There’s a lot of horrible to unpack in Emily Yoffe’s essay on rape drinking, so I’m going to do it in bits and pieces. The first thing I’d like to address is this bizarre notion that some sort of conspiracy of silence is is keeping the truth about alcohol from women, who wander through college campuses with all the alert savvy of bunny rabbits.
But that’s simply not the case. A simple Google search will unearth many of the PSAs, the pamphlets, the self-appointed custodians of female alcohol intake. Moreover, I can tell you that as a young, vulnerable, freshman in college, the only fact I knew about rape was that it happens to drunk girls.
I did not know that approximately thirty eight percent of rapes are committed by a friend or acquaintance, twenty eight by an intimate. I did not know what I was entitled to under federal law by way of school support, should I be raped. I did not know that rapists seek out those who are least likely to tell, or be believed. I did not know that evidence suggests most rapists are serial and calculating offenders. I did not know that a key part of their success depends on making victims feel that what happened wasn’t really rape, or that they are somehow responsible. I did not know that new freshman, unsure of their place in the community and desperate for acceptance, are targeted at higher rates.
I did know that there was no supportive community of older women, women with more social power, dedicated to both policing social spaces and supporting the victims of rape. I knew that I was pretty much on my own.
Rape was constructed for me as a sort of dance with mutual and equal obligations on both sides. Men have an obligation not to rape, and women have an obligation to not get raped. The best way I knew how to fulfill my obligation was by not being the kind of women who gets raped–not a drunk, not promiscuous, because rape happens to drunk girls.
Other women threw themselves into the rituals of drinking and flirting, gaining in social power what they lost in seclusion and rule-abiding. This was a rational choice; if rapists are targeting the powerless, making yourself highly visible on your school’s social horizon can be a very smart move. When the emphasis in rape prevention is on the individual’s responsibility or ability to prevent her own rape, women understand that it’s every broad for herself, and act accordingly.
I want to stress here that college women are not idiots unable to figure out how alcohol works, or too vapid to prioritize anything but a quick thrill; they are often making rational choices about negotiating an environment that is deeply hostile to them.
College women are good at picking the implications in our discourse, too. They internalize our framework of rape prevention and its obligation to not be victimized; when they are victimized, they understand themselves to have failed somehow. I know of at least one women who refused to report either of her two rapes. She had been stupid, she knew, and she would do better next time. Easier to work on her own behavior than to publicize her failure and shame.
Emily Yoffe’s blinkered rules for rape prevention (two drinks only, slowly, no punch) correspond to a moral understanding of rape as something for men to passively refrain from and women to actively avoid, where the primary problem is failure to abide by a few simple rules for appropriate feminine social behavior. This in itself is unfortunately not surprising; what is surprising is that her total oblivion regarding the actual dynamics of campus rape and female behavior should not have disqualified her from promulgating said concept in a public forum.