The Soapbox: Slate Tells Young Women To “Stop Getting Drunk,” Majorly Misses The Mark On Alcohol & Rape’s modus operandi is to troll the hell out of everyone. Today’s piece by Dear Prudence author Emily Yoffe, “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk,” is a classic example.

In her piece, Yoffe recounts a statistic from a 2009 study that 80 percent of campus sexual assaults involve alcohol.  She then gives what she thinks is sound personal safety advice for “young and naive women,” but it’s actually a slippery slope to victim blaming:

Perpetrators are the ones responsible for committing their crimes, and they should be brought to justice. But we are failing to let women know that when they render themselves defenseless, terrible things can be done to them. Young women are getting a distorted message that their right to match men drink for drink is a feminist issue. The real feminist message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will attract the kinds of people who, shall we say, don’t have your best interest at heart. That’s not blaming the victim; that’s trying to prevent more victims.

Whatever point she’s trying to make about how being “defenseless” makes a person ripe for exploitation is lost when you start wagging your finger at young women for not being “responsible.” No one drinks assuming something terrible will happen to them. When young women are raped while drunk — and while not drunk — it is because they are in the presence of a rapist. While I empathize with Yoffe’s frustration at mainstream feminism’s rather one-note tone when it comes to discussing alcohol and rape, the woman is completely deluded if she thinks feminists encourage women to “match men drink for drink.” Actually, Emily Yoffe, feminists are pointing out the sexism in women being constantly told to regulate our behavior without any change from men. The problem is the rapists not being responsible for themselves, not the victims.

Here are some things that would actually stop rape:

  • Men need to listen to “no.”
  • Men need to get an explicit “yes.”
  • Men need to stop other men from committing rape.
  • Men need to respect that “no” doesn’t me “convince me” or “try again later.”
  • Men need to respect that having sex with a girl who is too drunk to communicate or walk is rape.
  • Men need to stop using date rape drugs.

All that being said, I don’t disagree entirely with Yoffe’s argument about inexperienced drinkers. In fact, I have made this point myself in regards to young women and rape. Here’s something Yoffe wrote in her intro that I agree with:

[A] a misplaced fear of blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn inexperienced young women that when they get wasted, they are putting themselves in potential peril.”

It’s scary that the drinking age in America is 21. Who actually waits until their 21st birthday to drink?  Teenagers start drinking, and binge drinking,  at 17, or 15, or 13, or hell, even younger. Young adults drink illegally when they’re underage and that’s a fact this entire nation ignores at their peril. Because young adults are breaking the law and risking punishment from their parents, schools, and sports teams, they hide their drinking. They get fake IDs. They rely on older brothers and sisters and creepy dudes who hang out with teens to buy them booze. They sneak out. They lie about their whereabouts. They lie about who they are hanging out with. They disguise their booze in water bottles. The behaviors that these young adults engage in to keep themselves out of trouble with adults puts them even more at risk if something is to go wrong. And on top of all this, most teenagers are happy to take risks with alcohol consumption (three shots? why not four!) because one feels particularly invincible at that age.

For their part, parents and older adults in young adults’ lives don’t want to risk getting in trouble with the law either, so they check out of the drinking saga.  No adult wants to get arrested for procuring alcohol for minors or be responsible if a kid ends up in the hospital for alcohol poisoning.  Parents are afraid that if they introduce their 16-year-old to drinking themselves, they will look like they are condoning alcohol use and risk having an alcoholic 10th grader on their hands.  So adults avoid introducing alcohol to their kids themselves and then they turn a blind eye to underage drinking with peers, even if they know exactly what is going on. Most parents  are happy to operate under the delusion that their precious darlings are less aware of/exposed to sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll than the kids actually are. It’s almost like parents and young adults have their own form of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

So what we as a culture now have are young adults who are being sneaky risktakers, parents who are oblivious, and lots of alcohol being poured down young gullets.  All of this is endangering teens and young adults when it comes to underage drinking. That all of this occurs in our rape culture — where we excuse sexual abuse as “boys will be boys” and blame victims for being stupid, slutty or asking for it — is especially terrifying. We as a culture make it so damn easy for men and boys to get away with raping drunk women and girls.

You’d be hard-pressed to find parents who will buy booze for their teens and coach them through safely drinking in order to learn their limits. I’m not a parent, but I can imagine that getting your teen falling down drunk on purpose might be a hard pill to swallow.  Still, I would argue that’s exactly what grownups need to do. We teach young adults how to drive cars; let’s teach them — both young men and women — how to drink more safely.  As long as rape culture exists, and it does exist, we have to.

Rape culture is one battle to be fought.  “Inexperienced young women” drinking, as Yoffe put it, is another battle to be fought — and we cannot exclude men from learning to drink safely as well.  I wish Emily Yoffe had argued all this more eloquently, though given her history as a Dear Prudence columnist, I am not surprised.


[Beer cup via Shutterstock]

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