In this groundbreaking collection, more than fifty cutting-edge feminist writers—including Melissa Harris-Perry, Janet Mock, Sheila Heti, and Mia McKenzie—invite us to imagine a world of freedom and equality in which:
An abortion provider reinvents birth control . . .
The economy values domestic work . . .
A teenage rock band dreams up a new way to make music . . .
The Constitution is re-written with women’s rights at the fore . . .
The standard for good sex is raised with a woman’s pleasure in mind . . .
The Feminist Utopia Project challenges the status quo that accepts inequality and violence as a given, “offering playful, earnest, challenging, and hopeful versions of our collective future in the form of creative nonfiction, fiction, visual art, poetry, and more” (Library Journal).
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About the Author
Rachel Kauder Nalebuff is a playwright living in Los Angeles. She is the creator of The New York Times bestseller My Little Red Book, an anthology of women’s first period stories. She has given talks about periods to schools, conferences, and Girl Scout troops around the country. Her work reducing the taboos around menstruation has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Huffington Post, NPR, and Jezebel. You can learn more about her at itsrachelkaudernalebuff.com.
Read an Excerpt
My name is Mei. I have been asked to tell you about my abortion. No one has ever asked me to write something for publication before. They said I would be good for this because I can be the "voice of an ordinary woman." I'm not sure if I am supposed to be happy about that, but I guess being ordinary is good for once. They said my story will be put in a book with stories of other women, some from now and some from the past, way back before the Law.
Anyway, back to my abortion. It was pretty fast and a little bit easier than my first abortion because the second time I asked my RS (her name is Madison), "Can you please play that old song by Beyoncé so I don't have to listen to the tree sound recordings?" I got up off the bed, but then the cramps sat me right back down. Madison gave me some tea and cookies and we listened to some more music and I felt better. I asked to borrow Madison's new Beyoncé music and she said, "Sure, just don't lose it." Then she dropped me off at home. That is pretty much it. I am not sure what else I am supposed to say. Oh, and Madison said the reason I got pregnant this time may be because my Clock (V1.3) insert was off a little (maybe I forgot to charge it?), but she adjusted it and said it should be good for a lifetime now.
Madison has been my RS since I got my period. I was twelve years old and had just filled out my Reproductive Life Plan at the Community Health Office (CHO). Just a week before, Mama was looking at my chest and saw my T-shirt was getting tight. She sat me down and said, "Mei, now that you are getting to be a woman, are you ready to talk about your Life Plan? Your sister did so around the same age, and I think it would be good if you got ready to." I just nodded and said, "Okay, Mama, no biggie," even though inside I was nervous and excited at the same time.
It was all good timing. Right after my period, the CHO assigned Madison to me because she was my sister's RS and we all got along really good. Madison knew she wanted to be a Reproductive Supporter since she was a little girl. She finished school really fast and enrolled as a Life Navigator (LN) first, but then got bored of that. She then went off to work with older women who had been Reproductive Supporters. After some time she was ready to be an RS herself.
Madison helped me with my first Clock when I was eighteen years old, just before I had sex with Leon. Right around that time, she asked, "This guy a good one?" and I said yes, and then we talked for a long time about Leon and me. She asked me if I wanted to be active with him, and I said probably and maybe we should get the Clock done. And so Madison came by the next day with the Clock (V1.2). It fit beautifully, and I sat around admiring it when nobody was looking. Like, all the time for two weeks straight. Speaking of time, the first Clock actually did show the time! I could also program in reminders for homework and stuff and download a whole mess of songs. But that was the problem — I crashed the Clock with all the data, and that is how I ended up pregnant the first time. The next Clock (V1.3) was simpler without all the extras though they are still working out the charging issues. Still, Madison thought it was good for me, and it is still working to this day.
When we were teens, Madison came by our house a lot because she was our Life Navigator too. My parents really needed the help — it was hard for them to take care of us with jobs in two different states. And they loved having Madison around to help us with English homework since they were still trying to figure out English themselves. But most of the time, we would sit around and finish English pretty quickly, and then Madison would have us teach her our language. Sometimes she would stay to cook dinner, and we would go to a movie after. We always had her over for the big holidays.
I am now twenty-nine. I never liked school and don't write that well, but Mama and Papa and Madison made me finish this. I am really good at drawing and art. So that is what I do. I sell some pictures now and then and make enough for a few months at a time. I am no longer with Leon. Now I have Ken who is a writer, but I did not let him touch this story. We will probably marry soon, though that is kind of old-fashioned.
Growing up, I never thought about how old Madison was, and she never told us her age. But I guessed she was born way before my Mama and Papa because she remembers things from before the Law. It is hard to know if she is telling the truth or just trying to scare us. Back then, Madison said, nobody had an RS. You had to see a doctor to get pills (that you swallowed like food!) to stop your eggs, and you had to do it every day or else you could get pregnant. And if you did get pregnant, you had to see a doctor, usually a different doctor in a different place (sometimes you had to drive really far, like over a day) if you wanted an abortion. You had to pay for the abortion yourself or your job paid. (Very strange, why should your boss care?) Some women never could get the abortion and ended up just having babies they did not want. Again, sometimes I don't know if she made stuff up to scare me and my sister into getting our Clocks. It is hard to know, but I did read about it in history class, and her version seems to be about the same as what they said in books.
Exactly ten months ago, Madison came over to pause my Clock. She asked in her matter-of-fact voice after we had eaten chicken salad sandwiches and had our tea, "This guy a good one?" I said, "Yes, absolutely yes. He is good and he is The One." Then I looked her straight in the eye (which is hard for anyone to do, but then she knows I am serious), "I think it is time to pause. I am ready." And so it was done the next day. Before she left, Madison kissed and hugged me.
Mama just came over and asked if I was ready to feed. She nicely reminds me to be done with this story because it is late and the story has to end at some point. I said, "Okay, this is a good place to stop." Then Mama puts my baby in my arms, and I bring her close to my breast and whisper, "Time to eat, little Madison."
Justine Wuis an abortion provider in New Jersey.CHAPTER 2
Dispatch From the Post-Rape Future
Against Consent, Reciprocity, and Pleasure
Contents: Excerpt of an interview with one of the historians who discovered twenty-first-century American rape culture
File status: Classified
Well, at first we were just confused. Utterly confused. We were reading all these statistics from ancient government reports about the scope of the epidemic, and it was clear that the numbers were supposed to be shocking, but we couldn't really feel it at that point, you know? "One in five American women will be raped." Okay. Yikes? But we didn't know — really know — what that meant. We gathered the literal meaning soon enough. The word "rape" was obviously unfamiliar to us since it no longer exists in any present-day language. But we read the criminal codes, we read the handbooks, we got it. And still it meant amazingly little. "Forced penetration." What does that look like? "Nonconsensual sex." Nonsense. "Sexual assault." How does sex become weaponized? "Sexual violence." A contradiction in terms. It wasn't horrifying at all — just literally unimaginable.
Once we started to read the personal accounts from survivors and watch the visual depictions, the outlines became clearer. We could understand violence, of course. And power and coercion and fear. After all, it's not like our own culture is some utopia. We began to feel the appropriate horror then. Still, though, there was this nagging perplexity. We couldn't understand the silence and the shame — if this terrible thing was happening so frequently, why were so few survivors talking about it? Above all, our question was simply: "Why?" That basic question was surprisingly difficult to figure out. We sensed this underlying assumption that rape, though wrong, was somehow understandable, even inevitable, which led to a lot of resignation — and with it all these tips for "how to avoid becoming a victim" and concern about drinking and rape whistles and nail polish that detects date-rape drugs, etc. And then, on the other hand, there were the "feminists" who were deliberately refusing resignation, saying, "But, look, it doesn't have to be like this — we can change things," and demanding accountability for rapists and bystander intervention and "consent education." But, in either case, no one was really offering us very many clues about why, exactly, it was that anyone would want to rape someone.
I remember the moment I realized just how much more study it would take to make sense of this culture. I'd come across this activist campaign that proclaimed, "Consent is sexy." They had these posters and T-shirts and some very well-meaning messages. But as I was puzzling over all of it, I suddenly found myself on the verge of tears. I did not think consent was sexy in the least. These days, you'd only see the word "consent" in legal documents, right? It's about as far from "sexy" as you can get. And the thing is, that was just as true back then too. "Consent" had the same connotations of formality — as far as we could tell, the only time it was used in the realm of personal human relationships at all was in the case of sex. And, like today, it meant permission — nothing more. These posters advised men to ask their partners, "Is this okay with you?" Okay? I mean, can you imagine? No, of course you can't. Because these days, desire, not consent, is the standard. And desire can't help but make itself known. It speaks, it demands, it begs. If you have to ask, it probably isn't there. Against all logic, I found myself wondering if these people had ever actually had sex. Seriously! [Laughs] How on earth could it ever be unclear if sex was not merely "okay," as if sex were some minor inconvenience, a small favor like borrowing a toothbrush or something, but urgently wanted? That was the moment it really hit me: if the ancients were creating campaigns like this — if consent, of all things, had somehow become their rallying cry — well, there were deeper, more fundamental problems with the entire sexual culture than we had heretofore realized.
So we dove in. We studied everything that helped shape the ancients' ideas about sex — from their official sex-education programs to the unofficial messages they absorbed from films, TV shows, pop music, porn, advertising, you name it. We mined social media sites, did close readings of Facebook threads, spent days immersed in YouTube wormholes. We learned about hooking up and getting laid. About fucking and getting fucked. About hos and players and double standards. We learned that virginity was something you lost and pussy was something you scored. We learned that sex was often a zero-sum game. We learned there were rules for avoiding the label of "slut." And when we diligently tried to catalog them all, literally tallying them down in a master spreadsheet, we learned the game was rigged. We learned about shame. We learned everything we could about this odd culture of contradictions that demanded women be "sexy" and then disdained them for it; that was at once saturated in depictions of sex but very uncomfortable actually talking about it; that both celebrated and feared sexual freedom and clearly didn't know the first thing about it. I mean, you've read the report; it's quite fascinating stuff. At the end of the day, we drew some conclusions, something terribly dry and academic along the lines of: "While women were increasingly afforded a degree of sexual agency, they were still expected to play the role of sexual gatekeepers, responsible for managing how their sexuality would provoke men's sexuality, which — through a complicated interplay between gender inequality and shame around sexuality — was assumed to be inherently predatory."
Were we right? Who knows. I always say the only thing I feel confident concluding about twenty-first-century sexual culture is that it was the opposite of our own in nearly every way — and that my biggest takeaway from our research is that I'm very grateful to live in the time that I do. [Laughs] I'm only half joking. We don't know exactly how this culture came to be — and we don't know exactly how it changed. And we probably never will, since the records of this brief period at the beginning of the twenty-first century are the only ones that were recovered after many millennia of history were lost in the Great Crash. But we're living proof that eventually — and you even see the beginnings of the shift starting during the Ancient Era — the culture was transformed so radically that rape is as unthinkable today as it was normalized back then. And we recommended that the report be sealed to the general public because that's how it should stay; to borrow a phrase from the ancients, some ideas are best left to "the ash heap of history."
And what's remarkable is just how thoroughly it has been. I mean, just look at the language. Although the term "sex" is still used in scientific contexts today, our colloquial word is derived from the twenty-first- century words "empathy" and "ecstasy" — translated to ancient English, it means "to feel the pleasure that another feels." Imagine the ancients trying to wrap their heads around that! For one thing, they seemed to be partial to euphemisms for sex that obscured rather than revealed anything real about it. So directly acknowledging pleasure would probably have embarrassed them. And the notion that each partner's pleasure might actually be dependent on the other's, that this might be inherent in the very definition of sex, well, that upends their most deep-seated assumptions about sexuality. Bizarre as it sounds to you and me, they truly seemed to believe that, free of any social constraints, sexuality was naturally selfish and exploitative.
This dismal view meant they were nearly incapable of imagining sex without a subject-object dynamic. Traditionally, of course, this was a male aggressor and female gatekeeper. He initiates, she consents. He fucks, she is fucked. He takes, she gives. Clearly, these models were rooted in inequality between the genders and relied on a sexist myth that autonomous female desire simply didn't exist. But by the twenty-first century, the feminist movement had made a great many gains and had mostly put that myth to rest. To be sure, there was still resistance to women's sexual agency — as evidenced by the rampant victim blaming and "slut shaming" that marked the era. But it seemed to be driven in part by a larger fear of sexual freedom. After all, if you believe that unfettered sexuality is destructive and suddenly women are claiming a right to sexual agency and abdicating their traditional role as sexual gatekeepers — well, it's going to provoke a lot of anxiety.
Still, the growing equality between the genders required these old sexual models to be tweaked. But they didn't change much — the only difference was that now sex was imagined as mutually exploitative. Now women, too, could fuck — not just be fucked. In the most "equal" of sexual relationships, ideally both partners would "enthusiastically consent" to be both subject and object. They used one another as an instrument of their own sexual pleasure just as much as they were used in return. But since the idea of men as sexual objects still made the ancients uncomfortable, once it became a two-way street, the subject- object model largely gave way to a transactional one. Sex could now be imagined as a fair "tit-for-tat" trade of sexual pleasure between equals — an almost economic exchange in which "reciprocity" was valued. (The ancients, remember, were some of the last capitalists.) Measured strictly in terms of gender equality, this shift, which at least acknowledged that men and women are equally sexual beings, was certainly an improvement. But it didn't fundamentally alter their pessimistic conception of sexuality at all. Because of that, while the ancients hoped such reciprocity could be guaranteed by a sense of fairness, they didn't really expect it to be. Only a committed relationship was believed to provide the motivation to reciprocate.
Contrast this with our sexual model. For us, desire feeds desire in such an instantaneous and continual positive feedback loop that the line between object and subject becomes hopelessly blurred. I want you because you want me because I want you because you want me. The idea that sex could happen without this mutual desire driving it is beyond comprehension. Not, as the ancients liked to admonish, out of "respect" for our partner or for some legalistic definition of consent but simply because desire attracts desire, like two magnets drawn closer and closer together, and if the charge goes out of either, [snaps fingers] the the pull that had been so inexorable and undeniable is broken and both tumble apart. And reciprocity! [Waves hand in disdain] Reciprocity has nothing to do with it. We don't give our partners pleasure so that they give us pleasure in return. The mutuality in our sex is not based on something as abstract as fairness or contingent on something as rare as commitment. If you are literally "feeling the pleasure that another feels," it's simply impossible to say where your pleasure starts and the other's begins. It certainly couldn't be parceled up to be exchanged. Selfishly hoarding it is self-defeating. And actually inflicting pain would be a crime against yourself, as well.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Feminist Utopia Project"
Copyright © 2015 Alexandra Brodsky and Rachel Kauder Nalebuff.
Excerpted by permission of Feminist Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsTable of Contents
About This Book 3
INDEX A: Imperfect Categories 7
Dispatches from a Body Perfect World --Jenny Trout 17
Our Bodies, Us --Elizabeth Deutsch 20
My Own Sound --Christine Sun Kim 22
Reproductive Supporters--Anonymous 24
What Would a Feminist Utopia Look Like For Parents of Color?--Victoria Law 26
Feminist Utopia Teen Mom Schedule--Gloria Malone 30
I Don’t --Sam Huber 33
Queer in Public --Courtney Baxter 38
Interview with Suey Park 39
A LIST OF 34 IMPOSSIBLY BEAUTIFUL BRAS FOR GIRLS WITH SMALL BOOBS --Sarah Matthes 42
Interview with Chloe Angyal 43
Poems for Past Lovers 1-3 --Charlotte Lieberman 46
Dispatch from the Post-Rape Future: Against Consent, Reciprocity, and Pleasure --Maya Dusenbery 52
Interview with Kate Orazem 57
Sliding Doors --Jasmine Giuliani 62
Finding an Erotic Transcendence: Sex in a Feminist Utopia --Lori Adelman 63
Learning Our Bodies, Healing Our Selves --William Schlesinger 69
Crazy Bitches: Redefining Mental Health (Care) in the Feminist
Utopia-- Tessa Smith 70
Interview with Melissa Harris-Perry 75
No Escape Hatch --Ria Fay-Berquist 79
Not On My Block: Envisioning a World Without Street Harassment--
Hannah Giorgis 83
The Day Without Body Shame --Erin Matson 85
Raising Generation E (For Empathy): The Final Frontier of Feminism
--Mindi Rose Englart 87
Interview with Jessica Luther 90
Interview with Lauren Chief Elk 94
Justice Mariame Kaba and Bianca Diaz 98
The New Word Order --Amy Jean Porter 103
Renouncing Reality --Chanelle Adams 104
What Will Children Play with in Utopia? Or: What is the Opposite of a Mirror --Richard Espinosa and Kate Riley 105
New Rites of Transition --Gabrielle Gamboa 106
Back to School 1&2 --Tyler Cohen 107
Flag for the United Nations of Magical Girls --Nicole Killian 108
Feminist Constitution --Katherine Cross 109
Less Work, More Time --Madeleine Schwartz 114
Not a Favor to Women: The Workplace in a Feminist Future-- Ellen Bravo 117
Working Utopia --Melissa Gira Grant 123
Imperfectly: A Feminist Utopian Economy that Embraces and Addresses Human Flaws --Sheila Bapat 126
Equity Eats-- Eileen McFarland 129
An Unremarkable Bar on an Unremarkable Night --s.e. smith 132
Description of a Video File From the Year 2067 to be Donated to the Municipal Archives from the Youth Voices Speech Competition --Dara Lind 135
Interview with Judy Rebick --Sheila Heti 141
Interview with Miss Major Griffin-Gracy Suzanna Bobadilla 146
Noisy Utopia --Karla Schickele 152
Embroidering Revolution --Verónica Bayetti Flores 154
Lesbo Island --Jill Soloway 156
Dispatch from Outside the Girl Talk Incubator-- Katie J.M. Baker 161
Welcome to Arcadia --Julie Zeilinger 162
Interview with Mia McKenzie 165
Beyond Badass: Towards a Feminist, Antiracist Literature-- Daniel José Older 167
Interview with Ileana Jiménez 169
Let Him Wear a Tutu --Yamberlie M. Tavarez 173
If Absence Was The Source of Silence Reginald --Dwayne Betts 176
The Free Girl Who Is Everything --Janet Mock 178
7 Rituals From the Feminist Utopia: Prebirth to Postdeath-- Yumi Sakugawa 180
When God Becomes a Woman --Abigail Carney 181
Interview with Harsh Crowd 182
INDEX B: Sightings of Utopia 187
About the Editors 188