Yes Means Yes, So What’s the Catch? A Reading List About Consent

I subscribe to writer Ann Friedman’s fabulous newsletter, where she recently shared a link to an article she wrote for Cosmopolitan magazine. Friedman visited the University of California at Santa Barbara and interviewed twenty-something students about their sexual habits and desires—specifically if they’d been affected by the “Yes Means Yes” law, SB 967, which demands enthusiastic consent from all parties throughout a sexual encounter.

I’d heard of SB 967, but I hadn’t done any real research about it. Unsurprisingly, I discovered a variety of reactions. Some feminists welcome the bill wholeheartedly, while others are trepidatious about its limitations and do not think it does enough to protect victims and their advocates.

1. “Beyond ‘No-Means-No’: The Future of Campus Rape Prevention is ‘Yes Means Yes.'” (Jessica Valenti, The Guardian, September 2014)

Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti is clearly a fan of SB 967, and this article does a good job of outlining the basics of the bill.

2. “Can a New Law Really Change the Way Students Hook Up?” (Ann Friedman, Cosmopolitan, March 2015)

Party like it’s 2015 with California state school students:

Everyone gets up to do another round of shots, and I talk to Aliyah and Charles, a couple who’ve been together four years. I ask them if they’ve ever worried their partner is too drunk to say yes to sex. “We just had a threesome with a girl,” Aliyah says. “She was kind of drunk, but I asked her 10 times over, ‘Is this OK?'”

“Can she give consent when she’s drunk?” Charles asks. They stare at me expectantly. I tell them that, essentially, the law says if you’re “incapacitated,” you’re too drunk to consent to sex.

“Wow. That’s pretty much all hookups ever,” says Charles. “She couldn’t have driven home.”

“It seemed like everyone had a fun time,” says Aliyah. “We were concerned because it’s new territory for us. But she was super enthusiastic.”

3. “A Feminist Says ‘No’ to Yes-Means-Yes.” (Roz Galtz, Common Dreams, October 2014)

Galtz has two main problems with the “Yes Means Yes” bill. One, it continues to prioritize the legitimacy of faulty, biased campus legal systems. Two, it should extend further than college campuses–sexual assault extends beyond the ivory towers, and college students should be prepared to engage with their local communities about consent and its legal ramifications.

4. “The Failure of Bystander Intervention.” (Lauren Chief Elk and Shaadi Devereaux, The New Inquiry, December 2014)

Part of SB 967 is its encouragement of bystander intervention: If you see something, say–or do–something. I can see why this approach would be welcomed on college campuses–the college environment is supposed to be one of unity, to close ranks against those who would detract from its good standing. But Elk and Devereaux make compelling points in their argument against bystander intervention. Often these instances lead to more violence, this time against the intervener and the original victim of sexual assault. And bystander intervention, they claim, is only a Band-Aid on the gaping, ugly wound of a society that perpetrates sexual violence from the cradle to the grave.