If you follow feminist organizations and writers on social media, you've probably seen their response to Emily Yoffe's article at Slate.com entitled "College Women: Stop Getting Drunk." The feminist response to the article has been, in a word, negative. And rightfully so. While I don't disagree with Yoffe that binge drinking culture has dangerous results, why place the blame and responsibility to change the culture on college women? What does that accomplish other than to further relieve actual rapists of responsibility and introspection? Sure, you can liken the advice to advising homeowners to lock their doors at night, but that's a faulty analogy that ignores how rampant rape apology is in our society. (Not to mention the fact that comparing the physical assault and violation of women to property crimes is just wrong on all accounts.)
All that being said, there's a part of me that understands where Yoffe is coming from, no matter how misguided she may be, because there have certainly been times in my life where I've espoused similar opinions. I still cringe when I think about the commentary I offered up in my law school criminal law class on the topic of rape. These attitudes are the results of rape culture, yes. But when it's women offering these opinions, I think there's something else at play.
See, women necessarily have different reactions to rape because we're primarily the victims of this particular crime. Add to this the fact that we're the gestating gender, and you get a lifetime of added lectures on how to be responsible with it comes to sex and purity, etc. Those lectures are ultimately just victimization in another form, but it's one that is heaped on us from a very early age, and one that our culture encourages. For example, how many times have you heard fathers of girls talk about locking their daughter away, never allowing her to date, or chasing boys away with a stick/gun? It's seen as cute and endearing that men have to protect women from the sexual attentions of other men. Why? Well, ask any dad with this mindset and he'll tell you it's because "we know how boys think."
There's a common theme here, and it's that women are conditioned to be reactionary and defensive when it comes to men and their sexual attention. When it comes to dads, daughters, and dating, the dads have to protect the daughters. No one seems to consider teaching sons not to pursue women as sex objects. The rape dialogue is no different. The tendency is to say that we have to teach women not to "put themselves" in vulnerable situations. No one seems to consider teaching mean not to take advantage of a woman's vulnerability.
But I digress. The point here is that we as women are conditioned by society to believe that preventing sexual assault against ourselves is primarily our own responsibility (and that of the women who take care of us). That's not a very comforting position to be in--viewing the world as a place where opportunities for your sexual assault abound if you're not careful enough. The thought that we live in such a hostile environment is not a pleasant one because it strips us of any assurance as to safety or security. So it's only natural that some women react by looking for control wherever they can find it. And the easiest way to find some sense of control is to buy into the "good girl" illusion. You know what I mean--the illusion that bad things don't happen to good girls.
What is a good girl? Well, good girls don't wear the kind of clothes that make men think sexual thoughts. Good girls aren't sexually promiscuous which means that men won't think their advances will be welcome and won't try anything. And Yoffe's favorite, good girls don't get drunk and thus they're able to keep their wits about them when men get sexually aggressive.
There truly is a strange sense of comfort in believing in this notion of a "good girl" because, if there are set rules you follow, you can keep bad things from happening to you. The problem, however, is that these proponents of "good girls" don't realize how easy it is to step over the good girl line. (If Robin Thicke taught us anything, I guess it is that there are indeed "Blurred Lines" when it comes to being a good girl.) These proponents also seem to have no grasp on the active role men play in pushing women over that blurry line.
So to make my point, I thought I would offer up a little personal anecdote of my own to challenge Yoffe's position. Let me start off by saying that I'm about as good of a girl as we come. I'm not promiscuous, I'm terribly inept at flirting with men, and I have worn and will wear Crocs to bars. (I'm really asking for it in those sexy shoes, right?) Nevertheless, I recently found myself in a situation where I was very near to black-out drunk in the company of men I didn't know.
The story starts with me spending about two weeks emailing with a man through online dating. I thought I had really hit the jackpot with him. He was cute, he was gainfully employed, he was responsive with his emails, and he set off no red flags. In short, he was the best prospect I'd ever encountered on online dating. But he lived four hours away from me, so I decided that if anything was going to progress, I would have to go visit him. I planned a weekend trip to his town with a friend of mine, asked Mr. Online (as I'll call him) if he'd be available, and set up aSaturday night date. The plan on my end was to drive 45 minutes to my friend's house on Friday night, spend the night with her, and then leave for Mr. Online's town on Saturday morning. I was excited for the entire weekend, including dinner on Friday nightwhen my friend and I were going to go out with three other young female attorneys. Living in a state with a small bar where most of the attorneys I encounter are male and frail (i.e., old), it was an evening to look forward to.
That is, until noon on Friday when Mr. Online emailed and abruptly cancelled on me.
Needing to drown my disappointment in missing out on what I thought was a great guy, I had a glass of wine when I got to my friend's house Friday evening. The two of us then walked to dinner where I had a great time meeting my new friends. I had two more glasses of wine with dinner over the course of about two hours. Because I'm not a big drinker in general (and especially not of wine), I was decidedly over the limit as our group of five women left the restaurant. We headed to a bar downtown where I ordered a beer. This is the last drink I remember ordering or drinking all evening.
While we were at the bar, my friend started to feel not so well, and she decided to go home. Since I was having a good discussion with one of the other women, I decided to stay. Eventually we were joined by two men one of who I knew slightly and the other of who I didn't know at all. The one I knew is an attorney in the same firm as my friend and one of the other women we were out with. He also happens to be the childhood best friend and brother-in-law of a partner in my own law firm. Here's what I remember about the evening from that point on:
-I remember talking with the two men at the bar.
-I remember two of the three women I was with leaving early because of a minor dispute with the bar staff.
-I remember ending up at a bar across the street with the two guys.
-I remember talking with the two guys at the second bar.
-I remember going with the two guys to the condo of one of the women, where there were at least two other men there I'd never seen before.
-I remember one of the other men trying to talk to me.
-I remember saying I was going to go back to my friend's house.
-I remember the two guys I was drinking with walking me back to my friend's house.
Not so bad, right? Until the next week when I heard from multiple sources that one of the men--the one I sort of knew--bought me multiple drinks throughout the night, including shots, all of which I drank.
I remember none of that. I never do shots. I can count on one hand the number of shots I've done in my thirty years of life. But apparently on this night I was just drunk enough from dinner with girlfriends that I didn't notice the extra beers and shots being placed before me throughout the evening. I also don't remember anything about how I got from the first bar to the second bar, or anything about how I got from the second bar to the condo. And there is absolutely no way I would have been able to make it back to my friend's house from the condo on my own.
Thinking about it now, I'm very thankful to those two men for getting me home safely. But here's the thing--I wouldn't have needed their help if they hadn't been plying me with alcohol all night.
I do know my limits. I don't drink to excess. But on a night when I just wanted to escape the feelings of not being good enough for some random guy on the internet, and one a night when I let loose out of the pure joy of finding like-minded women in my small town, I had too much to drink in the company of friends. I truly, honestly believed that I stopped drinking after my first beer at the first bar, but as it turned out I was just drunk enough to keep drinking when someone else ensured that drinks just kept appearing in front of me all evening.
If something had happened to me that night, I wonder what Yoffe would say about it. Did I step too far over the good girl line? I voluntarily had four drinks over the same number of hours, with dinner, while out with four female friends. Even once the two men showed up, they were people I knew enough about to feel comfortable with. But I was still completely at their mercy. I could easily have been led from the second bar to anyone's house. And I have no doubt that the third guy at the condo would have tried to have his way with me if the other two guys hadn't been looking out for me and accompanied me home.
I'm a good girl. Nevertheless, only luck ensured that my night turned out fine when many other women's do not.
But according to Yoffe, I'm the one in the scenario who bears all the responsibility. It's telling that she doesn't discuss any responsibility men have in these scenarios, such as the responsibility not to ensure that women get so durnk they don't know what's happening and can't make good decisions. Plying women with alcohol they haven't asked for is deemed perfectly acceptable, even courteous, in our society. And it's not something only predators do. The man who bought the drinks for me is a good guy. But that makes no difference in terms of the impact his actions had on my capacity that night.
On Feministing.com, feminist writer Lori Adelman criticized Yoffe's piece and stated that it "lend[s] credence to criminals." Adelman is exactly right. So long as our society places all the responsibility on the women, the motivations of men become irrelevant, and the willful taking advantage of an incapacitated woman is not seen as a problem.
To women like Yoffe, the solution is the stop being such a reckless drunk. But for those of us that live in the real world, we know that oftentimes we don't reach the drunken state on our own. There's nothing wrong with examining the role alcohol plays in sexual assault, but that examination needs to be all-encompassing and, at a minimum, needs to account for the actions of all the players.