A Very Good Read On “Rape-Adjacent Sex”

rape-adjacent sex comic


Really feeling this thoughtful analysis on California’s proposed Yes-Means-Yes law, which would set a higher bar for consensual sex on college campuses.

Avoiding Rape-Adjacent Sex

I do believe them that there’s plenty of sex happening now, that isn’t experienced as rape by either partner, that doesn’t meet the affirmative consent standards proposed.  That could include sex where both partners kind of just leapt into the act, not checking in with each other, but not hitting any snags.  Sex where one or both partners was somewhere past tipsy and within sight of “too impaired to consent” but no one pulled out a breathalyzer and both parties felt ok in the morning (aside from the headache).  Sex with coercion/pressure, where one partner didn’t back down after an initial “No” or “I’d rather not” but the reluctant party felt more like someone who’s been guilted into going to a boring party they would have preferred to skip, rather than someone who was violated.

All of these could hit the proposed new definition of rape, without being experienced as rape every time they occurred.  And all of these might be pretty common at present.

The goal of the Yes-Means-Yes law in California is to kibosh a lot of this gray area, rape-adjacent sex.

In one of the 3 or 4 intimate-abuse interventions I’m passively or actively involved in at the moment, a group of us is supporting a friend who is going through an accountability process — for something very much resembling this “rape-adjacent sex” definition.

It’s the first time I’ve been on the accountability-support side, meaning working with the person who committed harm. That comes with its own set of discombobulations, but one of the main lessons I’m drawing so far is that even those of us who identify as feminist, who have done a LOT of work around consent, can still engage in risky behavior and massively fuck up. A positive way of putting that, though, is that we can all be striving, throughout our lives, to improve our consent game.

The piece quoted above (really good; you should read the whole thing) offers a concrete, socialized-labor strategy for helping to reduce the amount of “rape-adjacent sex” in our communities.

In college, a number of student groups had a designated door watcher for parties.  This person (or these people, if they were doing it in shifts) were supposed to hang around near the exit of a party and check to see if anyone leaving seemed to be heavily intoxicated.  They were basically doing what Allison of Strong Female Protagonist is doing in the comic featured above (minus the superpowers, and plus some attention to people leaving the party alone who might need to be screened for alcohol poisoning). Not a perfect system, but just posting a watcher (and discussing that you will at party planning meetings) changes people’s expectations a little about what kind of behavior is appropriate.

An idea has been germinating for a minute about running sex workshops using Buddhism or “mindfulness” to improve our strategies and skills around consent… we’ll see if anything comes of that. Meantime, I’m grateful for this article, and more than a little annoyed at the guy who complained to The Atlantic that California’s new proposed college consent standards are cock-blocking him. Whatever, dude — take a cue from Louis C.K. and be relieved that you’re not raping anybody.



There’s an ant massacre in my freezer.


I’ve never seen anything like it. Reminds me of the D-Day stencils of 9,000 dead soldiers, just done in Normandy last week.

d-day stencils normandy

d-day stencils



Poor guys. The strangest part is that when the swarm and frosty die-off began, there was nothing even IN the freezer. Really, nothing. Three fingers’ worth of ginger and an old bag of ice from my housewarming brunch — that’s it.

At first I thought the ants might want the water in the ice, but then they could have just stormed the sink where there’s plenty pooling in the undone dishes. On the freezer floor you can see a drip of some caramel-looking substance (ice cream?), but the pattern of the tiny corpses doesn’t suggest the spill as the focus or destination.

On the bright side, now there is food in the freezer. Because I made a trip to the real grocery store, rather than a corner store run, and for the next few days my dinners will graduate from chips-and-salsa to ravioli-in-jarred-sauce or saag-paneer-heated-in-the-oven.

If you know me, you know that this is a sorry state, and somewhat unusual. I like to cook. Hell, half this blog consists of cooking photos.

The simplest explanation is overwork. Too many projects, paid and unpaid. I finish work, exhausted, and rush off to a meeting or plop down to edit a political video. By the time I get hungry, my body is at a total loss for what it wants to eat. I sit and stare into space, trying to key into whether it’s soup or tofu or salad or what. I end up with chips and salsa.

I always wondered how my mother did it: working more than full time and feeding us every night. She used lots of cans and boxes. Dinty Moore beef stew. Frozen peas (which I still love). Stove Top stuffing. Mom didn’t enjoy cooking (unlike me), and though she would grill up fresh chicken or fish, or brown some sausage to throw into the Ragu spaghetti sauce, the main objective of dinner was efficiency. I get it now.

But what doesn’t make sense is why she should have had to work so hard — why any of us should have to work as long and hard and anxious as we do. Shouldn’t we have all the time in the world to cook and feed each other, if we want to? I mean, listen. People used to have to write everything out By Hand. Deliver it on horseback. Then came the printing press, the personal typewriter, and now the computer and internet. We can work a bajillion times faster, more efficiently. But instead of everyone doing less work and enjoying more free time to fucking cook and relax, the people with jobs get squeezed more and more, work longer and harder, and the ones who can’t find a job… good luck to you.

Work, work, work, then die — in a freezer. Hunting for who even knows what.

Undo (Revolution In The Garden With Eliana and Noa)


To tire,
to tire,
to sink down,
a huddle of wilting bones

to be borne up again
by friends.

to stay hip-cocked, ornery
and still, still
breathe deep into the belly.

undo this world, please.

undo every lethal gas attack
the hoarding of clean air
the systematic flogging of our dead
and our living
and our in-betweens in prison,
now on strike, who knows how long.
i know that to undo would mean me too
me this bit of spinach stuck in the teeth of god
and of course that is ok.

here, let me

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A Preacher. A Poet. A Manta Revolutionary.

Okay, I may be a little obsessed with Lianne. But to be fair, so is Prince (yes, Prince), who called her to say congratulations.

Women and the genius things they make and do. Here are just a few.

I am not a Christian, so to my ears this recorded sermon by my friend Nichola sounded more like an arahant (enlightened one) elucidating the teachings of the Buddha. On this very night your life will be taken — by endless, cavernous craving. Tanha. I knew Nichola was brilliant, a student of Jesus, James Baldwin, and other pretty okay characters, but damn, I don’t think I had ever heard her preach before. At the time I was at a friend’s place in San Francisco, and once I started listening I was so captivated that I stayed huddled on the living room couch, rudely ignored my friend-hosts  while they tested the day’s crock-pot soup in the kitchen. (That craving, that need, even for wisdom — like she says at the pulpit, it’ll make you ignore your loved ones if you’re not careful.)

I am not a poet, nor a scholar, really, but I know what I like.  What makes me pause from internet “snacking” (a term I learned from web marketing experts studying cyber-habit-patterns) to recollect my breath.  My friend Kim, on the other hand, is a scholar and poet and artist, and thank goodness.  That piece will stay with me — and don’t miss the video she links to, minutes 3:45 to 7:54.

I am trying to become a revolutionary, but it’s less simple than it sounds, though thankfully also less cult-y (so far).  In this arena, mother and self-identified manta-militant Berta will remain unlinked, as she is best experienced off the Internet, but she has been no less crucial to my week and my spirit.  Berta torpedoes through this fearsome world with a cheerful pragmatism, a humble, no-bullshit incandescence.  She makes being a revolutionary seem like the only sensible thing one could do with one’s life — and vows, smiling, to keep at it til the day she dies.  I believe her.

And then there’s Lianne, who I mentioned earlier, and cannot stop listening to.



To Be Truly Radical

Jacob Lawrence, “Play” (1999); silkscreen


To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing.

—Raymond Williams

I like to think that many others have expressed this same sentiment in places I’ll never see, in times before mine, in languages I can’t read or understand.


To_Preserve_Their_Freedom1 jacob lawrence
Jacob Lawrence, “To Preserve Their Freedom” (1988); silkscreen

Throw Like A Girl


For months now, I’ve been wanting to teach the neighbor-girls across the street how to throw a football, like my dad taught me.  They’re always hanging out on the porch inventing games, waving to me out of boredom, friendliness and mischief as I walk to my car.  I even got a junior-size ball so they could hold it easier, but the very same day I bought it, it wound up waylaid at a friend’s BBQ birthday party.  (Hard to resist a game of catch, you know?)  Finally recovered this week, the mini pigskin enjoyed its debut on the block.

Once I showed the girls how to arrange their fingers on the laces, it only took about three tries before one of them (maybe 8 or 9 years old) could throw a solid spiral.  The older one (12 or so) didn’t throw so hot but could catch just about anything she touched.  The youngest (7?), too shy to try, sat on the roof of the blue car, playing music she downloaded to her smartphone. (!!!).  We all sang along to Alicia Keys and Nicki Minaj.


Out-Organizing Patriarchy, or: Buddhist Strategies For Existing Politically In A Mini-dress


Some would say it’s my fault, for wearing a dress like that to a political action.

How do you expect to be taken seriously?

(And, from certain older feminists): We fought to be seen as more than sex objects.  How can you throw away that progress?

Understandable frustration.  Wanna hear something scary (though maybe not all that shocking)?  Recent psych studies ([1] [2] [3]) testify to what many of us have understood through experience: that bodies read as “women” tend to be cognized as objects (to perilous, rape-y effect) whereas bodies read as “men” are perceived as human beings.

You have to wonder whether any of the images used in these psychological studies showed androgynous people, gender-queer people, fat people, elderly people, or visibly disabled people.  (Anyone reading have access to the academic journals?  Hook us up!)  Normative standards of beauty and aesthetic ideals of ‘human-ness,’ from shape to skin color, must certainly affect the ways we are objectified or humanized.  Politically, our looks affect our interactions as we pass out flyers, march and chant, photograph the action, deliver a speech, or bus or bike to the strike.

As for me, it’s not like it happens 100% of the time, but I can usually tell when strangers are paying closer attention to my hemline than my politics.  Like the two guys waiting for their order at the taco truck on Monday, right next to the undocumented workers’ press conference against I-9 audits, or “silent raids.”  I recognized one of the men from doorknocking in the neighborhood the day before.

“Hey!”  I called.  “You came!”  (Do I care that he’s probably just there for lunch?  Nope.)  “Come meet the workers!”

At first they stay put at the taco truck; they want to chat me up, but they don’t want to walk over to the protest to do it.  I approach them instead, talking talking talking.  I make myself oily like a duck’s feathers, so the swamp water of sexism won’t soak me.  (Awareness + acceptance* is my anti-patriarchy emotional preen gland.)  I explain the background for the action: 125 workers fired with no notice — some after decades working for the industrial bakery, still making just $9.40 an hour.  The guys’ ears perk up more.  I allow myself to get more animated about it.  “Come!” I say.  “Come meet the workers!”


Eventually, some combination of the political content, the live brass band, and my encouragement does the trick.  They walk over with me.  I immediately introduce them to other people, older people.  An elderly worker strikes up a conversation in Spanish with the neighbor who speaks it.  Only then does it come out: the neighbor says, “Yeah, I know someone who works in here” (inside the factory that we’re protesting).

“Oh yeah?” says the fired worker slowly, scratching his ear.  “Who?”

I flit away, to go dance some more with the band.  Before the neighbor men leave, I make sure to say goodbye, ask them what they thought.  I hope they keep supporting the fight.

*          *          *

If the psychological objectification of women is a pervasive phenomenon, it undermines the unity of the working class in the U.S., and deserves to be treated as seriously as the white skin privilege that the Sojourner Truth Organization (an almost all-white group) helped theorize, back in the late 60’s and 70’s.  Class-struggle theorists continue to study the feminization and de-feminization of various factory and non-factory work, which is important.  At the same time, I would love to hear more about ways that radical organizers are handling the manifestations of body politics that arise in the course of the political work.  The way I’ve learned to handle things isn’t necessarily the best way, or a way that is relevant or useful for everyone.

Important note: by *acceptance of sexism I don’t mean that I want to permit sexism without trying to change it.  The first step to changing something is accepting that it exists.  Patriarchy is how it is, right now.  I’ve been lightweight slut-shamed in my organizing circles before; it’s no fun.  Misogyny may not be as acutely dangerous for me as transphobia or homophobia are for other people, or as sexism is for women trying to organize in other contexts (see, for example: sexual assaults during protests in Tahrir Square, which may actually be state-backed efforts to sow discord in uprising groups).  But sexism here, in my life, still exists, still disrupts the political work we are trying to do together, and I have little choice but to name it and figure out how to deal.  In the words of Black revolutionary Assata Shakur (who recently became the first woman on the FBI’s most-wanted terrorists list):

People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.

In a way, it’s good to understand that the brains of many strangers see me as an object first.  Lets me know what I’m working with.  Then, compassionately — whether patiently or impatiently, playfully or gravely — I can try to thin and whittle those delusions in myself and others, to sound out new relationships written through the small-scale but meaningful struggles now at hand.

Rape Culture and Power Pyramids: Recent Thoughts

The past few weeks — and especially the past few days — I’ve been reminded of how rape culture thrives on social power pyramids: where the contributions of people at the top — be they star athletes, beloved artists, or skilled political leaders — are considered so important that people instinctively ignore, justify, or minimize the violent behaviors of the community’s golden child (or children).

This shows up frequently, in small ways.  I’ve heard more than one friend of a socially powerful feminist in the Bay confess to me that they feel afraid to tell her “no.”  Not that this fear necessarily defines their relationship with this person (and these conversations happened a year ago; perhaps their fears have since subsided or transformed), but to me, statements like that are a red flag for rape culture.  Someone is at the center, and getting on their bad side means you might get ostracized — or worse.  Besides, what they contribute is so vital and powerful…

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What Do We See In Steubenville? Imagining Justice Outside the Courts


In Steubenville Ohio, a juvenile court judge will decide the fate of two young men who allegedly participated in the rape of a 16-year-old girl.  But it will be up to the supporters of Jane Doe — especially working-class fighters — to determine the path forward: toward true justice, toward a world free from sexual assault, toward a society ridding itself of the bastions of power that, like stagnant ponds where mosquitos multiply, support the proliferation of rape culture.  Steubenville seems to have the passion, the courage, and the determination: but do they have a plan?  And what will it be?

From an outsider’s perspective, I see three key assets enriching the Steubenville rape-culture resistance.

  1. A critical eye toward court-determined “justice”
  2. A horizontal network of bold, moral people eager to get involved
  3. An orientation toward media and education by the people, for the people

Rape culture is about power, and the Steubenville case has opened up serious questions about how people in a community can take back the power to safeguard their own well-being — free from the small-scale despotism of patriarchal cops, coaches, or classmates.

1. No Justice, “Just Us.” 

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