Article misses mark on rape culture

For the past couple of weeks, social media and news websites have been buzzing over an article posted on Slate regarding solutions to rape culture.  Slate contributor Emily Yoffe’s main point?

In order to stop rape on college campuses, young women should stop drinking.

Yoffe’s article, as the aforementioned “solution” suggests, focused largely on attacking the current generation’s trends of binge-drinking and hookup culture—a trend I don’t see as necessarily new.

“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.”

While it is certainly true that binge-drinking is ill-advised and has the potential of leading to any number of unsafe situations, it is even more ill-advised to place the blame for sexual assault and battery on beverages instead of perpetrators.

By arguing that the “right” to drink men under the table is not a feminist issue, Yoffe trivializes the matter at hand.

Her standpoint strips accountability from rapists and implies that, in making the decision to drink, women are setting themselves up for almost certain violation, dangerously close to implying that they’ve asked for it.

I am completely in support of knowing your limits and drinking responsibly—but choosing to abstain because someone has told you you’re asking to be violated is completely different.

Yoffe included in her article a narrative on the problems of citing victim-blaming, as I’ve done above.

Quoting an expert she interviewed for the piece, Yoffe wrote, “I’m always feeling defensive that my main advice is: ‘Protect yourself. Don’t make yourself vulnerable to the point of losing your cognitive faculties,’” says Anne Coughlin, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, who has written on rape and teaches feminist jurisprudence.

She adds that by not telling them the truth—that they are responsible for keeping their wits about them—she worries that we are “infantilizing women.” There are inconsistencies in these arguments, however.

Coughlin advocates telling women the truth about their situation—encouraging them to make good choices and acknowledge certain risks; Yoffe infantilizes women, in my view, by implying that that they need to be protected from danger by not participating in “adult” activities and college culture.

This is not to paint consumption as the “right” and abstinence as a “wrong,” but it at least provides leeway to decide without condemnation.

Yoffe’s article leaves little room for such choice, condemning the entire culture instead—“Puking in your hair, peeing in your pants, and engaging in dangerous behaviors have to stop being considered hilarious escapades or proud war stories and become a source of disgust and embarrassment.”

You will notice that the focus here is now completely stolen from rape culture and instead zeroed in on the idea itself of college kids getting sloppy drunk, which in many ways can be seen as a rite of passage—an activity that we learn from here so we know our limits and good behavior in later years.

Yoffe speaks of “infantilizing” young women by not telling them the dangers of drinking and the expectations they should hold in doing so, yet Yoffe’s advice to her own daughter, an incoming college freshman, is flagrantly infantilizing.

“I tell her I know alcohol will be widely available (even though it’s illegal for most college students) but that she’ll have a good chance of knowing what’s going on around her if she limits herself to no more than two drinks, sipped slowly—no shots!—and stays away from notorious punch bowls.”

Staying away from drinks you haven’t poured yourself is always sound advice, but capping your daughter on two drinks and not allowing her to comfortably find her limit on her own is dangerous for other reasons.

What Yoffe fails to recognize is that motherly advice is wonderful and necessary—but our mothers will not always be there and young women must know how to make decisions on their own.

Perhaps what bothers me most about Yoffe’s article is its failure to recognize men.  The inflammatory response I initially had to it was, no doubt, in response to the idea that women should be the only ones held responsible for the amount of alcohol consumed.

Yoffe mentioned that men often use alcohol as justification for their actions, but said little to dismiss that as a viable claim.

The underlying implication  is that it doesn’t matter how much men choose to drink—that they are out of control of their actions anyway, so it is incumbent upon the woman to soberly hold them in check.

The entire article is also structured in a way that completely denies the possibility of women violating men. Overall, problematic.

A statistic from One in Four USA states, “In a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control of 5,000 college students at over 100 colleges, 4 percent of men answered “yes” to the question ‘In your lifetime have you been forced to submit to sexual intercourse against your will?’”

In response to her critics, Yoffe said the following: “Many others said I should have written a piece not focusing on women, but on men, who, after all, are the rapists. I did note in the story the importance of rape education—especially teaching young men and women what consent means and that a highly intoxicated woman can’t give it. But I agree with critics that the education of men is an important issue and I should have hit it harder.”

Once again, Yoffe’s blanket assertion that men “are the rapists” is grossly incorrect.

People, men and women alike, are capable of sexual violation.  Education is one thing, action is quite another.