I have just finished reading an article in the Wall Street Journal, by James Taranto, which has left me feeling nauseous and sad. Not a cute combination. Taranto is a member of the editorial board at WSJ, as well as the ‘author of its popular Best of the Web Today column’, so he is not just random dude. The article is entitled ‘Drunkennes and Double Standards: A Balanced Look at College Sex Offenses.‘
Right off the bat, I know I’m in for it. Sex offenses aren’t balanced. There is a perpetrator and a victim. Rapists are to blame for rape. So, yea, what’s his overriding argument?
What is called the problem of “sexual assault” on campus is in large part a problem of reckless alcohol consumption, by men and women alike… If two drunk drivers are in a collision, one doesn’t determine fault on the basis of demographic details such as each driver’s sex. But when two drunken college students “collide,” the male one is almost always presumed to be at fault. His diminished capacity owing to alcohol is not a mitigating factor, but her diminished capacity is an aggravating factor for him.
He also mentions false accusations, which as I’ve stated before make up around 2% of all accusations on a generous day. Women are not getting drunk and consenting to sex, then making false accusations fueled by their regret and resentment. “Had she awakened the next day feeling regretful and violated, she could have brought him up on charges and severely disrupted his life.” This almost never happens. Women are not slinging accusations willy nilly, especially given the nature of an investigation, the toll it takes, and how often victims are harassed and shamed when their stories are actually true. He goes on, “What is called the problem of “sexual assault” on campus is in large part a problem of reckless alcohol consumption, by men and women alike.” And this, this is an interesting sentence.
I do not disagree that alcohol consumption, in excess, is dangerous for both men and women. I also don’t disagree that having sex while black out drunk is a bad idea for both men and women. For one, drunk people are usually measurably less responsible, so contraception is likely disregarded. Boundaries can also be crossed due to diminished communication, and usually drunk = sloppy which can result in a sub par experience for all. But the most important issue here is who can give consent. If neither party is capable of making rational decisions, then what follows is a messy grey area. Which can be emotionally damaging, or just awkward.
There are a whole lot of assumptions when you make the claim that BOTH PARTIES ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT. You assume that everyone is the same amount of drunk. You assume everyone has positive intent. You assume that men are victims at the same rate as women. You assume we live in a world where sexual assault is an accidental oops, where men are just confused by ladies who claim to be liberated but are really pretending and then want to save their own reputations by destroying someone else.
Again. Cause none of those things are true. What is true is that rape happens at an alarming rate, everyday, to all kinds of people. It happens to men and women. It happens to college students and to high school students, to children, and to adults of all ages. It happens across race and class lines. And the only way to prevent it from happening is to teach people how not to rape. It’s to teach everyone that violence and aggression are not linked to ‘real masculinity’. It means teaching everyone what true consent means, and it means decoupling sex from shame. Women should not have to stay sober to avoid being raped, because that doesn’t work anyway. Are there good reasons to help college age kids learn to control their levels of intoxication? Absolutely. Is one of those so they don’t get raped, or accidentally rape someone? No.
The author also sites a widely circulated article from Slate last year to boost his argument, quoting the author:
…she offered the same advice to college men: “If I had a son, I would tell him that it’s in his self-interest not to be the drunken frat boy who finds himself accused of raping a drunken classmate.”
Tell me how sad that quote makes you.
The author of that piece, Emily Yaffe, would tell her son that it’s not in his self interest to find himself accused of rape. Not that he should respect women. Not that he should be sure to only engage in consensual sex. Just that it would be bad news bears FOR HIM, for his life, if he were in a situation that allowed him to be accused of raping a drunk girl. The lack of empathy and compassion in that line of thinking is truly astounding.
The end point of Taranto’s piece is that chivalry should make a come back, because men and women are different, despite feminists instance of equality, and the balance of power in sexual encounters is uneven. He is only 1/2 right. The balance of power is still often tilted in the direction of men. This does not mean, however, that women are naturally more prudish or inclined towards monogamy. It means that we live in a culture that perpetuates base misunderstandings about gender and that de-values the bodies and well being of women at an alarming rate. It means that we all must strive to be more honest with ourselves and with our partners, and to treat our sexual partners as actual humans and not as a different species that we must apply different rules to and ‘figure out’. Yes means yes. You do not have the right to ever touch another human intimately without their expressed approval. And sure, I’m down for giving out basic safety advice like 1) learn to control your consumption 2) travel in groups 3)be aware of your surroundings. But that advice isn’t limited to just young women, and it applies to violence prevention in all forms.
Because the only advice we need to give on rape prevention is: Don’t rape anyone.