“Young women need to avoid drinking to avoid rape” is going around as good advice again, first from Emily Yoffe over at Slate and then from a series of other commentators. Lots of feminist writers have covered this ground before, pointing out that it’s victim-blaming. If it were actually effective, there might be a better argument for it. But there’s not — and in fact, it ends up giving cover to rapists:
Focusing on women’s behavior reinforces the very stereotypes about women, drinking and sexual availability on which rapists themselves rely. Sexual predators do not tend to assault the first woman who crosses their path; they choose their victims based on who they think they can get away with assaulting. To evade responsibility, they rely on deeply held cultural ideas about women’s sexuality, which, on college campuses, often means a perpetuation of the “drunk slut” narrative — the one that says women who drink are sexually available and licentious “girls gone wild,” doing things under the influence that they would not do otherwise, and titillating for a male audience — even a source of male bonding — but not deserving of respect or decent treatment.
Sexual predators target, and can continue to target, drunk women precisely because of that social narrative. They wager that their peers, college administrators, police officers and juries will likely see an intoxicated victim of sexual assault as not guilty, exactly — but also not as innocent as a woman raped by a stranger jumping out of the bushes. They know that the woman herself will be more likely to feel conflicted and ashamed, as though she has made a terrible error. Because of this long-standing narrative, those who commit sexual assaults know they are less likely to be reported, let alone arrested, prosecuted or punished, if the woman was drinking.
They know that because society tells them so. When we tell women that getting drunk makes them vulnerable, and that the best way to avoid assault is to abstain or to “drink responsibly” (a term that is, by the way, rarely defined), we feed, and feed into, that narrative. The broader message we are conveying is that women who drink are at least a little bit negligent, and thus a little bit liable for any potential victimization.
The full piece is here. I hope you’ll read it.