Enter Madam Buzzkill

**Trigger warning for description of violence**

It’s a Friday night after a long work week. A group of friends, four men and two women, sits down for drinks at someone’s house to unwind. All seems well. There is banter all around the table. Someone turns on a radio and music mixes with the sharp notes of quick laughter. A few hours later, a number of drinks have been had and everyone is feeling good, especially one young man who is singing an out of tune version of a once-popular song to the young woman sitting next to him. This young man picks up his drink and his voice soars ever louder and off key as his male friends laugh and cheer him on, finding his antics quite amusing. The young man eventually sits down next to the woman he had been serenading. She is texting someone. The young man next to her does not like this and tries to take her phone. She resists. He tightens his grip on her hand and arm and is eventually joined by another man who grips the woman’s other arm. As the three other people at the table watch and laugh at the developing struggle, the woman still does not let go. For several long moments the Singer persists until he bites the woman’s arm, gives one last yank at her phone, and finally he and his accomplice give up. The young woman is in shock. She does not register the pain in her arms yet. Instead, she feels betrayed by the others sitting at the same table who watched this behavior, which is already beginning to leave a bruise on her arm, and did nothing but laugh. In effect, they encouraged it.

This woman sits in silence while the others at the table continue to laugh and drink. She gets up to pour herself a glass of water. When she returns, the young man who had serenaded her and tried to take her phone from her is standing behind his seat, drink still in hand, swaying on his feet, clearly very intoxicated. His male friends are laughing at him. Every slurred word, every stumbling footstep seems to produce a new wave of hilarity. As the drunk young man spills his drink and is greeted by even more laughter, the woman stands up. She has had enough.

Enter Madam Buzzkill.

The above story is my own. A drunk young man who I considered my friend tried to take my phone and in the process, bit my arm while another, less-intoxicated man had me by my other arm. The young man was clearly very intoxicated, but none of the other people sitting with us stepped in to stop his behavior from escalating to physical violence. I finally had enough of everyone’s inaction and even encouragement of this man’s behavior, so I pulled this young man aside to have a talk with him about how his behavior was unacceptable and could potentially get him into a lot of trouble if he wasn’t careful when he was out in public. When I explained that he had bitten me he looked shocked. He said he didn’t remember it and that he was sorry. I told him that his inability to remember was a cause for concern and he agreed. As I got him to drink some water he explained how he didn’t want to look weak to his friends

Before I could address this with him, the other woman in our party came over to where we were talking, listened for a few moments, then essentially began apologizing for my behavior. I would say something and this woman would suggest an alternative and say something about me along the lines of, “I’m sorry. This lady over here, she’s kind of uptight about these things.” In fact, this woman explained to me later that she basically reinforced that message when she got the young man alone. In essence, she was explaining how I tend to be a buzzkill.

Therein lies the problem. At least in American society, the one I am familiar with, people are socialized to stand by and let things just happen when the situation involves alcohol. Calling people out for unacceptable behavior while drinking is deeply frowned upon because, hey, everyone is just trying to have a good time, right? Who wants to be the downer who warns that maybe Billy shouldn’t drink another beer when everyone else is having a good time laughing at how he’s wearing his pants on his head? No one wants to be ostracized for not going along with the feel good vibes that come with a few drinks.

Truth is, alcohol does not promote good decision making, and a good sense of community responsibility is important.

A feeling of responsibility to those you drink with would make it easier to step in when a situation appears problematic. Is someone acting sloppy? Say something. Is someone too drunk to be going off alone with someone else? Say something. Being able to speak up in these situations requires a deeper sense of community than what may be accomplished by merely sharing a few drinks with some people you may or may not want to see again.

This is a complicated idea to develop in the minds of most people who drink to relax or perhaps even escape. Most people don’t want to add any responsibility to the mix because it’s extra work. When I first started drinking, I did so with a carefully selected group of women. We were all good friends and without any prompting we felt comfortable discussing our limits with each other. With that knowledge established before we started drinking, we had no problem looking out for each other. Once I felt comfortable doing this with my friends, it was an easy step toward doing the same thing with people I was less familiar with when I felt that the situation called for intervention.

Simple awareness and a sense of responsibility in bystanders can help prevent people from embarassing themselves and can even help prevent more serious issues such as sexual assault. However, speaking up when socialization demands our silent compliance is not easy. It will take practice to get used to this idea of action, and it may be met with hostility or resistance. But I have hope that in the future, instead of being viewed as a buzzkill, an individual who steps in could be viewed as acting out of love.

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40 Responses to Enter Madam Buzzkill

  1. Goldiknocks says:

    At the risk of sounding victim-blamey, I have to ask, why are you friends with these people? There doesn’t seem to be any respect for you, for your boundaries, for your desire to not be physically assaulted by drunken boys. Though it may be unfair, the thing that pissed me off the most was that woman apologizing for you! Does she honestly think you were in the wrong? WTF.

  2. gidget commando says:

    Oh, the nerve of you. Thinking you had the right to, oh, I dunno, safety and bodily integrity and autonomy. To think you expected that you had a right to be more than a party favor on demand. Seriously!

    Bless you for having the strength to call that effluvia out. I just avoid it now; can’t put up with the BS anymore. I sincerely hope you inspire a whole military division of women and allied men to fight that foolishness out in the open.

  3. I think most people are afraid of confrontation in general. But when our models for dealing responsibly with situations like these are far from adult, then people fear automatically negative consequences when speaking out. Instead of assuming a satisfactory resolution, we worry about a reaction that will bring with it lots of pain.

    We’re also a society that encourages following the pack rather than standing out and leading. When our lives are stressful enough, an alcoholic state is considered by many a kind of pressure value release which justifies immaturity or at least a lack of responsibility for a brief period of time. However, we need to understand that while how we act while intoxicated is impaired by a drug, we’re still nonetheless bound to the same requirements in force while sober.

  4. You know, back in the day when I was a hard-partying 20-something, about a million years ago… I remember that my condo was a safe place to party. It wasn’t accidental either. I would throw a big party one weekend, and a buddy would throw one at his place the next weekend, and at these parties there were always a couple of more-or-less sober people who were designated babysitters for the rest of us. A couple of guys and at least one gal were always sort of there to keep an eye on things. The normal stuff, like if two guys started arguing someone would step in before it became a fight, or if one of the guys was being a little too aggressive with a gal we’d take him aside and tell him to cool it. If people were obviously too drunk to be hooking up, we’d make sure they didn’t find a private spot where they could make a big mistake.

    I guess it was a lucky convergence of personalities in the right social setting, but in that situation the rules of our social group demanded that you take care of your friends first and foremost. If someone was out of line, they were out of the party and possibly out of our circle and no one made any sort of excuse for it. I think it was that we appreciated what we had, and felt responsible for trying to make sure nothing ruined it. I guess people need to learn that feeling responsible for one another is what keeps the party going for everyone in the long term.

  5. Julian Morrison says:

    What I’ve read about the cross-cultural use/abuse of alcohol seems to imply this constant: alcohol exists as an excuse. Not a cause of misbehavior, but a socially tolerated scapegoat for it. “Calling people out for unacceptable behavior while drinking is deeply frowned upon because” the purpose of drinking is to provide a context for unacceptable behavior. Both for the one misbehaving, and for the amusement of onlookers (which would be just as frowned upon sober). In other words the “buzz” you were killing was not just that of the biter, but also the sadistic slapstick comedy enjoyed by his friends. They are not innocents in this, not at all.

  6. Thomas says:

    Wow. Thanks for posting. The thing that really struck me about your story what that the assailant was apologizing, until the enablers stepped in to undermine you. What I’ve said about rape before is that it is the enablers that create the rapist’s “social license to operate.” That’s true of all sexism, I think. The bad actors could not continue to do it alone; they need the complicity of their social circle.

  7. Jim says:

    “I’m sorry. This lady over here, she’s kind of uptight about these things.”

    Unbelievable. Human bites can very easily turn septic. I was once told that they are typically treated with IV anitbiotics in an ICU because they are just that serious.

    And what Thomas said.

  8. alynn says:

    I tend to not hang out with people who drink to excess or think that violent (or other harmful/problematic) behavior is justified by alcohol, but on the occasions that I do, I also have spoken up. I have a slight reputation as a buzzkill in life in general because I call out insensitive language/jokes, but I’ve been surprised how people seem to support me speaking up when someone is sloppy/inappropriate and out of control. It’s almost like they were waiting for someone to say something first.

  9. Sheelzebub says:

    That woman sounds like a real piece of shit. And so do the guys who were laughing at what was happening.

    I don’t excuse bad behavior by saying someone was drunk. If someone pulls that crap in my circle of friends, I step in and tell them to cut the shit. This has gotten me labled madam buzzkill a few times, but I’ll be damned if a pack of overprivileged weenies are going to act this way and never get called on it. And if they get defensive and start using words like uptight, they’re out one friend–sometimes more. Because who wants to hang out with people who would laugh that shit off and encourage it? Who wants to hang out with people who would dismiss your feelings?

  10. Amanda says:

    I had a good group of friends in college and we regularly went out drinking, but we always made sure to monitor each others’ behavior to ensure that our partying was always safe. I remember having an argument with a hetero guy that I dated (very briefly) about his claim that “girls are always cockblocking guys at parties/bars/etc.” I got really upset with this, because there was very little slut shaming in my group of friends. We encouraged each other to have safe, fun, consensual sexual experiences and we even facilitated it – giving each other rides if needed, providing support. If I ever discouraged a guy from talking to one of my friends or trying to sexually proposition her, it was either because it was clear that she was uninterested and wasn’t articulating it clearly enough because she was being polite, or she was too intoxicated to make a decision that I felt comfortable supporting. I was upset that this man refused to acknowledge that there’s a differences between protecting your intoxicated friends from exploitation and coercion, and “cockblocking.” I hate the idea that the “drunk girl” is a desirable and easy mark, and that far too many men see no problem with taking advantage of her.

  11. I found that a lot of the courage necessary for bucking a potentially dangerous situation at a party is something you have to practice on your own. What I would do is practice saying, in a loud and firm voice, “You must chill! I have your car keys!” None of us are really Lloyd Dobler, but nonetheless we can still ask ourselves WWLD.

  12. I used to drink illegally, I mean illegal as in I was drinking before the age of 21. Now I am more careful about how much I drink and with who. When I did drink the first time it was very traumatic because my best friend at the time almost had alochol poisoning and I almost got sexually assaulted. Thankfully we both had each other so we got out of just fine.

  13. dk says:

    A male classmate of mine got incredibly drunk at a party and then proceeded to “dance” with me. Meaning: he groped and nearly attacked me while friends laughed, and while I did my best to remove myself from his grip and get out from being pinned against the wall. I felt awful, and gross, and humiliated. The following Monday when I saw him in class, he clearly remembered none of it, and I decided to tell him exactly what happened, and why I was upset. I expected him to laugh it off or call me a buzzkill or an uptight bitch, but he actually listened and was clearly upset that he had done that, and apologized repeatedly – authentically, not just to redirect my attention. The next day I came home to find that he had sent me flowers. He later told me that after that incident he paid more attention to his drinking. I would run into him at parties periodically for the next few years, and every time I saw him he was friendly and respectful without making a weird show of it. Just normal.

    It always makes me really happy to remember this – gives me courage to speak up in other situations, even if most guys don’t respond as decently as my friend did.

  14. Vail says:

    Those people would no longer be my friends. And if the bite had drawn blood, I would have reported it, so if this guy makes a habit of it it’s on record.

  15. Miss S says:

    Who you drink with matters a lot. My best friend and I have intervened and interrupted quite a few exchanges for each other with the opposite sex if we thought something wasn’t right. We also aren’t the types to avoid confrontation. We have no problem saying “you need to back up/calm down/leave her alone.” I have another friend that will just get really silent if she feels uncomfortable. And I have another friend that laughs. But if someone was bit? And the girl left the room and then addressed the guy? It’s really messed up for another girl to downplay it. Good for you for standing up for yourself.

  16. Xeginy says:

    I want to repeat what Thomas said (#4) add that sometimes I wish I had the courage to be a buzzkill. I try to tell myself that this time I’ll call out the offensive joke or language, or correct the stereotypes, but I never do. I have everything I want to say in my head…but at the last minute I keep my mouth shut. Being a buzzkill is terrifying to me.

    So while I’m sorry this happened, I applaud your ability to go to that guy and stand up for yourself, risking the dubious title of “madam buzzkill.”

  17. Kate says:

    Joseph Kugelmass None of us are really Lloyd Dobler, but nonetheless we can still ask ourselves WWLD.  

    This rocked my world! My ex used to quote a book religiously that claimed the character of Lloyd Dobler set women up for unrealistic expectations of men. So I told him, “We don’t expect you to BE Lloyd Dobler, but it wouldn’t kill you to try once in a while.”

    Anyhow, this is such an important message Amelia, and I’m so glad you and many of the commenters had the courage to speak up in these situations. I’m especially impressed with the responses some of you mentioned. I dated a very heavy drinker for many years who was prone to bouts of violence and general out of control behavior (including using intimidation or humiliation tactics against me or sometimes random people in bars that he didn’t even know) when under the influence of alcohol. I eventually learned that speaking to him about his behavior WHILE he was still drunk just increased his anger and violence, so I would wait until the next day to discuss with him the way he acted, and his response would always be, “I was drunk,” with a half-assed “sorry”. I very quickly became the buzzkill of our social circle (which was pretty much HIS social circle). Now out of that relationship and in a new social circle, I’ve made it very clear that I’m nobody’s mom, so I don’t expect to act like one. Sure, I look out for my friends. I want them to be safe. I’ve even said, “I’ll pay your bail money, but you’re getting a dirty look when you get out.” But I expect to be respected by my friends, which means not trying to humiliate me to amuse your other friends and certainly not being violent towards me, even under the influence of alcohol. If that is too much to ask, I walk.

  18. Sheelzebub says:

    dk, your comment cheered me up immensely. I’m so glad something positive came of that!

  19. Randomosity says:

    This sort of thing (though way milder) happened to me. A friend and I were having dinner at a bar/restaurant. Guy came up to our table and sat down next to me.

    Guy: You don’t mind if I sit with you.

    Me: I do mind.

    guy: But I just want–

    Me: I said I do mind. Go away.

    Guy: But–

    Me: (louder) I said go away. (he slunk away)

    My friend all this time was clearly uncomfortable and giving me mortified looks that I was oblivious to. I was getting rid of a harasser who would have dominated our night out if I let him stay. She told me I shouldn’t have done that, he was just trying to be friendly. I disagreed and said he sat down before asking permission and that was not a friendly thing to do.

    His three buddies with him sent him back over to try again and I raised my voice, informing him I’d make a scene if he persisted.

    He went away and I told my friend that harassment is not cool and I’d do it again and get the manager if he came over again.

    That wasn’t a buzzkill for me, it actually felt good to stick up for our right to dare to be two women in public without a man.

    My friend has been harassed in nightclubs to the point of being stalked and she still makes excuses for the stalker’s behavior. “He’s just clueless and trying to be friendly.”

    We are socialized to be nice, nonconfrontational, to believe the “he said” and not the “she said”.

    I, like Captain Kirk, don’t believe in no-win situations, so I left the script long ago and encourage others to do the same. Only when we stand up for ourselves and others will things improve.

  20. Becca says:

    I liked dk’s comment too!

    But I have a problem with Improbable Joe’s comment… I know this is a system that works and hopefully keeps things in line. But what does it mean when adults need to have “babysitters?” I never drink to excess because I DON’T want to have to be babysat. I am an adult, I can be responsible for my own actions, and I expect the same of other people.

    But guess that makes me a Madame Buzzkill too….

  21. lindsay says:

    This rocked my world!My ex used to quote a book religiously that claimed the character of Lloyd Dobler set women up for unrealistic expectations of men.So I told him, “We don’t expect you to BE Lloyd Dobler, but it wouldn’t kill you to try once in a while.”

    I read that book – Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman. It’s a terrible chapter in which Klosterman moans about how he (and therefore everyone) wants “fake love” like the kind you see in TV shows and movies, thus losing dates and girls to, you know, their OWN interests. There’s such an undercurrent of misogyny to the whole chapter.

    Anyway, Amelia’s story is just one more example of some men thinking women’s bodies are public spaces. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Jadey says:

    There’s a personal comment to this I want to make that I’ve been trying to articulate, but without success. Suffice it to say, yes.

  23. scrumby says:

    Becca: I liked dk’s comment too!But I have a problem with Improbable Joe’s comment… I know this is a system that works and hopefully keeps things in line.But what does it mean when adults need to have “babysitters?”I never drink to excess because I DON’T want to have to be babysat.I am an adult, I can be responsible for my own actions, and I expect the same of other people.But guess that makes me a Madame Buzzkill too….  

    It’s not about what you want but what you need. Having a sane, sober adult to look out for your interests when you are voluntarily relinquishing control is the mature thing to do. You may not plan to drink that much but what if you get served something a lot stronger than you realized? What if there is an emergency and you need to drive? What if you’re slipped something? Instead of putting a system of limits and controls around temerarious behavior so everyone can feel safe and secure you’re asking them to simply not be reckless. It’s the abstinence-only of drinking complete with the continuing logic that if something terrible does happen it’s your fault because a smarter/better person would have been able to avoid it.

    I don’t think that’s what you were going for but emphasizing the importance of personal responsibility shouldn’t come at the cost of group awareness and protection.

  24. Lasciel says:

    That woman is considered a friend? Apologizing to the guy who attacked her friend-and who ADMITTED he was in the wrong and felt ashamed-and calling her friend an uptight buzzkill because she had the nerve to complain about being *bitten*?

    I think she needs a serious talk just as much as the biter did.

  25. Gembird says:

    Yeah, I’m Madam Buzzkill too. Not so much now, because a lot of my friends don’t drink or they know when to stop, but when I was about 18 (I live in the UK, so that’s legal drinking age) I sometimes felt like I had to be everybody’s mother. I got out of that not by waiting for everyone to grow up, but by finding the people who had already done so. It’s true that people are socialised into playing everything down and not making a fuss- I always though the whole “Oh So-and-so always has to ruin the fun” thing was a (usually) less harmful version of whatever it is that makes people stand by while really horrible things happen to others. Amelia, your story kind of confirms that to me- if these people were okay with a guy biting somebody, where would they have drawn the line? I hope that doesn’t sound like I’m being overly dramatic.

  26. Also…

    Sorry to resort to sexist stereotypes, but any guy who sees another guy grabbing a gal in an aggressive manner needs to punch the attacker in the throat, or he’s not a real man.

  27. Amelia says:

    Thanks to all of you who have shared your experiences. This was a rather difficult story for me to tell because it felt rather traumatic (due, in part, to victim-blaming that I experienced – but that’s not part of this post!). The bite did not draw blood, but it did leave a nasty bruise, and I did have a talk with the other woman and the other men about what had happened and how it was unacceptable. I was well received by the man who bit me, the woman, and one of the other men. This was the first time I had had drinks with these people – and the last. Their behavior forced me to reevaluate my relationships with them.

    I understand how difficult it must be for people to take on situations like these, and I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of. I have always felt odd because I have always been someone who has felt uninterested in “typical” types of social behavior (like drinking – I really didn’t start drinking until I turned 21, and I still don’t drink frequently) and I never really felt ok with playing by the “rules” of these behaviors – like being silent when something bad happens. So I guess I’m lucky in the sense that I feel natually more comfortable with being a “buzzkill,” while some people may have to work harder to speak up in these kinds of situations.

    And Julian, thanks for sharing that. I think that’s an interesting way to think about alcohol.

  28. Amelia says:

    Unless Julian’s comment hasn’t shown up here yet. I read it in my e-mail. Sorry!

  29. Bridget says:

    When someone has a serious drinking problem, they can get really hostile if you try to get them to stop or even slow down their drinking. My “life of the party” ex turned into someone I didn’t even recognize if he perceived me as standing between him and his next drink.

    The problem is that if someone has an addiction, they just can’t be rational about their drinking. I’m not sure if this is the case with the guy in your story, but I am pointing it out because I know I sometimes bit my tongue with my ex because I knew that if I tried to get him to stop drinking or chill out, his behavior would get even worse.

    Ultimately, though, I was the ultimate buzzkill, and dumped him.

  30. Bagelsan says:

    It really does make a world of difference who you drink with (not blaming the OP at all, btw!) because, especially as a woman, you are putting yourself in a bit of a vulnerable position and you may well end up having to count on the people you’re with to help you out. Or to shut you down, when necessary. I’ve had to (drunkenly :p) call out or stop things before — mild stuff, like pointing out to my equally drunk friend that I know she would not be attempting to make out with X person while sober, or more serious things like pointing out that “ch*nk” is NOT appropriate language. I’ve also been the person who says “okay, so-and-so just disappeared into the club crowd with a guy, we need to go check on her.” It’s just part of being a responsible adult, and a good friend.

    I’m not a terribly experienced drinker but I can usually be counted on to have a decent (if occasionally slurred) social conscience –I also often play the outspoken/rude one as needed– while other friends in my college group could be counted on to be the sober one, or the one who could spot a skeevy dude a mile away, or the one who knew the area/public transportation, etc. No one got shamed about it and we all looked out for each other. It’s important to know you can rely on your crowd, and it’s important for both men and women to expect/demand that reliable behavior and stop making excuses/forgiving abominable crap/continuing to hang out with faithless assholes.

  31. HappyTimes says:

    I have two sons…two of the most AWESOME sons in the world. At present, they are 19 & 20 years of age. My home has always been open to their friends, day & night. Many parties have been held here, some with only 5 or 6 in attendance, some with over 40 in attendance. Each and every party was lively (LOUD!!) and filled with very well-behaving kids who followed the rules to the “T”. I gave the kids their space, but always stayed within distance (out of sight, but never out of mind).

    Only one time in all the years did a problem arise. The party was in the basement. Suddenly, I heard yelling and cursing. The boys, especially, were always very polite around me, so to hear the cursing was almost as shocking to me as the yelling. I went downstairs to find out what was happening. I was told in the bluntest of terms that one person was drinking and was attempting to drive away. This behavior simply wasn’t allowed and my sons and their friends were putting a stop to it. Someone else ended up driving the drinker home. He was told the next day, again, by the kids, that he blew it and would never be allowed back.

    My point? These teenagers, between the ages of 16 – 18, were better people, more considerate people, kinder people (shall I go on?) than the group of people you called your “friends”.

  32. Amelia says:

    @HappyTimes: I’m glad to hear that there are people younger than myself who are strong enough to be so responsible. That makes me very happy to hear because if people can start such behavior from a young age they will have more time to potentially influence others in a positive way. But I would like to address the comment about my friends. I don’t want to sound defensive because I hope that I’ve made it clear that I do not find the behavior of any of these people acceptable. I also tried to make it clear (in the post and in comments) that I addressed these issues with the people concerned. In short, no one except myself and those directly involved has the 100% complete story of how I came to be friends with these people or who these people were outside of the story I relayed about them drinking. I think that comments about the quality of my friends or questions as to why I would consider such people my friends sting of victim-blaming (even if unintentional) and do not contribute to the kind of discussion I was hoping to generate around this post.

  33. Miss S says:

    I feel as though I need to clarify. I wasn’t attempting to blame you. I do, however, place blame a certain amount of blame on the people who sat by and didn’t do or say anything. I think your reaction was level headed- leave, come back, and address the situation. When I said it depends on who you drink with, I was really referring to being with people who wouldn’t downplay a bad experience and basically tell you to get over it. I was not saying that it was your fault, or you should have known better. I’m saying that any woman stepping in and downplaying another woman’s experience is more than a little messed up.

    My apologies if it came out wrong. I had a strong reaction to your story and wasn’t as clear as I could have been. There have been quite a few times where my friends and I have had to put some guy in his place. But I know the type of girl, and have been out with the type of girl who would act like it’s not that serious. It’s ridiculous.


  34. Thom says:

    Some friend. She won’t help you when you are being mauled in her home. She insults you for standing up for yourself, and thinks it’s a persistent negative personality trait. That’s not a friend.

    The others who just sat there are questionable too, sorry to say.

    I’m sorry you had to go through something like that when you. That’s horrible. Especially when you think you are with friends you expect that someone will have your back.

    I approve of the idea of having designated sober people at a party. But that’s because I’ve never been able to drink because of meds I have to take, so I’ve always been one of those people at a party. It’s a normal concept to me, and it does help to prevent a lot of problems when someone gets too drunk or a problem happens.

    The designated sober person should be someone who understands that everyone has a right to safety and respect. I wouldn’t count on someone like that insulting host even if she was the sober person. Anyone who thinks “everyone has a right to have fun” or “boys will be boys” isn’t responsible enough.

  35. herong says:

    Thank you so much for this post. As a frequent Madam Buzzkill in college and as a friend to many buzzkills, I noticed an underlying dynamic that is reemphasized here: a “buzzkill” is often a person with less privilege than the persons whose buzz is being killed. Like in the OP’s example, where her lack of privilege and power was clearly asserted against her both in the incident and in the charge of buzzkilling. In my experiences, I was often called a “feminist,” a “liberal,” a “dyke,” etc as if to somehow explain my buzzkilling. “Oh that feminist, she always hates it when she’s bit on the arm after being restrained,” for example. My identity, or other’s perception of my identity, was used to delegitimize and silence my anger or concern and to label me as a buzzkill.

    I contrast this with my experience of when more privileged persons would express concern at a situation, and would not be labeled “buzzkill,” but would instead be praised for their concern for their friends. To be perfectly blunt, at the few large parties I attended in college, if I expressed concern about a situation, I would be a buzzkill and my concern was dismissed, but if the person expressing concern was a dudely dude who held the party-goers respect, then WOW he must be right and he’s so awesome for being so concerned about that situation. Praise would be lavished upon the dudely dude for standing up for the “right thing” in a situation, where I would have been labeled a buzzkill.

    There are many different dynamics at work here, obviously. The male privilege of being able to dictate interactions with those around him. The dynamic of praising those who have power but choose not to abuse it, etc. So again, thank you for this post. It resonated deeply with me.

  36. Bushfire says:

    I’ve been an enabling bystander before and it makes me cringe with regret. Early in college I was drinking at home with a group of people and two people who would NEVER be sexually interested in each other had sex while very drunk. They were clumsy and ended up injured. Even though I wasn’t very drunk and could have easily stopped them, I didn’t, because I thought it was “cool” that they decided to have sex. What a stupid way to think.

    Amelia, some of those onlookers might think about your “buzzkill” remarks until a light goes off in their brains and they turn into “buzzkills” at the next party. It just takes a bit of maturity and thoughtfullness to realize that some behaviours are unacceptable and need to be stopped. I’m a hardcore feminist these days but I used to be a pop-culture-brainwashed teenager, and I had to get here by listening to others. You are a source of maturity and wisdom for some of those people.

  37. karak says:

    I’m a lot more willing to forgive inappropriate or even assaultive behavior towards me if the person is drunk (and the likelihood goes up even more if I’m drunk). The only thing is the behavior has to be unusual for the person. And they better fucking apologize later.

    If, on the other hand, someone is consistently inappropriate or obnoxious when drunk, I’ll call them out on it. I’ll also go after them if they’re being sexually inappropriate–that’s the one that actually scares me.

    I also get really, really angry at the sober people who sit around being useless when I’m trying to keep my drunken friend from punching someone.

  38. Amelia says:

    I feel similarly, karak. In the situation in my post, the men who took part in harming me were displaying behavior that shocked me because it seemed very out of character for them. If that had not been the case, I a) would not have been drinking with them and b) would have been less able to forgive (not forget) what had happened. Even now, though, I still haven’t completely forgiven them. I’m going through that process, though.

    This makes me wonder, though, because these people were not from the US, if there is a different culture of drinking where they’re from, perhaps that sees situations like these differently than they may be viewed in America. This was something I was considering writing about, but decided against.

  39. Becca: I liked dk’s comment too!But I have a problem with Improbable Joe’s comment… I know this is a system that works and hopefully keeps things in line.But what does it mean when adults need to have “babysitters?”I never drink to excess because I DON’T want to have to be babysat.I am an adult, I can be responsible for my own actions, and I expect the same of other people.But guess that makes me a Madame Buzzkill too….  

    Here, let me answer this… :)

    It is sort of like drinking and driving: even one drink has some effect on your judgment. You don’t have to be sloppy drunk to have impaired judgment to some degree. So, having a more sober person looking out for you just means that you accept that you are at least slightly less able to make good choices after a few drinks. And knowing that the other person isn’t drink much or at all does make you more likely to listen to them.

    Most importantly, knowing that there are sober people looking out for everyone else is simply part of creating a safe atmosphere, especially when you have to take a turn every few weeks. It means that there is a level of trust that builds up between people, so that when someone says “hey bud, not a good idea” you don’t even consider arguing with them.

    You sure as hell don’t see many instances of guys grabbing gals and another guy joining in on the assault, and then people pretending that the victim shouldn’t have made such a fuss. What you get is a gal saying “stop” and instantly there are 2-3 people pulling the guy into another room, and someone making sure that the victim hasn’t been hurt.

    It isn’t about being given permission to get plastered because someone will keep you safe. It is about making sure that no one gets hurt because someone makes a bad decision. It isn’t ideal, but we don’t live in an ideal world. We have a responsibility to assume the worst and make plans to mitigate the harm of it.

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