RealityCast 8/16/2010 interview transcript

(thanks to Maggie Glass for the transcription work)

Amanda: I’d like to welcome Jaclyn Friedman to the program. Jaclyn describes
herself as a queer, Jewish writer, performer, and activist, and she’s the editor
of the hit book “Yes Means Yes.” She’s been on a fascinating tear through
the blogosphere as of late, trying to really deal with the full meaning of sexual
liberation for women and feminist sex. Her most recent piece on the subject, a
blog post put up on Jezebel and Feministe titled “My Sluthood, Myself,” caused
quite the stir. Welcome to RealityCast, Jaclyn!

Jaclyn: Thanks! Great to be here. It’s been quite the stir, hasn’t it?

Amanda: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. So, let’s start with the post itself. What was it
about and what were your reasons for writing it?

Jaclyn: Sure. I had been brewing that post in my mind for a few months, actually,
and when Feministe asked me to guest blog, I thought, “Oh, this is the time I can
write my post about being a slut!”

[Laughter]

Jaclyn: The pieces was about – oh, gosh. The piece is about my learning different
ways of being sexual and dealing with my own needs, but much more than that it
was about sort of debunking this idea that sluthood and the desire for a
committed relationship are in opposition to each other, which is a lot of the way
that the conservatives phrase it, right? That the idea is that either you’re an
unmitigated whore who doesn’t care about long-term partnerships, right, or you’re
a good girl who’s waiting. And I think key word here is “waiting,” for the right guy –
always a guy – to come along. And what I’ve discovered for myself, personally,
sort of late in life, is that I find that feeling that my sexual needs are met creates
more room for me to make better decisions about the long-term relationships I
want to be involved in. In fact, my history as a serial monogamist who wasn’t
interested in casual sex for my 20’s and, I would say, half of my 30’s, indicates
that I actually make better decisions, I can make clearer decisions for myself, if
I’m not just needing to pair up with somebody because I’m waiting. Again, that
word, “waiting.” So it’s about, sort of, the power of not waiting. And it was also
inspired not only by my own life in the last year, but also a number of stories in
the news that were brewing a couple weeks before I posted it. So of course, the
ruling about Girls Gone Wild: that woman in St. Louis who went to a bar and they
ruled that because she was drinking at a bar she had no right to refuse to be in a
porn, right? And writing about Phoebe Prince, the girl who killed herself, writing
about how she wasn’t bullied, it was just that she was a slut, and girls were
jealous of her, and she sort of brought it upon herself. And the birth control issue
with the Obama administration, where they’re not planning on providing free birth
control… You know, all these things are based in the idea that we don’t want to
encourage girls to be slutty. We want to discourage girls from being slutty. And if
they are, they get what’s coming to them. So really my purpose in talking about
this is to sort of strike a blow or take another step forward in trying to create a
counter-narrative which says – and I say this in the piece – we shouldn’t just allow
women to be slutty (and I use the term “slutty” really loosely here, I used it
provocatively on purpose, but what I mean by it is: be promiscuous, have casual
sex, have sex on their own terms outside of committed relationships) – that
women should have access to sluttiness not just ’cause women should be able to
make their own decisions even if they’re bad decisions, which I do believe, but
because sluttiness can be helpful and powerful and even healing in some
contexts in some women’s lives and it certainly has been for me. And the way we
punish sluts in our culture is really terrifying and cuts off access to the power that
can be found there.

Amanda: Well, my response to your post, and I think it was widely shared, was
one of relief, because I think you said something that a lot of people don’t talk
about it, which is that it’s not always a matter of – like, you always hear people
talking in terms of preferences, “Well, I prefer monogamy” or “I prefer polygamy”
as if we sort of set out into the dating world with a kind of set idea about what
we want and we go get that. Whereas, you wrote about, like, how people kind
of blend in to one or the other and sometimes being slutty is not in opposition to
monogamy and yet people still thought you were bashing monogamy. So, what
would you say to that?

Jaclyn: That I’m bashing monogamy? Wow.

Amanda: Or that you were saying polyamory is better, or – I didn’t really get the
feeling that you were talking about polyamory.

Jaclyn: I’m not, really. I mean, God bless anyone who can do polyamory, I can
barely handle one person at a time in a committed relationship, but – yeah, I think
a number of people also misinterpreted me as advocating sluthood, right, saying,
the best thing for women to do, the most liberating thing for women to do is go
slut it up as much as they can, and nothing can be further from the truth. What
I advocate, and what I always advocate, is for women to do what is the most
satisfying and sort of soul-fulfilling for them, in any given moment. And I make
no bones about that in the piece, and I think that was part of why it was sort of
scandalous in some quarters, in that I actually do want a long-term partnership
and the way that I imagine that partnership is that it would be monogamous.
I don’t rule other things out, but I think the odds are strong that that’s what I’ll
want. But in the meantime – you can’t force that, right? I mean, like you said, I
can’t just go out into the monogamy store and pick out my partner, right? I’ve had
enough, you know, few-year relationship that fizzles out, trying to wedge yourself
into a shoe that’s a half-size too small, kind of feeling. And I don’t want to do that
anymore! And so, in the meantime, while I’m waiting for somebody who really is
spectacular and who is that life partner that I really would love to have, I still want
all kinds of connection and in the moment, casual sex is fulfilling some of those
needs, and it actually is emotionally better for me sometimes because I’m not
asking someone who’s not suited to fulfill a bunch of emotional needs that they’re
never going to be able to fulfill. It keeps things clearer for me. It’s actually a lot
better for me. At the moment.

Amanda: Well, and let’s talk about the controversy. I think that the lynchpin
of this – things got ugly when a woman I think none of us had ever heard of
before named Susan Walsh thought she’d make an example out of you. She
has a blog called “Hooking Up Smart” where she basically, sort of, promotes
the same reactionary theories that the so-called hook-up culture is bad for
women and something men imposed on women. And she wrote this nasty,
incoherent post where she claimed you were unhappy and insinuated that you’d
never find love. What the hell was up with her? Why do you think she did that?

Jaclyn: Well, I think it’s incredibly – well, I think there’s a lot of reasons she did
that. One is for attention, because, as you said, I’d never heard of her! And now
she has a post up sort of bragging about all the responses to her and how she’s
so tickled by them, and so mission accomplished by her. Congrats, I guess. But I
think that – the whole “unhappy” piece was really frustrating for me, because I
wrote that piece from a very emotionally open place. I didn’t want to say, for a
woman that going out and pursuing casual sex is simple, because it’s not.
Because the culture makes it very difficult. And sometimes very scary. And so I
wanted to present the complexities and not just say, “Oh, it’s super easy! And
everybody just go out and no problem!” right? Because that – I mean, from a sex
educator point of view, I don’t think that’s responsible. And it’s also not true. But I
also wrote that piece from a feeling of revelation that it’s been really liberating for
me and it’s been a whole new level of understanding with myself to be able to
indulge in this activity and to be able to pursue sex in a different way. It makes
me feel great, it makes me feel powerful and emotionally healthy, actually. But
her whole thesis, of course, is hooking up, casual sex, is bad for women. So, she
had to find ways in the text to convince people that I was secretly miserably
unhappy, even though I said quite the opposite of that. And in doing so,
misconstrued, like, 7,000 literal – I mean, you wrote about this on your blog post.
We can accuse her of having very poor reading comprehension, but I think that
would be facile. You know, she said that – she sort of misconstrues the whole
timeline. She says it’s sluttiness that is the cause of the end of relationships,
when I’m saying, in fact, it was serial monogamy and sort of my refusal to be
slutty. You know, she sort of twists a bunch of things around, that casual sex has
only brought me misery and the one guy that I talked about specifically left me
because I got emotionally involved, when in fact, that’s not true. We’re still seeing
each other, quite happily. You know, she just sort of totally misconstrued the
whole thing, I think quite deliberately, because otherwise it’s a real threat to her
thesis for me to be out there saying, “Look. This is complicated. It’s difficult
because the culture makes it difficult. It’s not without risk. But it actually has a lot
of power and what I’m advocating for is a culture that makes it less difficult, and
for a culture that allows there to be less risk associated with it.” But the other
reason I think she wrote the post is to scare off other women from talking about it
the way I did. Because one of the things that happened, honestly, the response
to the article was so powerful, the commenters at Feministe and at Jezebel and
people who wrote me and the places it got picked up, was really quite moving. I
don’t know if you saw some of the comment threads, but so many women were
like, “Oh my God, thank you for talking about this; this makes me feel sane.”
Right? This is something that a lot of women know but aren’t allowed to talk
about, and so I think that part of her motivation is to make it more difficult for the
next woman to come forward and say the same sorts of things that I did, because
they’re gonna have to know that their entire reputation, their mental health – I
mean, really foul things were said about me, about my mental health, about the
fact that, the idea that I’m acting out of some sort of trauma, that I’m disturbed:
very unpleasant things about my attractiveness, shall we say, homophobic things,
fat-shaming things. It was really horrible. And very, very personal. And I think it
was an example. I think they tried to make an example of me.

Amanda: Let’s talk about gender. Because Walsh is promoting a theory that is
incredibly tired and it’s surprising that anyone can make money off of it anymore.

[Laughter]

Amanda: It’s just this notion that men are all perverted dogs and women are all
vanilla monogamists and dating is warfare where only one side can win. And
that doesn’t really jive with the way modern people act. The evidence isn’t in the
world, I don’t think. And we just had a judge in California dismiss the idea that
gender roles aren’t distinct enough anymore to make opposite-sex marriage the
only legitimate kind.

Jaclyn: I know, it’s so exciting, and I thought of that, actually, sort of reflecting
back on the past week. Like, if that’s obvious to a judge that’s appointed by Bush
the 1st, like, why is not obvious to Walsh?

[Laughter]

Amanda: It’s funny, though, I think people like her still have their hooks in us
because they give us this nagging feeling that casual sex is still a sham that
men push on women. And I think there’s enough of a feeling now out there that
women are getting the shorter shrift; that these theories still hold, or they still
have some kind of stickiness. How do you feel about that?

Jaclyn: I think you’re right. I think it’s a really cynical, horrible, insulting way to
look at people in general. I think it’s very insulting to men, right? That men aren’t
capable of love, that we have to trick them into loving us by withholding sex, and
of course it’s insulting to women as well, but I think in ways that we’ve elaborated.
But I think that – I think that the world is still scary. And I think that the world of
sexuality and dating is still scary for a lot of reasons that we probably don’t have
time to get into in this format, and I think she plays on that fear. So, it’s a question
of whether or not you can see that you’re living in a framework. So, she’s living in
a framework. She’s very explicitly living in a commodity framework of sex. And
she says phrases like “the sexual marketplace” all the time, and she talks
about “behavioral economics,” which she obviously does not understand what
that means. She likes to think of this as an economic exchange with incentives
and things like that. And in fact, one of my favorite things she said about me was
that mating is a game of musical chairs and I did not get a chair. And that anyone
who follows my advice will not get a chair. And what I especially loved about that
– and there’s so much to unpack there – is that it’s in the past tense for me
already, because I’m 38 years old and she thinks, “Well, obviously…” It’s all over
for me! Like, what she wants to do is to save young women from the same fate
as I am facing, which…I don’t know what to say about that. I have kind of an
awesome life, so… So, I think that’s part of it. She has this economic model, but
she doesn’t understand that another model is possible. And this gets talked about
in “Yes Means Yes” in Thomas Millar’s essay about – that another model is
possible, right? First of all, when we think about the commodity model, first of all,
it’s super heteronormative. Like, women have the sex and its their job to protect
the sex and make the best possible exchange for the sex as they can, of course,
which is like a diamond ring and a husband. And if you make any less exchange
than that, then you have self esteem issues, which is exactly what I got accused
of. You don’t value yourself enough. And of course, men’s job is to get the sex for
as low a price as possible. If possible, don’t even give out your phone number.
And of course, there are no queer people, no trans people, nobody else exists in
this model except heterosexual people. Like I said, it’s a very cynical model, but I
think a lot of people don’t – because it’s the hugely predominant model in our
culture, that we see mirrored in the media. There’s this new book out, I don’t
know if you saw, but she’s making the rounds now, from this “Mistress” –

Amanda: Oh, yeah…

Jaclyn: “Sugar Babe,” I think is the book. And her argument is the same.
Women: if you don’t give your men enough sex, you can’t blame them if they
f— me. Right? That same framework. So, there is an entirely other way to look
at sex that I think more and more people are turning on to and understanding,
which is that it really is just a collaborative performance between two or more
people. And it doesn’t matter what your gender is. It doesn’t matter how many
people are there. It doesn’t matter if it’s anonymous. What matters is: are you
both having a good time? Are you both getting something positive out of it? And
is there good, healthy communication? Is everybody being safe? All those basic
things. But outside of it: is everyone having a great time? Then there’s nothing
wrong with it. As long as everybody’s on the same page; nobody’s lying, everybody’s
playing safe about disease and pregnancy, that we can consider it more, like,
you know, a collaborative jam session. Are we in the mood to make some
music? Let’s do it! But she – that’s a terrifying frameshift for someone who’s built
their whole self-worth on being able to play the economic model game, I think.

Amanda: My guest today has been Jaclyn Friedman. She has a catch-all website
where you can follow her various paths at JaclynFriedman.com. The post in
question was called “My Sluthood, Myself.” I highly recommend reading it. It was
posted at Feministe and Jezebel. Thanks for coming onto RealityCast, Jaclyn!

Jaclyn: Oh, it was a great pleasure. Thank you.