A Pair of Continents podcast – 8/10/10 interview transcript

(thanks to Maggie Glass for the transcription work)

[Music Intro]

Dany: So, Steve, I believe we’ve got a brilliant interview right now.

Steve: Yes. From a fellow American.

Dany: Is she a fellow?

[Laughter]

Steve: No. Well, from a lady American. A woman American.

Dany: This wouldn’t be Jaclyn Friedman, by any chance, would it?

Steve: It would be. Yes.

Dany: Whoo-hoo!

Steve: She is the editor of the book “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape” and she’s also a writer on various women’s issues –

[Music]

Dany: I’m pleased to welcome Jaclyn. You’ve heard a little bit about her already, but this is how she describes herself: So, she says she’s a white, Jewish, queer, able-bodied, fat, cisgender, femme from the real Jersey Shore.

[Laughter]

Dany: Yeah, it’s a little unusual. Can you tell us a bit more about that? Especially this, ah, “cisgender” thing, which we’ve just kind of heard of, but we don’t really know how to pronounce or exactly what it means.

Steve: We’re “olds”.

Jaclyn: Sure. I should put that intro in context from my blogging at Feministe, where people want to know specifically where you’re located on a number of axis. It’s not sort of how I go around introducing myself at cocktail parties.

[Laughter]

Jaclyn: “Cisgender” is a term which is an analogue to “transgender.” Are you familiar with “transgender”?

Dany: So, “transgender” is when someone changes gender. So, is this just saying that you’ve never changed your gender?

Jaclyn: Pretty much! So, yeah, it means that I still identify as the gender that I was assigned at birth.

Dany: Okay, can I just – is this not a little bit peculiar that people sort of identify themselves as, “Yep, I’m a female and I’ve always been one.”

[Laughter]

Jaclyn: Well, it’s part of a gender liberation politics that says: if we only ask transgender people to identify themselves specifically to say, “Oh, well, I have switched gender,” right, then it makes them the Others, the sort of weirdos, the outsiders. And so as someone who’s not trans, who is in fact cisgender, if I identify that as well, it means that we all have to do it, and so it’s more normalizing of whatever gender you’re at. It’s a way of being an ally.

Dany: So, does that mean that you think transgender people aren’t weird or on the outskirts, but are perfectly normal?

Jaclyn: I do, in fact, think transpeople are just as normal as the rest of us, which is, you know, not to say terribly normal, but ah -

[Laughter]

Dany: Okay. All right.

Jaclyn: No stranger than I am.

Steve: Well –

Dany: Okay. Well, why don’t we sort of talk a little bit more about you and hear about you apart from this headline. So what we know is that in some ways, you’re an expert on rape. And women and rape. Is that fair to say?

Jaclyn: Ah, I have been an activist on those issues for a couple of decades, and I’m a sexual assault survivor myself, so, sure! Let’s call me an expert.

Steve: Okay, and you’ve also set up your own group with the hilarious acronym WAM! Correct?

[Laughter]

Jaclyn: Yes. WAM! is sort of a different part of my work, although they overlap quite frequently. WAM! stands for Women, Action, and the Media, and it’s an organization for people who are interested in making our mass media more representative, at all levels, of women’s experiences.

Steve: Now, you mentioned that that intro was your intro to the Feministe blog and I noticed a couple of your posts on there, and in fact, that’s how I noticed you. And those posts were initially about the Al Gore – well, I guess you could say the Al Gore “scandal,” or possibly it’s not enough of a scandal in your opinion. Could you give some background to the audience on that?

Jaclyn: On the Al Gore situation?

Steve: Yes.

Jaclyn: Yeah, I mean, honestly, I think the scandal is that so few people know about it. About a month ago, a little more than a month ago, it came out – The National Enquirer broke the story that a massage therapist in Portland, Oregon, had accused Al Gore of sexual assault in 2006. And the media treated it as just the funniest little joke ever, when they did report it at all. And in fact, since then, a couple of days after I wrote the big piece that I published in The Nation about it, which is what I was referencing on Feministe, two more massage therapists were discovered to have filed allegations. One, in Beverly Hills, and one in Tokyo. I haven’t read their testimony. I don’t know nearly as much about those cases as the one in Oregon, but it seems less likely now that it was an isolated incident. And yet, most people when I talk to them about it just don’t know anything about it.

Dany: So I guess something else that’s not an isolated incident is how the media treats rape, especially when there’s rape, actually [stumbles] – sorry, rape accusations against men who are in the public eye.

Jaclyn: Yes. Exactly. Men who are in the public eye get a free pass because the media assumption is going to be, “Well, she’s after his money.” And the thing about that is, if it were a really good way to get rich by accusing some famous guy of sexual assault, it would be a lot more popular. I mean, we’ve never heard these accusations against Obama. We’ve never heard them – I mean, look at all the bad press Tiger Woods had for quite a spell. No one ever accused him of sexual violence. A very, very small fraction of the rich and famous men that are out there get accused, and those who do get accused, we wind up hearing that there are multiple accusations, just like we’re hearing right now about Roman Polanski. Other victims of his are now coming forward.

Steve: Now, you have spoken out against the defenders of Al Gore, at least the people who are rubbish-ing the story. Do you feel that they are certainly part of the problem? And do you feel that they are, in a way, analogous to the people who apologized for Ted Haggard, but just on the opposite side of the fence?

Jaclyn: Well, they’re, in some ways, on the same side of the fence. I mean, I know what you mean, politically. Here’s the thing: Do I know what happened in that hotel room? I do not. I do not know, and I cannot say this clearly enough, whether Al Gore has done the things he’s been accused of. What I do know is that the media has treated the idea that he could have as something to sort of giggle about. As something of a joke. And that’s the real problem. So, people who come forward and say, “Al Gore could never have done this,” they don’t know that’s true any more than I know what’s true. They want to live in a world where that’s true. They don’t want to have their idea of who he is or how the world works upset. And what it does is it discourages women who have been sexually assaulted from reporting, because they look at the way this woman is being treated in the media, and her story is. We know this to be true when the Kobe Bryant trial was going on, last decade, I don’t know –

Steve: Yeah, if you could elaborate on that for the British listeners –

[Laughter]

Jaclyn: I don’t know how much that played in the U.K., but – Kobe Bryant is a quite famous basketball player in the United States and was accused of sexually assaulting a woman, and there was a huge – I mean, the dominant story for weeks and weeks in a lot of the news media. He was eventually acquitted. He claims that she consented. She, of course, claims that she did not. Without getting into the details of the trial, she had many similar things done to her. Her reputation was dragged through the mud, people called her every name in the book, people wanted to do whatever they could to defend their hero. No one would want to think that their hero would do something like this. And what we know is true is that reporting dropped after this case. As a result of this case. That women were discouraged from coming forward and reporting the violence that’s been done to them because they see the way that women who do dare to come forward and accuse someone famous of this are treated. And that’s the real problem. A jury and a judge need to decide what actually happened and what justice should be done, although our judicial system is not – is far from perfect in that respect. But we need to send the message that these are serious accusations and we ought to be treating them seriously. We ought to all want to know more about whether or not this happened because if it did, then Al Gore, who won the Nobel Prize, who was our Vice President, and who was in fact elected President, Al Gore committed a felony violent assault against a 54-year-old woman and I think that is important, relevant information to know, if it is true.

Dany: Well, listening to you saying this actually is bringing to mind how in Sharia law, two women’s testimony equals one man’s testimony.

Jaclyn: Right –

Dany: It’s worth half of what a man says, and it almost sounds like the same thing, that if a woman says that she is raped, the automatic reaction is, “Well, that’s probably untrue and we’re just going to believe the man anyway” –

Jaclyn: Well, exactly. And what we know is, if I came forward and said, “I have been robbed. I have been kidnapped,” no other crime that I could come forward and accuse someone of would people think I was automatically lying until I proved myself otherwise. They would say, “Wow, let’s find out more about what’s happened, that’s awful.” But when it’s sexual violence, you’re right, women’s words just – we’re assumed to be lying until proven otherwise. When in fact, all the solid research out there shows that false reports of rape are between 2 and 7 percent. These are U.S. numbers, I don’t know what the U.K. numbers are, but I can’t imagine they’re that different. And pretty rare, and just about on par with other violent crimes. I mean, people lie…You can find examples of people lying about any crime, and yet we don’t use that to discredit people who come forward and say they’ve been victims of that crime.

Dany: And I guess it’s not just that women aren’t believed, but it’s also that I think rape isn’t taken very seriously. For instance, with the Mike Tyson case, when he was found guilty of rape, it didn’t seem as though very much of his supporters suddenly went against him. Most people thought, “Well…” They tried to make some excuse for why it happened. And to still blame the female victim.

Jaclyn: Right, and you know, he went to jail for that, which is incredibly rare. And even more rare for a celebrity to face any justice for this kind of violent assault. And you know, here he is, he’s having kind of a renaissance! He had this great cameo in “The Hangover,” he’s still, you know, getting to be Mike Tyson. He’s faced very little public censure for it. And I think there is this idea that rape is inevitable. Rape is about men’s sexual incontinence. They just, “Oh, they’re so sexual and they just can’t help themselves sometimes,” and the research proves that that’s – it’s just bunk. Most sexual assaults are committed by a tiny, tiny percentage of the population who are sociopaths and know exactly what they’re doing. They’re not confused about it being sex. They know that they’re raping. They don’t want to use the word “rape,” but they know they don’t have consent and they don’t care. And in fact, they like that.

Steve: But don’t –

Jaclyn: And –

Steve: Oh, I’m sorry –

Jaclyn: No, go ahead.

Steve: But don’t you think it’s important that the media also frames the other type of rape, the “date-rape,” as equally important?

Jaclyn: I don’t believe in another type of rape. Rape is rape. And when I talk about –

Steve: No, I mean, what you said about them not knowing, not trusting –

Jaclyn: Those are the date rapists.

Steve: Ah.

Jaclyn: That study I’m quoting is from a really great researcher named David Lisak, who did a study on 2,000 college-age boys in Boston, who found that the vast majority of them choose victims that they know. They deliberately introduce alcohol and drugs into the situation to create possibly deniability and to reduce the idea that she’ll fight back, and also give her a reason to blame herself, right? Because we say – for anything that happens, we say, “Oh, well, what was she thinking, doing that?” Right? And they know exactly what they’re doing, and these are the assaults that get written off as date rapes, and don’t get punished, because we think, “Oh, well, it was just confusing, right?” That’s the excuse that the rapists rely on us using to let them go free and continue to do it. And we saw that just recently in a U.S. court ruling about Girls Gone Wild. I don’t know if you’ve seen this, either of you, but just this past week, a court, I believe it was in St. Louis. There was a woman who went to a party, and she wound up on a Girls Gone Wild tape, but she didn’t volunteer. A woman – she was asked to flash her boobs to the camera, and she said, “No,” several times, and then a woman came up and pulled her top down. And she had signed no consent form, she had actually deliberately said, “No, I don’t want to do that on camera,” and the court found, the jury found that there was implied consent because wouldn’t have been at the party where there was filming if she didn’t want to participate. Even though she explicitly had said, “No.” And that’s our basic attitude, right? Like, if a woman steps out of any kind of line of the super pure, innocent, stay-at-home, wear white, keep your legs closed – if you veer any way from that sort of virginal norm we have, that’s going to be used to discredit you if you are sexually assaulted, which applies to nearly all women.

Dany: But I guess that’s also that women have embodied this in some ways, which means that they often don’t realize that they’re being sexually assaulted, which would lead to them not feeling as though they’ve got any rights to report it.

Jaclyn: You know, I am worrying about that more and more. I’ve been doing a lot of speaking on college campuses and elsewhere since my book, “Yes Means Yes,” came out. This spring, especially, I went to a lot of Take Back The Night rallies, which – do you have those in the U.K.?

Dany: Yes, we do. Yes.

Jaclyn: So I went to a bunch of Take Back The Night rallies and I heard – one thing that became really clear to me is that I heard story after story of women, college women, who got to the mic and said, “This happened to me three years ago and at the time, I just thought it was my own, stupid fault because X, Y, and Z, and it’s still bothering me. It’s gotten worse because I haven’t talked to anybody about it.” And that’s the thing. I used to think that the number one problem on college campuses around sexual violence was that the administration wanted to sweep them under the rug, that the system wasn’t taking it seriously. And that’s a very serious problem and a big part of the problem, but what I’ve learned talking to college students themselves is that I think that girls have been so trained from Day One not to take it seriously if it ever happens that –

Dany: Yeah.

Jaclyn: They don’t even know what’s happened to them as rape, and unfortunately, that doesn’t protect them from the trauma or the consequences.

Dany: Yeah, definitely. I mean, just thinking about this interview before we spoke to you, I was actually thinking that twice this happened, in completely different situations, where I’ve gone for a massage to deal with my sciatica and back problems. And on two separate occasions, the men who were massaging me began to, completely inappropriately, touch me up.

Jaclyn: Oh my God!

Dany: But in either of those cases, I sort of thought, “Oh,” well, I realized there was something sort of wrong about that, but it didn’t even cross my mind to even think that this is a sexual assault and should be reported. Because I guess I felt that I was, in some way, I don’t know – agreeing to it! Even though I was just lying there for what I was paying for, which was more of a sports massage.

Jaclyn: Medical treatment! Right? I mean, you went for medical treatment and you were sexually assaulted, and because you’re a woman, we’ve been taught that, “Well, that’s just what men are gonna do.” Right?

Dany: Exactly. And even just as I was sort of thinking about this now, just remembering, when I was back at school, probably about eleven or twelve, there used to be this boy who was only a year or two older than me, and various other girls, and his thing was to go around tweaking girls’ nipples. And everyone knew that that’s what this guy did. He would just feel your nipples and twist them. And so in that sort of way, nobody ever reported that, or even thought in that sort of language, of “This is something that we can do. We can say this is a sexual assault and it’s wrong.” And I think it’s those sorts of things that probably happen to everybody to some extent, that you slowly, slowly get more sexually assaulted, in some way, when you’re a girl and growing up, that you just get used to it. And, I don’t know, see it as sort of endemic. Which is terrible!

Jaclyn: I couldn’t agree with you more. And I think those incidents are exactly where we learn that nobody is going to intervene, right? That the administration, the teachers, they all knew what was happening, I’m sure, with this kid. They saw it happen. And they think, “Oh, it’s just childish pranks. It’s just hijinks, right? Boys will be boys.” And it starts at that “Boys will be boys” level. And we do learn, very slowly – you put it better than I ever have – we learn to be sexually assaulted, as women. Very slowly, the way a frog won’t jump out of boiling water if you start boiling it slowly enough. Right? And by the time you get to the point where it’s killing you, it’s too late.

Steve: One thing that I think gets lost in the date-rape question, especially since it’s most often equated with drugs and alcohol, is that many of the women who are getting assaulted by their boyfriends – this might be their first boyfriend, who they’ve learned to trust, over years –

Jaclyn: Right.

Steve: And that’s their first sexual experience. And I think that does get lost in the media sort of framing date-rape as just being the province of “date rape drugs.”

Jaclyn: Right, and I also just want to say about date rape drugs, just as an aside, and I’ll come back around to what you said, which I think is a really important point: date rape drugs are very rare. Like, somebody slipping a roofie into somebody’s drink? It happens astonishingly infrequently. What happens much more often is that an assailant will deliberately introduce alcohol or encourage somebody to keep drinking to the point where they’re more pliant and where they have plausible deniability. And the girl, as we were talking about, will blame herself. Like, “Oh, God, I shouldn’t have been that drunk. Why did I do that?” Right? And it’s very deliberate. Again, the research shows, this is not an accident, it’s not a miscommunication. The research also shows that assailants are slightly, statistically speaking, more likely to have been drinking than their victims are. So, that’s another thing we never say. We never say, “Oh, men. Be careful not to get too drunk, because you might not listen if a girl says ‘No.’” Right? Like, have you ever heard that message? We put all the responsibility on women to police their own behavior so that someone else won’t commit a violent crime against them. There’s no other situation where we do that to people. We expect people not to be criminals, not for ourselves to police ourselves so that no one commits a crime against us. But I think that’s also true, Fat Steve, is that a lot of these happen in situations because these are happening, these are assaults happening between people who know each other. We know that 70-80% of sexual assaults are between people who know each other. There is also this trust, and then there’s also this guilt, and like, “If you report, you’re going to ruin his life,” and also, “He loves me, why would he do something…?” It can be- it can feel very confusing. And especially in the case you talk about, if this is one of somebody’s first sexual experiences, you also maybe don’t have something to compare it to. Right? Because, I mean, we as a culture are silent about it. We’re not talking about what healthy sexuality looks like, because God Forbid we should talk about sex in public, at least, so…

Dany: So, is that something that you would think is a way that we can change this, kind of, culture of rape being acceptable – is that we need to be a bit more open about sex and sexuality. Is that the way to go?

Jaclyn: That is one of the main ways to go. There are a lot of things we need to talk about in public that we’re not talking about, and talking about sex, talking about what healthy sexuality looks like, and what healthy sexual communication is like, what healthy, enthusiastic consent looks like, making it not a stigma for women to enjoy sex, right? Because part of what happens is that women who love sex are shamed for that. They’re called “sluts,” so…women are afraid to show enthusiasm, so we have this dynamic in which there’s also this plausible deniability, where if a woman is just lying there, it’s like, “Well, that’s what women do, right?” That’s the cultural belief. Well, in fact, if a woman is enjoying sex, it probably does look a little different! And it can’t be that hard to tell. We do need to talk about all these sex issues so that rape becomes more obvious. And I want to be really clear about this, because sometimes people propose educating about healthy sexuality as a way to stop rape because they think that rape is borne out of confusion and we’re going to educate the rapists out of raping. Because these are just well-meaning guys who just don’t understand. And nothing could be further from the truth. In the vast majority of cases. But what would happen if we all had a different understanding of what sex is like and how it functions and could talk about healthy sexuality is that we would remove the rapist’s license of operate. Because the reason the rapists face no consequences, or almost no consequences, is because we are so ready as a culture to excuse them at any time. And if we had a different understanding of what sex was like, the excuses would fall away and it would be so much easier to deal with the rapists.

Dany: So, I know that you talk more about sexuality and embracing your own sexuality on your blogs. How can people find you? I know you’ve got your own website, JaclynFriedman.com, and we’ll put a link to that on our website, but how else can people read about what you’re saying?

Jaclyn: Sure. I definitely encourage them to get the book I edited, called “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape.” It’s a really fantastic collection and I say that because most of it was not written by me.

[Laughter]

Jaclyn: And I also have been blogging these past couple of weeks at Feministe, which is one of the big feminist blogs, and I also blog at Yes Means Yes blog at WordPress.com, which also has contributions from some of the other contributors to the book.

Steve: Well, Jaclyn, thank you very much for coming on the show. We’ve actually gone long, but I don’t think we’re actually going to cut anything because it was so good.

Jaclyn: Oh, well, thanks for having me. It was great.

Steve: Well, thanks a lot. Bye.

[Music]

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