The Feministing Five: Jaclyn Friedman

Photo of Jaclyn Friedman

If you read this blog often, I’m positive you know who Jaclyn Friedman is already. Longtime friend of Feministing, Friedman’s work as a writer, activist and educator continues to influence the work of feminists everywhere. She co-edited (along with Jessica Valenti) “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power & A World Without Rape,” and is the founder and executive director of WAM!: Women, Action & the Media.

She has a new book out titled “What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety” and it’s amazing. The book is a guide to helping you decipher what it is you truly desire, parsed out from social conditioning. It’s chock-full of practical exercises. And if you’re wondering if this book is right for you, take the quiz and find out!

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Jaclyn Friedman!

(And don’t forget to check out her book launch party this Sunday in New York where your favorite Feministing-ers will be in attendance as well!)

Anna Sterling: What prompted you to write this book?

Jaclyn Friedman: This book is a direct response to questions that cropped up on the tour for “Yes Means Yes.” As we were traveling around, talking about “Yes Means Yes” with audiences, I kept hearing the same question in different forms. People basically said, “I love what you’re talking about, but how do you figure out what you want to say yes to?” I realized that was a really important question because it was so common a situation. I also realized that I had a lot of things to say about it, but I couldn’t do it in a 5-minute Q&A session. That’s where the seed for the book got planted.

AS: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

JF: Meg Murry, the heroine of my favorite book from childhood, “A Wrinkle in Time.” She thinks of herself as an ordinary girl, and yet when it comes down to it, she discovers that she’s ferocious. Coming from a place where I feel and I think many of us feel weird, “other” and otherwise ordinary, I love her discovery of power. The things that made her weird at the beginning of the book and the things that people teased her about turned out to be the exact things that made her powerful.

I would have to say the women of the Nobel Women’s Initiative are totally my heroes right now. I’m thinking especially of Nobel Laureate Jody Williams who I’ve gotten the chance to work with who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign to eradicate landmines globally and the women I got to meet on the Nobel Women’s delegation to Israel and Palestine. All of these people are women who faced situations that looked like they were impossible and yet they did the work anyway. They do their part even when the entire world is telling them it can’t be done. I draw a lot of strength from that.

AS: What recent news story made you want to scream?

JF: One story that I’ve been talking a lot about is the one about the 14-year old girl whose boyfriend and friends videotaped her giving him a blow job. Basically, the two 14-year-olds used to date and he said to her, if you want to get back together you have to do this. It was a coercive situation. He had two friends there, one of who had a video camera. They posted it online and it went completely internationally viral and everyone freaked out about her. They were all like, “What was she doing there? Why didn’t someone teach her better to not do that?” It was all about her horrible mistake, never mind that those boys are child pornographers and that this was a completely coercive situation. I actually talked about this situation in one of my talks at the University of Oregon and there was a student there from that town and said the boys are being treated like heroes. What made me scream about it is the way everyone talked about it like something that she did wrong. It was all about her moral failings, when she was the one being coerced and exploited! I’m sure the boys didn’t say “We’re recording this to make it public!” The boys names were never publicized and her name is being splashed internationally.

AS: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?

JF: The flow of money into corporate media is one of the biggest challenges facing feminism. A large reason why that free flow of political corporate money is such a huge structural challenge to feminism is that it allows the media to become even more biased and owned by people who don’t have women’s best interests at heart. The corporate media, and sometimes independent media, as it exists today so often defines feminism for us in a way that makes it hard for anyone to want to identify with it. They’re almost always wildly distorting the truth. It also keeps us separate from each other, pits us against each other and it doesn’t tell our stories. There are so many great feminists doing amazing work everywhere I go, but almost everyone I meet feels like they’re alone trying to push the boulder up the hill themselves. If we were able to find each other and work together we could keep the boulder up the hill.

AS: You’re going to a desert island, and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?

JF: I would take really fresh margaritas. Maybe there would be citrus fruit on the island that would help with that. I would take this great chocolate I’m hooked on by a brand called Madécasse which not only does fair trade sourcing in Madagascar, but they actually produce the chocolate there so they keep the income in the community where they’re doing the labor. Also, the chocolate is unbelievably good. I would take Rachel Maddow for two reasons. One is that I’m madly in love with her on many levels, intellectual and otherwise. Another is that, clearly, feminists would come rescue us!

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