on Emily Yoffe and the way things ought to be

Women and girls get lied to from all sides. I prefer truth.

So here are two true things: If you’re around men, and you’re drunk enough that you can’t think straight, the likelihood that a rapist will target you is higher than if you were sober. And you will be less able to defend yourself.

Unfair, I know. It ought to be enough to tell men not to rape; end of story; period.

It’s not enough.

Men rape.

As much as I hated the headline (“College Women, Stop Getting Drunk”), I read Yoffe’s entire piece on Slate. Did her critics do the same before they decided she was a mockworthy scold/rape apologist? Because her observations — that women who are drunk are often targeted by rapists, and that drunk women are less able to defend themselves — are common-sense, albeit not the way things should be.

My whole deal is this: I don’t stake my personal safety on the way things should be; nor will I encourage other women — much less teenage girls — to do so, because that would be disingenuous hypocrisy of the worst kind. As much as we thrill to rape-prevention tips for perpetrators — “Don’t put drugs in women’s drinks” — the culture changes slowly and painfully and I don’t intend to be a test case. I’m not increasing my risk of victimization to prove an ideological point. Kind of like I don’t tend to hold hands with my girlfriend as we skip past some rural redneck convention in Killdyke, AZ. It’s so wack and unfair that the onus is on my girlfriend and I to be cautious! We should be able to hold hands wherever we want, without fear of a Killdykian attacking us with a baseball bat!

“Only men can stop rape.” True.

And men rape.

Here’s another true thing I learned from spending time with 18- and 19-year-old women: They’re still developing that mental algorithm which, in women with more life experience, works automatically and quickly when we’re around men. When we walk down a dark street alone, our brains conduct an unconscious series of equations; an internal call-and-response:

I see a strange man coming towards me.

Is he alone, or are there other men nearby?

Is he walking purposefully? or erratically?

Is he carrying anything? Walking a dog?

Do I feel uncomfortable in any way?

Could I get out of this situation quickly if I had to? How would I go about doing that?

Life experience teaches us not to wait when we get that creepy, prickly danger-feeling. We don’t need to spend precious seconds analyzing it, questioning ourselves, or justifying our decision to exit stage left.

Our brains run the algorithm at parties and on dates, too. We’re less likely to stick around because we’re afraid of hurting his feelings or looking foolish. It’s a key part of getting home safe. It’s not theory. Not politics. Life is not a Gender Studies class. You want to talk “lived experience,” I got some lived experience right here for you and so do all my friends.

I care about girls and women. So I won’t tell them that their choices, in a dangerous world, are meaningless. That’s infantilizing.

Our choices matter. Our survival skills matter.

Rape is never our fault — whether the rapist is a stranger, a “friend,” or a partner. We can’t guarantee that we won’t experience sexual violence at the hands of a man, but we can stack the deck in our favor. You can choose not to stack yours in a show of insistence that women ought to be able to get drunk in the company of men without increased risk of rape. You do you.

I choose to stack mine. That’s not blaming victims. That’s me trying not to become one.

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39 thoughts on “on Emily Yoffe and the way things ought to be

  1. Reblogged this on You think I just don't understand, but I don't believe you. and commented:
    “Rape is never our fault — whether the rapist is a stranger, a “friend,” or a partner. We can’t guarantee that we won’t experience sexual violence at the hands of a man, but we can stack the deck in our favor. You can choose not to stack yours in a show of insistence that women ought to be able to get drunk in the company of men without increased risk of rape. You do you.
    I choose to stack mine. That’s not blaming victims. That’s me trying not to become one.”

  2. Another part of reality is that it’s tough to get a rape conviction under the best of circumstances, so when both parties are intoxicated, especially if the woman blacks out, good luck if they didn’t photograph the event in a manner that demonstrated the woman was not sufficiently conscious to resist. Yes, rape trials are no fun for the man either, but there is a lot of social pressure to see them as victims if the lack of consent is not clear.

    I question the wisdom of filing rape charges and going through all that hell if you don’t have a pretty good case. But a tox screen that revealed the presence of rape drugs would change the picture significantly.

    I wish I could somehow convey to all young women how dangerous men are as a class, in so many ways, but as you suggest, there is wisdom that only comes with age.

  3. well actually there is no research showing correlation between female alcohol use and rape victimization – only male alcohol use and rape perpetration.

  4. And another study:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-204_162-599904.html

    “A school’s binge drinking rate was the percentage of students classified as binge or heavy episodic drinkers. High heavy episodic binge drinking schools had more than 50 percent of students in this category; medium heavy had 36 percent to 50 percent of students in this category; and low had 0 to 35 percent classified as binge drinkers.

    Almost one in 20 (4.7 percent) of women reported being raped, and 72 percent of the victims reported being intoxicated while being raped.

    Women who attended schools with high and medium heavy episodic drinking rates had, respectively, 1.8-fold and 1.5-fold increased odds of being raped while intoxicated compared to women at schools with low rates.”

  5. And another:

    http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/supportingresearch/journal/abbey.aspx

    “On average, at least 50% of college students’ sexual assaults are associated with alcohol use (Abbey et al., 1996a, 1998; Copenhaver and Grauerholz, 1991; Harrington and Leitenberg, 1994; Presley et al., 1997). Koss (1988) reported that 74% of the perpetrators and 55% of the victims of rape in her nationally representative sample of college students had been drinking alcohol.”

  6. More research from the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs:

    http://www.jsad.com/jsad/article/Correlates_of_Rape_while_Intoxicated_in_a_National_Sample_of_College_Women/1107.html

    “The study utilizes data from 119 schools participating in three Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study surveys. The analytic sample of randomly selected students includes 8,567 women in the 1997 survey, 8,425 in the 1999 survey, and 6,988 in the 2001 survey. Results: Roughly one in 20 (4.7%) women reported being raped. Nearly three quarters (72%) of the victims experienced rape while intoxicated. Women who were under 21, were white, resided in sorority houses, used illicit drugs, drank heavily in high school and attended colleges with high rates of heavy episodic drinking were at higher risk of rape while intoxicated. Conclusions: The high proportion of rapes found to occur when women were intoxicated indicates the need for alcohol prevention programs on campuses that address sexual assault, both to educate men about what constitutes rape and to advise women of risky situations.”

  7. and even if you D\ID video or photograph that shit, and it goes to court, no saying the courts will put the rapists away. in fact a whole town may turn against you and even burn your house to the ground to protect their precious young white boys

  8. The reaction to that article was unsane. Reading your points about how younger women haven’t worked out the right algorithims to understanding what a threat males actually are to them got me thinking that much of this backlash is no doubt from a youth-identified, third wave perspective. I wish as a younger woman though I had been taught what a threat men actually are. It was a mindfuck consistently having to learn the lesson because every message I got from my elders was contrary to my basic survival.

  9. We all know that men as a class are dangerous. What is of course interesting, given that fact, is that across the board more of the men are intoxicated when perpetrating. The women also are, but not at as high a rate. I’m thinking about disinhibition, and what lends to it. Women who were abused as girls are at a higher risk for rape and other abuse in adulthood, and we all know drinking and impulsive/high risk behavior are readily available ways to numb and normalize pain. So, the disinhibition is happening with the women early on in the interaction with the men — being blinded to red flags, basically, because we have learned to numb and normalize and accommodate from childhood, because when we don’t, we are punished. Also, we are conditioned to seek what looks like male approval in order to be socially accepted by everyone. The more predatory/dominant men encourage other men to abuse substances, and also to rape, and we know this, too. It is part of the training. It is normal for men to be dangerous, and to become a man is to lean into that tendency (ha LEAN IN), and take it as far as possible. A man who is not even potentially dangerous is not considered a man in most circles. The use of alcohol and other drugs can eliminate any pesky traces of inhibition a male might despite his training be inclined towards, and legally they seem to erase his accountability even further (while a woman’s intoxication increases general perceptions of her accountability). And any pesky traces of resistance a female might have on hand get drowned out, too, when she is already vulnerable through various forms of conditioned tendency towards compliance, and the human nervous system’s involuntary responses to potentially lethal threat. A perfect storm.

    I don’t think you are victim blaming at all, phona. You are consistent in your balancing of compassion for all of humanity and naming the agent. I don’t know of anyone who does it quite like you.

  10. The higher percentage of male intoxication can also be attributed to men’s sense of their own invulnerability, and the fact that they can pretty much always count on a woman to clean up the mess. If a white dude falls down in the gutter, the worst that can happen is that he ends up in the drunk tank (well — at worst, an intoxicated man of any race may be victimized by police if he’s not rich – but he’s not rape fodder). A male substance abuser is more often viewed by his peers and outside observers as heroic and picaresque rather than desperate and pathetic.

  11. I find it interesting and sad that you think young women have less defensive instincts than older women. I don’t think rape stats demonstrate that either. I think I was fitter to defend myself between puberty and age 30 because I was stronger, more athletic, more adventurous, and had more opportunity to encounter morons and practice my don’t let morons fuck with me attitude. Now that I’ve aged, my experience is more limited, and my fitness is much reduced.
    As a youth, I was an athlete and an avid hitch-hiker, which freaked all my friends and family out, and they were constantly warning me of all the dangers. Well in fact, according to crime statistics, hitch-hiking is not dangerous at all, not anywhere near as entering into a monogamous relationship (het or gay) with an unbeknownst to you jealous person. Monogamy is such a patriarchal and hierarchical concept, no matter the sexual orientation or sex of those practising it.

    So I’d like to conclude, that based on my experience, it’s more productive to enter risky behaviours with a well prepared “don’t fuck with me attitude” rather than flee challenging life experiences. It’s come really close three times for me, and each time I gave the male a bloody good scare, but those three times were nothing compared the incredible life experiences I’ve had by living a risky life.
    Risk and preparedness, they go together. Being nice kills us, we all need a “don’t fuck with me attitude”.

  12. I wonder why men are not constantly told ‘don’t get drunk around other men because if you do you will inevitably be subjected to male violence.’

    Telling males not to get drunk around other males is a big no no because males have right to consume alcohol whenever and wherever they wish.

    Here in the UK whenever night clubs and pubs close at night there are inevitably groups of drunken males engaged in physically attacking each other and police are the ones having to try and end these male on male drunken brawls. If males ceased consuming alcohol then male on male violence outside night clubs, bars and public houses would decrease dramatically and economically the cost of policing would also dramatically decrease. But men don’t tell other males not to get drunk because it is a male right to consume alcohol in presence of other males!

    Hmm wonder who are the ones telling women ‘don’t do this don’t do that?’ Why it is men of course and some female handmaidens paroting mens’ demands.

    Males make the choice to sexually prey on women and girls and focusing on female alcohol consumption ensures the male perpetrator as usual remains invisible. Alcohol does not cause ‘rape’ rather males make the choice to subject women/girls to rape. Some males target a woman who has consumed alcohol even if she merely had one sip because the male sexual predators know they will not be convicted since the female victim will be blamed because she – horror – consumed alcohol and hence supposedly caused her own rape! No male perpetrator was present – rather ‘rape was the perpetrator!.’

    Many other male sexual predators rape women they know and alcohol was not consumed by either the male perpetrator or female victim prior to male’s decision to commit sexual violence against a female.

    Until such time as the focus is on the male sexual predators and their actions, we will continue to have men telling women and girls ‘don’t do this don’t do that; don’t engage in risky behaviour because this invites male sexual predators to commit rape.’ All of which are victim blaming and invisibilise the male sexual predators and their accountability.

    No matter what a woman/girl does concerning limiting her freedom of movement etc. this will in no way prevent a male sexual predator from raping her if the male sexual predator decides to act on his pseudo male sex right to females.

    We live in a male supremacist system and this is why males continue to commit sexual violence against women and girls with impunity. Focus on the male perpetrators rather than repeating male initiated lies that if a woman/girl doesn’t venture out of her male owner’s home she will somehow miraculously not be subjected to male sexual violence.

    As radical feminists constantly state the home is not safe for any woman or girl because male sexual predators exist in a female’s home or are her male neighbours; male work colleagues; male peers. Nowhere is safe for women and girls because males know they can commit male sexual violence against women and girls with all too common – impunity.

  13. Hecuba, what practical suggestions have you for lowering the epidemic frequency with which men rape women, besides telling men to stop raping us?

    How do you “stack your deck?” Do you choose not to stack it at all?

    I think “handmaiden” is a truly obnoxious, woman-hating term.

  14. Stack the deck to me means not being around men at all, and certainly if I want to drink, I won’t do it around men. Period. We had wonderful lesbian parties, and the only time we were put in danger is when a het woman came and brought her boyfriend, she was outraged when we asked him to leave immediately. Het women think nothing of endangering my life, and I deeply resent them for this.

    So don’t invite men to the party. Boycott them, exclude them, refuse to party with them. Women, it is time to write them all off as rapists or potential rapists, and we need to end it. What do we have to lose? Nothing will change with these monsters. So let’s just say the end, and women will be a lot safer.

    Any frat boy who rapes a woman, close down the frat house, fine it up the wazoo. Any football jerk who does it, shut down the whole damn football team.

  15. Not being around men at all is a rarefied thing; plus I have men in my life that I love very much.

    Every woman stacks her deck in her own way. Or chooses not to. Or stacks it but tells other women not to, which makes her the worst kind of hypocrite.

  16. Re: “don’t invite men to the party” — easier said than done. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to eject a man from a women’s only gathering more than once. Too many women opposed me! Needless to say, they were all very young. Sorry. I’m not being ageist, just saying that young women are so indoctrinated in the myth that we are all the same that they can’t see a creepy guy for what he is. This dude even tried to sit in a chair by the dance floor and watch us, subway open-leg style, as if he were in a strip club. I did actually bully him out of that, especially because there were pre-teen girls who wanted to take their shirts off. Still livid about that 2 years later.

  17. It is just a matter of practical reality. Men who drink rape, being in areas with lots of men and lots of alcohol is simply like running in front of cars at night with black clothing on. There is simply no point in saying that women will ever be safe in circumstances we keep hearing about on the news, frat parties etc. It is very easy to go to places and enjoy the company of women have a glass of wine or two with no men present at all. Very easy, very safe, very practical. Even on a college campus, sororities could host all women parties, and just boycott frat houses. There’s no point being subjected to drunken animals who rape when they are drunk. No point at all.

  18. I’ve been arguing for years that it is vital for lesbians to own property so that we have full control of our own spaces to host events like this. You don’t want to be in male spaces because men are rapists when they drink, just say it, avoid the men and that sends a loud and clear message. All men who drink are a danger to women, period.

  19. SheilaG, It’s not that simple for the vast majority of straight women and girls — they *want* to be around men at social events, even (or especially) social events where drinking happens. And most social events involve lots of drinking. It’s a part of college culture that will change slowly and painfully, if it changes much at all.

  20. re: citizentaqueau and Phonaesthetica (the vowels, the vowels in your names!)

    Yeah I see your point about the difficulty of obtaining it in practice, but I think it’s worth holding as an ideal even if it’s not fully achieved. It sends a loud and clear message that if men don’t stop being rapey, then women don’t want anything to do with them.

    I am sick of the way people talk about partying as if it cannot happen without men. Sure, in public places it will be a problem, so make it private. Make a point. The frat boys doing rape chants? Don’t invite them to the parties. Don’t go to their parties.

    That will send a much clearer message than any kind of training, class or even disciplinary action for rapists. It holds men as a group responsible for creating rape supportive environments. It shows women are willing to put their safety and self-respect first, which is a powerful statement (and not one which is often made). And it shows that men are not essential to fun, so they’d better step up and demonstrate why on earth we should bother hanging around with them at all.

    The conversation above as I see it basically resigns us all to continuing to stay with men and taking precautions. While I see the inadequacies of acting as though men are harmless just because you SHOULD be able to, without even talking about this option you are basically accepting male violence as a reality to live with and work around. Which, while not quite victim-blaming, is not too many shades away.

    Phonaesthetica – you love them very much, I’m sure most rapists have women who love them very much. This is a bit ‘not my Nigel’ don’t you think? And anyway, one man doesn’t mean all men have to be invited. Like I said, it’s the ideal. Have a very strict entry policy.

    I think we have ample evidence that telling men not to rape is basically a waste of time. They really don’t give a shit. There’s no consequences for them. When women leave, that’s when they care. And by then, in the process, we’ll have learned how much better it is without them anyway.

    And anyway – if it’s not our responsibility to prevent rape through how we behave, why is it our responsibility to train men into being non-rapists? Still we are responsible for men’s behaviour in that version.

    Other women will be an issue though for sure. Calls for more consciousness-raising, which, although tough, I think is more likely to work than telling men not to rape.

    And by the way CT, that anecdote is GROSS. And ur right about younger women, well i am not that old but when I was younger I was totally brainwashed.

  21. I like this, Rididill:

    I think it’s worth holding as an ideal even if it’s not fully achieved. It sends a loud and clear message that if men don’t stop being rapey, then women don’t want anything to do with them.

    I am sick of the way people talk about partying as if it cannot happen without men. Sure, in public places it will be a problem, so make it private. Make a point. The frat boys doing rape chants? Don’t invite them to the parties. Don’t go to their parties.

    That will send a much clearer message than any kind of training, class or even disciplinary action for rapists. It holds men as a group responsible for creating rape supportive environments. It shows women are willing to put their safety and self-respect first, which is a powerful statement (and not one which is often made). And it shows that men are not essential to fun, so they’d better step up and demonstrate why on earth we should bother hanging around with them at all.

    So, also. I never want to not-my-Nigel. Every rapist has family and friends who love him. But I’m thinking of the handful of men in my life I’d trust with anything anytime, and am anxious not to lump them in with the vast majority of Men I Don’t Know Who Are Capable Of Anything As Far As My Sexual Safety Is Concerned.

  22. I have a feeling that the standard position about “victim blaming” is kept to out of fear — every time this kind of advice is issued by the police or any other organisation, there will be a huge storm of criticism and not everyone wants to have to deal with it. This is true in British feminism, certainly, on both sides of the rad fem/intersectional divide — responses like “drink doesn’t rape, rapists rape” and “the only thing that increases your chance of being raped, is the presence of a rapist” are standard and anyone who challenges it is accused of victim blaming.

    A few years ago I came across a post on the blog “Sociological Images” in which they were criticising Transport for London’s posters telling women not to take unlicensed minicabs (minicabs are cabs that have to be pre-booked, unlike “black cabs” which have to be a particular type of large vehicle and can pick you up without being booked), and certainly some of them were tasteless and certainly there are dangers other than rape in taking an unofficial cab (which is really not a cab at all, just some guy who’s gone out looking for people who need a ride) rather than a proper cab which is traceable, and where the driver is subjected to background checks and the vehicle to maintenance checks — the fake cabbie could be a robber or his engine could drop out. Anyway, when I pointed all this out, someone accused me of justifying attacking people in the underground economy, like this was just a matter of selling Coke (the drink) on the street. But most of the criticism was about “victim blaming”, when in fact it was warning of a serious danger.

    Like you say, some of this shouldn’t have to be said, but does. I think some of these feminists are doing younger women a disservice by trying to suppress advice that could save them from coming to harm (young women going away to college on their own for the first time particularly need to know these things, and not just to do with drink but, for example, that some men will “invite themselves” round to a female student’s lodgings to “help with their revision” or “have a meal” and then demand sex). It’s no more victim blaming than telling people going away to a malarial zone to take their medication, or telling people not to dive in shallow water as many people have become paralysed doing that. True, men know how not to rape, while a mosquito doesn’t know how not to bite, but I’d want to know if there was a danger, whatever its origin, and I’d want my sister to know as well.

  23. Well-said, Matthew.

    I’ve known so many high school senior girls going off to college who truly *don’t* know how dangerous men can be, especially men who have been marinating in porn for 10+ years, who are twice their weight, who have been drinking, and who maybe even on their *best* day have a hard time hearing “No.”

    From what I’ve observed, 17-and 18-year-old women can be quite innocent. They assume all men are pretty much like their brothers at home, and they’re excited to start their college social lives.

    I’m sure as hell not going to tell them to take risks I wouldn’t take myself in the interests of proving an ideological point, because the aftermath of rape is a long, painful, expensive-in-a-deep-way thing that A WOMAN LIVES WITH FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE. Any political discussion about whose fault rape is, is MEANINGLESS to a young woman who has to get up the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, and integrate her rape into her life story. Forever.

  24. That is so true, especially if rape is her introduction to sex. It’s scarring and distorting and one can never be truly free of it. One never gets to have the experience of a naturally developing sexuality. Unfortunately there is this sense that it’s possible to sort out rapists from men who behave ethically towards women, that one can see it coming. Nope, it blindsides you, often coming from men you’ve decided to trust, sometimes for a long time, which adds a terrible confusion to the violence, a sense of being punished when you don’t have the slightest idea what you’ve done wrong, because you must have done something wrong or this wouldn’t be happening..

  25. There is a problem with men feeling entitled to rape. The falt is on their end, but they are given the go-ahead by socieity at large. It use to be that you can duck in to the ladies room to get away from a pushy guy, but I dont see this ending well if men are allowed into the female bathroom by excuse. It will open the door to ‘nowhere to go’

  26. Not wanting to go on about this, cos it’s a derail really (or is it? not sure..) but

    “But I’m thinking of the handful of men in my life I’d trust with anything anytime, and am anxious not to lump them in with the vast majority of Men I Don’t Know Who Are Capable Of Anything As Far As My Sexual Safety Is Concerned.”

    Isn’t that the essence of not my Nigel-ing? As Mieprowan says, often it comes from men you’ve decided to trust. I think one of the worst parts has got to be the realization that your sense of who is safe or not can’t be relied upon.

    And once you go down that road, where does it end? Every woman has men they trust, but do we trust their judgment of those men? Do we trust our own? If they are to trust ours, then we must do the same (when it comes to allowing friends to invite male friends to parties) at least until shown otherwise.

    I know this is kind of contradicting what I said before but I’m just trying to think it through. Like I said, I think the option should always be on the table, and SheilaG yeah I think property-owning is really important. We should be able to have control over our environments.

    “Any political discussion about whose fault rape is, is MEANINGLESS to a young woman who has to get up the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, and integrate her rape into her life story. Forever.”

    Surely the whole reason this political discussion exists at all is because victim-blaming is incredibly meaningful to victims and how rape affects their life afterwards?

    I get your point, like it’s totally meaningless to know it wasn’t your fault if you took massive risks and placed yourself in danger.

    At the end of the day, there is a big difference between saying, ‘oh you got raped, well boys will be boys, why weren’t you more careful?’ and saying ‘men are likely to try and rape you, look out for yourself’.

    One lets men off the hook, the other is a pretty extreme condemnation. Unfortunately, both result in advice in how not to get raped so the nuance is quite subtle.

  27. Surely the whole reason this political discussion exists at all is because victim-blaming is incredibly meaningful to victims and how rape affects their life afterwards?

    That is party why it exists, yes. I think it’s also a part of the discussion re: reducing the number of victims in the first place.

    To clarify: What I meant was that all the “not your fault”s in the world help, sometimes. When it’s just you, alone in the room with your trauma, there are days and nights when the light leaving from “it’s not your fault” won’t reach you for another several million years and all you want is for it not to have happened. “It’s not your fault” will help later, once you’ve internalized it, but not during those days; those nights.

    People try to help, but nobody’s got to live with it except you.

    Another clarification: I’d never ask another woman to trust any of my (platonic) Nigels on my say-so. That would be condescending and dismissive of their right to make decisions about their personal safety. I was just thinking of men I feel that safe with; men who’ve earned my trust.

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