As part of Albion’s Women’s History Month celebrations and events, Jaclyn Friedman was the keynote speaker for the Anna Howard Shaw lecture on March 19. Friedman is a nationally-renowned author, speaker, women’s rights activist and self-proclaimed pleasure activist spoke to Albion students and faculty about affirmative consent. Friedman is also Albion’s 2019 Anna Howard Shaw keynote speaker.
Affirmative consent isn’t the typical dichotomous, restrictive idea of consent that’s often taught to high school and college students. Instead, affirmative consent is the basic idea that your sexual partner is enthusiastic and in complete agreement with the sexual acts that will be occurring or are occurring and finds pleasure in consent too.
Friedman describes affirmative consent as the center of a big spoke wheel of societal issues, a conceptualization that the topic of consent will then radiate out onto other bigger societal issues, like toxic masculinity, kyriarchy, pop culture norms and stereotypes, and neoliberalism and capitalism. Friedman claims that the discourse on consent quickly becomes a conversation on who gets to be human and who gets to be sovereign, both sexually and in general.
“It’s about rethinking what this means: Women’s rights are human rights,” said Friedman. “This doesn’t just mean women get to have human rights, although it does mean that. It means, to me, that the issue of equal access to body sovereignty is a stand-in to our status getting access to our humanity. Anybody that is being alienated from their sexual sovereignty is being alienated from their human rights.”
Her book, “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape,” illustrates this concept, and it illustrated it so well that affirmative consent was adjudicated in several U.S. states for colleges and several high schools in California. The book also made the 2009 Publisher’s Weekly Top 100 Books.
The conversation about affirmative consent and women’s sexual power and sovereignty has been spanning the nation and beyond due to her book. Yet, Friedman believes that this is just the beginning of the process of changing the status quo for women.
“We are not there yet,” said Friedman.
There is still a lot of work to do and a lot of issues that need to be talked about that are not getting enough attention or the right kind of attention. During Friedman’s talk, she mentioned several of these issues: presence of sexual assault perpetrators in the government system, the presence of violent men’s rights groups (similar to white supremacy groups), sex education for the youth, and online consent apps that give you the option to consent (yes/no) before sex but not during or after, which can be used to target sexual assault survivors in court
A lot of these topics are hot and they’re often too hot for a lot of people to try to touch. Differing opinions and affiliations may get in the way of constructive discourse and backlash may occur with the attempt to progress society.
“We need to do more talking with each other and not less,” said Friedman. “The best thing we can do in this moment of confusion, backlash and instability is to articulate big visions and big goals.”
Her advice to those who find it difficult to have conversations about affirmative consent, women’s rights, sexual freedom and beyond with those who may have opposing opinions is simple: Plant the seed. Others may come along to water the seed. Others may be the sunshine. But, hopefully, soon enough the flower will bloom and people may begin to see these issues on a human level.
Friedman recognizes that with everything she says, there will be backlash, apprehension and opposition. But to her, that’s just the name of the game. She believes that if someone isn’t upset with what she’s saying or doing, she’s not doing her job right.
“I don’t think I was ever not a feminist,” said Friedman.
Friedman has always advocated for women’s rights because they’re simply human rights. To her, humanity should be the basis and feminism is as humane as it gets.
Friedman recommends the website Scarleteen for anyone with questions about sex, sexual pleasure, sexual assault, consent and more. Friedman also has a new book out, “Unscrewed: Women, Sex, Power, and How to Stop Letting the System Screw Us All.”