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Alliance for Justice Panel on Healthcare Reform

This morning, I went to a breakfast hosted by Alliance for Justice that featured a panel on applying the lessons of the healthcare reform debate to other progressive causes.  I was disappointed by how little the panel focused on the application to other causes part, but it was an interesting summary of how to organize for a huge systemic change like healthcare reform.

The panelists were all part of H-CAN, and so their remarks were particularly useful for coalition organizing and well-funded movements.  Big takeaways were: get the funding moving, bring in lots of people (not just those willing to sign on but also organizations that are partially in line with your cause and willing to help tangentially), respect history and don’t back down just because it’s slow, use creative strategies, don’t get too hung up on “purple” states.

I really liked what Ethan Rome said about defining the debate.  Using the public option as an example, he suggested that what you have to do as a progressive organization or movement is to take a concept that’s seen as being “on the left” and make that the center of the debate.  If you can manage to get people talking about an issue like that, then you’re not playing defense the whole time.  I found this particularly relevant with reference to feminism and especially feminist bloggers.  When I think about “feminism,” my mental picture is far different from what the big feminist organizations like FMF and NOW give you.  That’s because my feminism is centered around bloggers, and it’s about the opinions of people of color, people with disabilities, queer people, trans people, people in the developing world, etc. etc.  So for me, a big part of what I think we need to do is to get our online activist messaging into the organizational/political part of the movement.  We want people to think about issues like immigration, disability rights, hate crimes, etc. when they think of feminism.

Another point that Rome made was that although the victory wasn’t perfect for health care reform, it was a starting point.  I don’t love the actual bill that was passed, but he does make a good point.  You take what’s passed and you go from there.  Once the system in this bill becomes the norm, then the debate is whether to keep it or whether to have more.  Building blocks, basically.  I can get down with that.

On a tangential note, I think this event was actually a really good example of how to have an event!  I’ve been to a number of panel discussions, and this was one of the better ones.  First, the Alliance for Justice host kept it short and sweet, which is exactly what an introduction should be.  Second, the panelists were concise, funny, and practical.  They were all fairly dynamic presenters.  They told stories and they made jokes and they didn’t ramble on.  They gave some concrete advice that was relevant to the people in the room.  They may have gone a bit long on answering questions, but they answered the questions and they did so with good, practical advice.  I think a lot of speakers could learn a lesson from that!

Finally, since we’re on a practical activism roll here, I just wanted to share a few points I learned from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s webinar yesterday on the social determinants of health.  One, appeal to emotions.  Know your audience’s metaphors and use those, even if they feel general.  Phrases like “a family doctor for every family” work better than ideologically loaded and less descriptive terms like “universal health care.”  Two, on a related note, avoid acronyms.   Educated people may know what they mean, but to those who aren’t familiar, you just sound like you’re playing inside baseball or trying to show what you know.  And three, if you’re trying to sell a point to people on both sides of the aisle, you can actually do so by aiming the same message at both left and right.  For example, “of course everyone should be responsible for their own healthcare, but it’s not fair if some people don’t have access to healthcare because of where you’re born or how much money you make.”  The first part of the sentence reassures conservatives, and the word “fair” appeals to the conservative value of equity, while the second appeals to the liberal value of equality/opportunity for all.  Good things to keep in mind when crafting a message, methinks

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Blogging “Yes” Day 13: Linking the Discourse on Female Sexuality and Date Rape

Here we are at day thirteen of the Blogging “Yes” project, and Lisa Jervis’s essay “An Old Enemy in a New Outfit: How Date Rape Became Gray Rape and Why It Matters.”  Jervis is the founding editor of Bitch magazine and her essay is another that will contain concepts very familiar to most feminists.  It focuses on the idea of “gray” rape, which is an updated spin on the “date rape is not as serious” victim-blaming discourse that’s been around, well, probably as long as dating culture.  What I wanted to highlight here is the connection between the “gray” rape discourse and modern  messages about women’s sexuality.

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Blogging “Yes” Day 8: Sex Positivity as an Anti-Rape Tool

For the eighth day of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read one of my favorite essays in the book.  It’s called “A Love Letter from an Anti-Rape Activist to Her Feminist Sex-Toy Store” and it’s written by Lee Jacobs Riggs.  The piece is fairly autobiographical, focusing on Riggs’ experiences working both with a rape crisis center and at Early to Bed, a feminist sex shop.  What’s amazing about this piece is how Riggs articulates the importance of giving people the sex-positive language to enthusiastically consent to sex as an alternative to just teaching people about the bad stuff that happens and how to say no.  In this post, I’m just going to highlight some of my favorite parts of the essay.

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Blogging “Yes” Day 3: Why Checklists Are Sexy

For the third day of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “Beyond Yes or No: Consent As Sexual Process.”  I can’t agree more with the main idea of this essay: that consent shouldn’t just be the absence of “no,” or even a simple “yes,” but a conversation between sexual partners about desires, fear, likes, dislikes, and all the rest.  However, I did have some discomfort in parts of the essay as someone who doesn’t find it easy to ask for what she wants.

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Thoughts on communicative sexuality

Note:  the below is crossposted from my book journal.  No Tati Tuesdays this week b/c I didn’t actually have much to report, though I do recommend Jon Stewart’s interview with Barney Frank on Monday.

I’m reading an anthology on date rape, edited by Leslie Francis, and I was particularly struck by the first two articles.  The first, by Lois Pineau, proposes a new communicative model of sexuality to replace the contract model frequently used in understanding sexual relations in rape cases.  According to the contract model, the idea is that if the victim consented, then a contract was established and the perpetrator did nothing wrong.  Pineau argues that this allows perpetrators (males) to get away with a lot because the evidentiary standard for showing consent is relatively low.  The alternative she suggests is a communicative model, where sexuality is thought of not as a contractual relationship but as something akin to friendship or conversation.  Under this model, the presumption would be nonconsent in the case of any noncommunicative, aggressive sexual interaction.  The defendant would then have to offer a reasonable explanation for his belief that the victim was consenting, despite the lack of communication between the two.  I like this idea, because it encourages communication and makes it more difficult to argue “I thought she was consenting.”  I also think, based on some psychological pieces I’ve read, that many men would be less likely to rape if the situation was not “blurry,” as I’ve read quite a few accounts of men who seem to honestly believe that their behavior was okay, based on certain actions or words of the victim.  In an open, honest, complete dialogue, they would have more trouble convincing themselves that it was okay to force sexual contact on the victim.

The second piece in the anthology, then, is David M. Adams’ critique of Pineau’s piece.  He has two main objections.  One is that verbal communication is not always necessary – that men might reasonably rely on other indicators such as body language and that given the difference in how the genders communicate we should not dismiss these indicia – and the other is that verbal communication is not always sufficient – in other words, a woman might say one thing and truly feel another.  I think that both these two objections could be met by a look at BDSM sexuality.

In arguing that verbal communication is not always necessarily, Adams points out that erotic communication is often complex and that a “checklist” would take away from the sexiness of it; that the most unambiguous form of expressing desires, literally writing them down and checking them off, takes all the romance out of the equation.  In fact, this isn’t true at all.  Many BDSM couples in fact use a checklist – before the fact.  This establishes some reasonable assumptions, because partners are aware of likes and dislikes in advance.  Further, the partners are not bound by these preferences – they are free to use a clear verbal communication, in the form of a safeword, to say no.  This kind of verbal system makes it very clear when non-consent is established.  The “she said no but I thought she meant yes” strategy doesn’t fly, because there is one word that means “I no longer consent, and this is not up for debate.”  Though it’s unlikely that all couples would establish a safeword, I do think a similar model of communication both before and during erotic encounters can make the experience both sexy and mutual.  I’m also bothered by Adams example of a man establishing consent based on a look in the woman’s eye versus the example of a woman deciding not to physically resist based on a look in a man’s eye that provokes fear.  He uses this example to argue that feminists can’t have it both ways – if option B is allowed, then so too option A.  I think this is absolutely ridiculous.  There’s a big difference between establishing consent based on a look in someone’s eye, and making the decision not to affirmatively ask, and feeling instinctive, gut, fear based on a look.  Any look at the way women are raised in this society, and the fears men instil in us from a young age, would prove this point.

Finally, I also think the BDSM model is instructive on Adams’ other argument, that someone can say one thing and mean another.  In any communicative system of sexuality, part of the deal is an implicit agreement to be open and honest in communication.  This may mean that things move slower, and one or both parties may have some issues to get past in developing trust and an ability to be open.  But I think such a model entails responsibilities for both partners – first, to ask questions and affirmatively establish the partner’s desire, which includes paying attention to any red flags that come up, such as discomfort in the conversation itself; second, to be open and honest about one’s own desires, and to refuse to go forward with a sexual encounter if one is unable to do so.  Of course, without such a system, the fact is that there will be cases where a person says “yes” in an affirmative, enthusiastic way, not really wanting a sexual encounter.  In such a case, it’s hard to blame the other party – and I think the communicative model accounts for this, in that when genuine communication and affirmative assent is established, there is no rape.  But I think what it means for the big picture is that as sexual partners we need to pay close attention to how our partners communicate consent, and be on the lookout for signs that it is not enthusiastic.  At the same time, as a culture, we need to work on making it easier for women, especially, to say “no,” and not make genuine feelings about sex something that women need to be embarrassed about or feel a need to keep secret.

Quick thought on manipulation

I was just listening to a Savage Love podcast where a girl has a question about this guy who won’t have oral sex with her, and keeps insisting that she should be upset, and Dan pointed out that he’s terrorizing her by backing her into a corner so that she says “I’m not going to break up with you, I’m not going to break up with you” so many times that it ends up that she feels like she can’t break up with him. I realized that it sounded very familiar, though in a slightly different context. So lesson of the day: if you’re in a relationship with someone, guy or girl, doesn’t matter, and that person is insecure and you keep having to tell them “no you’re great in bed, you really are, no I don’t *need* to have orgasms,” etc. etc. blah blah blah, keep in mind that eventually you’re going to find yourself backed into a corner. So DTMFA.