Forum on Women, Drinking, and Rape

Many of you may have read Emily Yoffe’s advice to young women that they should stop binge drinking to prevent rape, for which she was roundly criticized. The New York Times has a ‘Room for Debate‘ forum up on the subject, and it features the ever-brilliant Louise Antony on what’s wrong with telling women not to get drunk as a method of rape prevention:

But the special risk that drunkenness poses to women – that’s due to a social climate that tolerates sexual predation. When we tell young women to stay sober in order to avoid getting raped, we send the message that we do not intend to change that social climate, that we have chosen to regard misogyny as inevitable.

That’s the message that is sent when we tell women to restrain “pleasure-seeking behaviors” in order to avoid life’s dangers. When men get drunk they get sick; when women get drunk they get sick and raped. That’s not because women are less restrained in their “pleasure-seeking” than men are; it’s quite the reverse. And that’s what needs to change.

Read the whole of her contribution here.

17 thoughts on “Forum on Women, Drinking, and Rape

  1. While I think that the criticisms of Yoffe’s article are on point, I think she is definitely on ‘our’ side here and one of the things I hope we don’t lose sight of here is that it *is* good advice to tell young men and women to be very careful about how much they drink when they are socializing. So long as the advice is aimed at both men and women I think this is actually good advice and not at all problematic.

    It is a fact that drinking on the part of men and women leads to an increase not juts in sexual assault but in many other problems (drunk driving, violence, etc) and it is always good advice to tell women that they do have some control over situations that are potentially problematic. I want to be clear, MEN SHOULD NOT RAPE. We should fight against the prolongation of rape-culture. We should raise our young boys to be aware of consent and to have healthy attitudes toward sex and sexuality.*

    Having said that, I think it is valuable to remind women that we live in a rape-culture and, *because* that isn’t going to change overnight, there are things one can do to reduce the likelihood of being the victim of at least one particular kind of sexual assault. One of these things is to be very cautious about what (and how much) one drinks. It is wrong, I think, to assume that this places responsibility on a woman to prevent herself from being raped. A woman is never responsible for being raped no matter how much she had to drink or what she was wearing etc etc. Prudence, however, is a virtue. I would advocate that people in general take precautions, if possible and when known, to avoid being victimized. This does not make the victim responsible for being a victim.

    I think the main thrust of Yoffe’s advice is good advice. I don’t think that is it the only message that should be out there but it is, on its own terms, a good message.

    *I’m taking a predominantly heterosexual stance here toward rape and rape-culture but I don’t want to make it seem as if men can’t rape other men (rape-culture actually sanctions this behavior in many circumstances) or that women can’t rape men or that women can’t rape other women. All of these are a problem.

  2. I think the problem we have includes the views of ejrd. There seems to be the idea that if we are not putting the onus on women to refrain from drinking to prevent rape, that we are leaving them defenseless. ejrd goes on to address the importance of teaching men not to rape, so why put in the qualifier that we still should caution women?
    We are all on some level afraid that misogyny will win, so we hold on to the concession we make to it. If we can’t get rapists to stop raping, then we have no choice but to try to keep the victims from being victimized. Seems intuitive, even though its wrong.

  3. I’d like to hear more Kate.

    I agree that simply targeting women puts too much of the onus on them but I’m not sure why we shouldn’t fight rape on all fronts. It’s true, fundamentally, that men are only just now being confronted with their role in rape and rape-culture. This is good and it should continue. But I’m not sure why what I said was problematic.

    It is important to teach men not to rape. It is also important to teach men and women the ways in which alcohol consumption make one more likely to engage in risky or unsafe behavior and less likely to be able to successfully defend oneself. This is as true for being the victim of non-sexual assaults as it is for sexual assault. When I think about the messages that I would pass on to my own children, I think I would be doing them a disservice if I neglected to tell them that rape-culture exists, that it is bad, and that they should guard themselves against it. Yaffe’s problem was to limit her message *only* to women but the message was a good one (though I think advocating for complete sobriety is a step too far).

    Aren’t we all trying to get rapists to stop raping AND trying to keep victims from being victimized? Isn’t that good sense? These shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. It is one thing to put the entire onus onto women for being raped, it is another thing altogether (it seems to me) to completely ignore the things we could do to make ourselves safer. I agree that historically women have been made to feel responsible for being victimized. I agree that this is problematic. I agree that men should be held accountable for their role in perpetuating rape culture. But I still think it’s good sense to tell college aged women to be mindful of their drinking, to bring friends if at all possible, and to let others know where they are going.

  4. It is good sense to be mindful of your drinking, at any age. The point that I think is important, that was made above, is the message we send when we tell women to be mindful of their drinking to avoid rape. How often do we tell college aged men to be mindful of their drinking so that they don’t rape? Why don’t we? So many rapist committed their crimes while under the influence.
    The message we send when we tell women not to make themselves vulnerable by drinking is the same as the message we send when a victim is asked “what were you wearing?” “why did you go to that party?” or “how many men have you slept with before?”
    That your not just preventing assault, what is done to you by others is your responsibility.
    The message we send contributes to the rape culture, to the reason that drinking is dangerous for women.
    Being mindful of the message we send to women is just as important as the message we send to men. Both messages are problematic, in your comments, it comes across as wishing to change only the male-centric message. While changing that message is important, its not enough, and focusing on that without changing women’s message continues to disregard that victims of rape are further victimized by societies expectations of women, which only perpetuates the misogynist rape culture.

    I am in no way advocating telling women to go out and get wasted, to not be aware of their surroundings, to go off with men they don’t know or do other things that might be dangerous. But we need to be exceedingly mindful of the message we send, because it is the culture that makes these actions dangerous, and the message we send to women both contributes to and is a product of that environment, just like the message we send to men. Telling women just to not allow themselves to be vulnerable just avoids the conversation about that message.

  5. I agree with Emily Yoffe, I think most people arguing about this do not realize that only some British-linked cultures and maybe a few others think it is socially acceptable to drink until they cannot take responsibility for themselves. I argued with a friend that people who drink themselves to oblivion are relying on myself or others to be responsible to take them home or park them in a safe place as if we were their devoted mothers. I read a story in which the woman warned the man in the household not to go out because the banshee had given a warning. He ignored her superstitions, his friend kept him drinking and talking over his business and he left the tavern early in the morning relying on his horse to get him home. His horse did get home, but the man was robbed and killed. Did the author say that the man was entitled to get drunk and talk about all the money that he had on his person because he had a right to expect a bandit-free world? No

  6. I think it’s important to realize that we already live in a world where young women are constantly exposed to messages about rape, messages linked to their own drinking. This is not an exercise where we’re thinking about a possible world. In this world, the one we’re trying to change, there is frankly very little danger of young women not being lectured about what happens to girls who drink too much. If we don’t do it, don’t worry; someone else will. What feminists like Louise Antony point out is that the onus of rape prevention is already put almost entirely on the shoulders of girls and women. Given this fact about the world, how best should we work for change, given our limited resources?

  7. I’m going to elaborate what I “think” the cultural factors are. In previous centuries upper class British male twits were able to drink to excess because they had friends, valets and other servants to get them home and get them undressed and into bed once home. Even in those times not all aristocratic men made it home, or did not commit violent acts which led to their arrests or exile. For feminists to imply that women or even men can imitate those times without having those servants is ridiculous. What is drinking to excess about? Do young people need conversation classes, or asking for sex in appropriate ways classes or alcohol appreciation classes?

  8. Fine, tell women not to drink, be aware etc. That will only send the rapist on to the next more vulnerable victim. It does not solve the problem.

  9. “Fine, tell women not to drink, be aware etc. That will only send the rapist on to the next more vulnerable victim. It does not solve the problem.”
    I think that sums it up pretty well, the problem people have with telling women not to drink is not because there isn’t a reality that drinking might be dangerous, its that sending that message does nothing to change that reality.

  10. A result of endlessly lecturing young women that if they drink, they might get raped is that, when some of them do get raped after drinking, they feel ashamed, blame themselves, and are less likely to seek help that they need and deserve. Yoffe should take some responsibility for this consequence of her argument.

  11. What I’m reading here is very disturbing. It seems that most people agree that you are more likely to be taken advantage of when you are extremely intoxicated. Yet instead of advocating that women protect themselves, some are only focused on the “message” that might send. No one is saying that by drinking too much a rape is your fault. However reinforcing that message seems to be more important to some than giving women information to protect themselves. Rape is never your fault, but if there is something you can do to lessen the chances, why not do it? And why not share that information?

    Another post said that telling women to drink less does not change reality. I beg to differ. If it stops one woman from being raped it certainly changes her reality. Again we’re getting caught up in the message. I would love to live in a world where no one, man or woman, is ever raped again. But that is not the world I live in. Not drinking to excess in an unsafe environment is practicing the same caution we do when we lock our cars and our homes. Yet I don’t think anyone here would argue that if you don’t lock your door and get robbed someone will say it’s all your fault.

  12. Hey women: if you go outside, it’s more likely that you’ll get raped. Therefore, stay in your houses. I mean, hey, if you could do something to reduce your chances of being raped, why not do it?

  13. Girls and women are already told, over and over, about actions *they* need to take to prevent rape. Let’s focus our efforts on something else, since plenty of people are committed to never letting girls and women forget that they could get raped if they dare to take the trash to the curb after 7 p.m. Don’t worry, we already know. Many of us think about it every day. Let’s not pretend that 99% of “rape education” isn’t geared toward what women are or are not doing.

  14. I share DRM’s concerns here. Of course, telling women not to drink doesn’t solve the problem of rape, and inappropriately puts the responsibility on women.

    But there are two questions here that don’t seem to be opposed. What should we be focusing on to bring about the right kind of social changes that will make society safe for women? And, what can a woman going to a bar tonight to watch Monday Night Football do to make it less likely that she will be sexually assaulted? As long as answers to the former aren’t solely constituted by answers to the latter, I don’t see a problem with the kind of advice offered.

    And, to the point that we shouldn’t be encouraging women to avoid pleasure-seeking behavior – I take it that the advice is not “Do not get drunk”, but is rather “Get drunk in a safe place”. That’s good advice for everyone, even though what counts as a safe place may vary for men and women (whether it involves drinking, or parking the car in a lot, or jogging at night, etc.). Of course, we shouldn’t be satisfied with that.

  15. Here’s a great case example of the problem with allowing the focus on telling women to protect themselves from rape rather than fronting the discussion to blaming rapists for rape. Some men are learning that women “can ask for it” by letting themselves get drunk.


    Here is a set up from the ABC program “What would you do” in which a couple of actors pretend that the woman is drunk and the man is going to take her upstairs and rape her. Things are going pretty well until about 6 minutes in,when the bystanders are young men.

  16. The reason I don’t like telling women not to get drunk isn’t because in our society it doesn’t make women more vulnerable to assault, it does. I don’t like the focus on that because WOMEN ALREADY KNOW THAT GETTING DRUNK MAKES THEM VULNERABLE. They do it anyway, why? Because getting drunk is fun, or it is for them whatever they happen to get out of it. Telling women not to drink does not inform them of something they don’t already know, it just underscores their responsibility for what is done to them by others. Alcohol is a factor in many rapes, but rapists are a factor in all of them.
    There is a difference between trying to send the message that women, drunk or sober, virgin or sex worker, at home with the doors locked or out at a club, all women no matter their circumstance, are not responsible for the assaults done on them, and telling women that they should ignore all vulnerability to assault.
    There is absolutely no lack of information for women on how to prevent rape happening to them. Rape still happens. Obviously the problem isn’t a lack of information. So lets look beyond that. Aside from the issue of victim blaming, this should be logical. But as with so many things, logic will fall to the wayside when faced with an easy facade of a solution.

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