention is always better than intervention: raising boys who don't see sex as a conquest, who do see sex as a creative collaboration, you know, with one or more other people, who see women as three-dimensional, interesting humans. You know, we need to be raising boys to think stories about girls are cool. We're seeing more stories about girls, but they're pitched at girls, which is great, you know, which is fabulous, but the ceiling or the wall that hasn't been broken is the idea that boys can identify with stories about girls and women. When we don't do that, you know, we get men who don't think of women as fully human, as equal to them.
Carrie: Exactly, right?
Jaclyn: Right, like I think it has roots deeply in childhood. There's nothing inherent in boys not identifying with girls and women as protagonists, as the heroes of stories. It's 100% conditioning. I mean I think the Dr Who thing ... the thing that sticks out to me is that, like, the next day or the day after, the Daily Mail ran naked pictures of her. It's so telling. Women are supposed to be devalued by being overtly sexual. And especially by being controlled, right, you know. So like you remove control, agency, sovereignty, context and you take that away from her: now you can feel like you own her or have control over her. It again gets back to the question of who gets to be seen as fully human. You have the right to feel however you feel, you know, for as long as you want to feel it. The time when it gets dicey is when and how you decide to act on that feeling. I think you have to listen for boundaries. You know, if you're trying to woo someone, try to woo them. But then if they tell you you need to stop, you need to stop. And you have to listen to context, too, because them saying "stop" ... they're not necessarily going to use the exact language that way. In sexual situations, a lot of people tend to freeze up, instead of objecting, because it's so intense and it's so intimate. Last year there was a woman at a bar in Pittsburgh, a young mom, and this guy hit on her and she turned him down, and she left the bar and he followed her to her car and he killed her with a gun. It is legitimate for women to have that fear. It may sound like hyperbole if you haven't lived that experience, but most women know exactly what I'm talking about. Err on the side of caution and err on the side of respecting that person's sovereignty. I think If you can't tell you have to ask is a great rule even for non-sexual consent situations.
Jaclyn: "Do you like all this attention?" "I have feelings for you," you know, "Do you find this charming?" Like, you can like figure out how to say it, be funny, be awkward. Everybody feels awkward. It's OK to be awkward. You won't die of awkward.
Carrie: Right, no-one ever died of awkward.
Jaclyn: No-one dies of awkward.
Carrie: That's important. Many thanks to today's guest, Jaclyn Friedman. You can find Jaclyn jaclynfriedman.com or on Twitter: @jaclynf--that's J-A-C-L-Y-N-F. And don't forget to look out for her new book, Unscrewed, coming out this November. You can learn more about my work at carriejenkins.net, or you can follow me on Twitter where I’m @carriejenkins. This episode features music by Lee Rosevere, and as always you can find more details and lots of information and links in the show notes. Thank you so much for listening.
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