On Oct 15, 2013, Emily Yoffe over at Slate.com published this article. The headline, which I’m guessing Yoffe did not write herself, changed a couple of times but the gist was: We should tell female college students to stop getting stone drunk to reduce the chance of rape.
This led to one of those internet mini-storms, with writers from Jezebel.com, Salon.com, Huffington Post, even one of Yoffe’s colleagues at Slate.com rebutting her claims in tones ranging from calm to pissed off. Focus on the rapists and their behavior, many said, and that is a valid claim. Yoffe herself posted a rebuttal to the critics, which drew its own replies– here’s one at Salon. Quite frankly I got tired of reading about it all.
Let me state here that I’ve been really lucky. I haven’t encountered much in the way of sexual discrimination during my schooling or my work. I’ve never had a boyfriend who tried to force me to do anything I didn’t want to when it came to a physical relationship. I realize for many women — and men, let’s be real here — this is not the case.
I am also not and never have been a big drinker. There are lots of reasons here, but none of the moral variety, I don’t think. My dad stopped drinking beer after one too many close calls driving, and although he drank wine from time to time after that, he doesn’t now. My mom also stopped drinking when she felt it was getting out of hand. Drinking too much seems to run on both sides of my family, but no one ever took me aside and said, “Don’t drink! Drinking is bad!”
For me, personally, I didn’t and don’t like the way most alcohol tastes. I know that when people drink to get drunk, taste isn’t always the issue, but again, I’ve been lucky that I’ve never felt that kind of pressure to escape. It took me a long time to figure out wine, let alone like any. I figured it was made from grapes, hence should be sweet, and when it wasn’t, I didn’t like it (I have a sweet tooth). I read up, learned some stuff, and now enjoy some wine from time to time. I’ve also learned it doesn’t take a whole lot of alcohol to put me a little off. I don’t like that feeling and so I don’t drink past it. Going from that, I have never wanted to be that much out of control in front of people, and so I have not.
But if someone else wants to drink, I have no problem with that. I don’t even care if you get drunk, really, so long as you’re smart enough to take some precautions, like designating a driver and all of that.
So, back to the kerfuffle — is it really so awful to advise women (and men, for that matter) to not drink themselves into oblivion? Is it that much different from advising people not to walk in dangerous neighborhoods?
It is no doubt true that women bear the brunt of self-security measures in a ton of situations. We’ve all been told, I’m sure: don’t walk alone at night; keep your keys between your fingers as a potential weapon; park near a streetlight; be aware of your surroundings; etc. Much of the advice comes down to this: Don’t put yourself in a vulnerable position. While all of this is applicable to men as well, women are more likely to be attacked, so women tend to think about it more.
I remember when I split an apartment with a friend of mine, a gay man I’d gone to college with. He was just getting comfortable with coming out and being gay, and we lived near a city, which gave him a whole different outlet than the area where we’d gone to college. He was pretty self-involved and self-centered at the time. Once, he was going out to a club and I asked, are you going to come home tonight?
He had a bit of a fit, but he was putting on a bit of a show. I didn’t care whether he came home, or who he went home with, or anything like that. I only wanted to know if he was going to so that I knew whether to put on the door’s chain lock. He didn’t want to be responsible for someone else’s, well, anything (he admitted as much some time later), and so he took it out on me.
The point is, had I been going to a club, I’m sure whether or not to put the chain lock on wouldn’t have crossed his mind. But he was a guy and he had different self-security concerns, I’m sure. I think women think about this a lot more because statistically it’s women who need to be concerned about it.
It’s not fair. Totally unfair. But a lot of things aren’t fair and you deal with them.
So what to do about things like sexual assault? Well, let’s be honest, a lot of it is an uphill battle, because what needs to change is attitudes, on a lot of issues. For all the advances in various rights and such, there is still double standard that a man who sleeps around is a cool stud, and a woman who does is a slut. That’s stupid and wrong, but how many people caution their sons about ruining their reputation in that way? There’s one we need to work on, as I’m sure the episodes in Steubenville, OH, and Maryville, IL, have shown.
We need to work on the perpetrators, too. They are mostly men, but not always. People need to learn at the most basic level that no means no. That getting someone drunk with the intention of having sex with them is wrong.
Sex can be great, let’s not pretend otherwise. It feels good, it can be fun, and funny, and it can bring people closer together. To me it should always be a mutually-desired encounter, whether we’re talking BDSM or something more mainstream.
However, sex can have consequences, like STIs or pregnancy, and there can be emotional consequences a well. So we prepare people for that, don’t we? Use a Pill, use a condom, whatever. If we are willing to tell our sons and daughters to alter their behavior in those ways to protect themselves, why aren’t we more willing to tell them (both) not to get falling-down drunk in bad situations?
That won’t stop rape, of course. Yoffe’s column was addressing a specific subset of the crime — the rape that occurs when women are so drunk they can’t think or make decisions coherently and are often encouraged to do that by predators. If women take responsibility and don’t get drunk in these situations, that will hopefully reduce (but won’t stop entirely, let’s be real) the incidence of assault and rape in those situations.
But nothing will end rape until people face harsh consequences for raping; until victims are not blamed and the perpetrators are, so that victims will bring charges against those who attacked them; until there is a consistent effort across all layers of society to say that this is wrong, and that it’s not “worse” if a rich, white woman is attacked as opposed to a poor minority one.
That’s a whole lot to change, and it will take work, but I hope I can be optimistic.