Article excerpt


The brand of feminism that is generally referred to as the third wave popularized the use of two terms: intersectionality and individualism. The first term emerged largely from the writings of women of colour, working-class women and queers who were left out of a dominant feminist discourse that reflected the experience of women who were predominantly white, middle -class, and heterosexual. Theorists such as bell hooks and Gloria Anzaldua challenged the idea that woman is a homogenous category and complicated the concept by declaring the myriad ways in which their own female identity is coloured by race, class and sexual orientation. Soon, others followed suit, shifting the conversation to allow for a more fluid identity and toward a multi -issue approach to feminism.

At the same time, the oft-repeated second wave mantra, "The personal is political," began to shift. Instead of being used to identify collective women's issues, feminists began to use it to explain how individual acts can empower women as a group. Using this analysis, then, behaviour that might previously have been seen as a perpetuation of what hooks calls "white- supremacist capitalist patriarchy" - for example, wearing makeup or using sexuality for personal gain - could be considered tools of resistance. That is, so long as you had the right analysis.

There are some aspects of modern feminism where these philosophical shifts are now commonplace. We see intersectionality, for example, in the reproductive justice framework developed by organizations like SisterSong. The group published a reproductive justice paper that asserts an understanding that "the impact on women of colour of race, class and gender are not additive but integrative." This approach has now been adopted throughout women's health organizing. Conversely, the popularity of individualism can be seen in the attitude and demographic of BUST magazine and Sex and the City. Positioned side -by-side, one might wonder which of these ideologies is the real feminism. The answer is both, though we don't often see them overlap.

What did not exist until recently is a place where intersectionality and individualism intersect. One place they do is in Jessica Valenti and Jaclyn Friedman's Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape. The book is a collection of essays by American and Canadian writers and activists. The contributors to Yes Means Yes represent the many faces of feminism, albeit faces that tend to have prominence in the feminist blogosphere: Jill Filipovic and Cara Kulwicki from Feministe, LaToya Peterson from Racialicious, Kate Harding from Shapely Prose, and Samhita Mukhopadhyay from Valenti's own Feministing. This variety is necessary if, like Valenti and Freidman, you've set out to tackle the lofty goal of exploring "how creating a culture which values genuine female sexual pleasure can help stop rape, and how the cultures and systems that support rape in the U.S. rob us of our right to sexual power."

To help the reader navigate such vast and complex waters, the anthology is set up in a style similar to the choose-yourown -adventure novels that you may have read as a child. It is a style that facilitates making connections between the issues and themes that emerge while reading. In the introduction, the editors lay out themes they believe are useful, but I've identified some themes of my own that help to place the book itself in a historical and political context.

One can't espouse something new without explaining what came before it, and many essays in Yes Means Yes recount the breakthroughs of previous feminist anti-violence work. So that's theme number one: Some things have stayed the same. We still live in a patriarchal world where men and women are socialized to conform to particular gender roles and to sexual scripts that define women as passive gatekeepers of their sexual purity and men as aggressive conquistadors seeking to rid a woman of her chastity. …