Emma Lindsay responds to an all too common argument about women’s responsibilities with respect to alcohol and rape
Image: cc flickr/Richard Pritchard
By Emma Lindsay
Apr 25, 2016
TRIGGER WARNING: This article and pages it links to contain information about sexual assault which may be triggering to survivors.
I was reading this piece by a woman who interviewed a misogynist tool, and the author quotes said tool making a fairly common argument about women’s responsibilities with respect to alcohol and rape:
“Life is about mitigating risk,” he said. “Is it true that women should be allowed to go to a party and consume as much alcohol as she wants without fear of being harmed in any way? Absolutely. But I also believe life doesn’t necessarily operate that way, and you need to understand the structure of society.” He was just getting started. “People don’t say, ‘Don’t blame that person; she left her diamond ring in the car and unlocked.’ People would call that woman an idiot … but when it comes to the crime of rape people say it was fine that you blacked out on a densely populated campus at 3 a.m.”
Now, a lot of feminists will just leave this here as self evident of rape culture. However, I’ve heard some version of this argument many times, and I’d like to break it down a bit further because — superficially — it does sound reasonable. I mean, yes, I would think someone who left a diamond ring in an unlocked car was dumb, so I will not judge you if some part of your brain is sort of thinking “this kind of makes sense…”
However, Mr Tool’s analogy is painting an unrealistic version of reality. He acts as if most rape happens because women often go to parties alone, overindulge, then pass out publicly. Then, while many “good men” will walk by and ignore her, the chances that one “bad man” will walk by her and have his way with her is fairly high and golly gee she should have known better.
However, I’ve been to college — I’ve been to a heavy drinking college — and this isn’t how it happens. First of all, in my experience, it’s far more rare to see a passed out woman than a passed out man. Women tend to go to parties in groups, and will usually try to get their friends the fuck home if it looks like one is going to pass out. While I have seen plenty of women passed out in their own spaces (bedrooms, suites, etc.) it is more rare to see women passed out in public spaces. My male friends, however, seem to have many stories of drunkenly passing out in bushes or ending up half undressed on someone’s lawn. It’s funny to hear, but I’ve never known a woman to do this. Maybe men assume lots of women are passing out shit-faced alone because that’s what they do?
The times women do end up alone, I think it is common for someone to have consciously split her from her friends. I’ve been on the other end of this. I was out drinking with some girlfriends, and some guys came and flirted with us. One of the guys kept placing his body between my friend and the group, and separated her from us. Something felt deeply wrong to me when that happened, so I spent about half an hour running around trying to find my friend. I couldn’t. The night didn’t end well, but it’s not my story so I won’t share it. I still feel guilt about that night though. Because I was flirting with one guy, I wasn’t aware of the danger my friend was in from another. I feel like I let her down. But, it wasn’t my fault and it wasn’t her fault. That guy intentionally manipulated the situation to try to get my friend in a vulnerable spot. That’s not encountering a diamond ring in an unlocked car, that’s more like rummaging through the drawers of your host’s bedroom when she’s entertaining downstairs.
However, even that is quite rare. Those men were strangers to us, and the vast majority of sexual assault happens from someone the victim knows and trusts. That’s how it happened to me. I was out drinking with some friends, a close friend I’d known for years asked me if I wanted to crash at his place, and I said yes because it seemed like the safest option. Because I knew him. Because I trusted him.
A better analogy would be, you take your diamond ring to the jeweler to get resized. A friend offers to pick it up for you on their way home from work, and you say “Thank you so much! That’s so convenient!”
Then, when you see him that night he says “What ring? You never asked me to get a ring.” Suddenly, you’re deeply confused. You remember him offering to get that ring, but maybe you’re misremembering? You go home, and double check that you don’t still have the ring. You don’t. You call the jeweler and ask if he still has the ring. He says he doesn’t, that your friend came and picked it up.
“Who?” you ask, “Can you describe the person?” and the jeweler describes someone who looks exactly like your friend. And, slowly, it dawns on you that your friend stole your ring.
It is hard to describe how unsettling a deep betrayal of trust is. It leads you to doubt yourself. Suddenly you and this other person have different versions of reality, and you’re not sure if you can completely trust your own.
What is so damaging about analogies like the one that guy made, is that they set up a false argument. Suddenly we’re debating if women have the right to get drunk as fuck in public while ignoring the reality that most women are raped in private. We act as if women should expect there to be a few bad apples among strangers when the reality is that they should be wary of their friends. Because here’s what I think — I don’t think only “bad people” sexually assault people. I think sometimes “good people” having a “bad time” sexually assault people. I think that guys who everyone thinks are stand up guys, who seem kind and gentle, sometimes sexually assault people.
We are terrible at identifying the traits of a potential sexual assaulter. This fiction about the type of person who commits assault and the circumstances under which they’d do it is perpetuating the problem. If you want to spot a sexual assaulter, forget about nice. In fact, too nice can be a warning sign of someone highly repressing themselves in public. What you want to look for, is does this person care about what I am feeling? If you look back at that original paragraph, nowhere does this guy even consider why women would want to go out and drink. “Sure she should have a right to drink till she passes out, but that’s not reality,” is his argument. Nowhere does he ask, why would a woman do that? What would it feel like to be a woman who passed out drunk? What are the circumstances in her life that brought her there?
Because, if you ever do see something like what he described — if you ever do encounter a passed out woman on a college campus —there’s a good chance something went wrong for her. She might have been roofied. She might be an 18 year old freshman who had no idea of her alcohol tolerance. She might have just discovered her mom has cancer, and drank herself into oblivion because she can’t face the reality of the situation just yet. So, then the question becomes, what type of community do you want to live in? Do you want to live in a place that helps people out of their lowest moments, or do you want to live in a place that punishes them for it?