I’ll get drunk if I want: Why victim-blaming is never a feminist act

As Miriam mentioned yesterday, The Frisky published a post called, “Why Being Drunk Is A Feminist Issue.”

The more I think about alcohol and its relationship to sexual assault, the more I am convinced that binge drinking is a feminist issue—one that young women in the U.S. need to think about in addition to more obvious issues like equal pay for equal work, better access to gynecological care, and the need for more women representing us in government. Extreme drinking—the kind we see on “Jersey Shore,” the kind we know goes down on college campuses all across the country, the kind we see around us in bars on weekend nights, the kind that fueled “The Hangover,” the kind that inspires all those “last night, I was so drunk” stories that people like to tell—regularly puts women in danger in the name of a good time.

In an ideal world, rape wouldn’t exist. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t matter how much a woman had to drink, what she was wearing, or what overtures she had given—no man would ever consider sex without explicit consent and would recognize that anyone who is deeply intoxicated is unable to give consent. But we don’t live in that world. Unfortunately, short of some Herculean sensitivity raising effort, we do not have control over what men, drunk or sober, will do when presented with our drunkeness. What we do have control over is our side of the equation—how much we drink.

At Feministe, Jill counters with her own version: “Why Wearing Mini-Skirts is a Feminist Issue.”

The more I think about sluttly clothing and its relationship to sexual assault, the more I am convinced that mini-skirts are a feminist issue—one that young women in the U.S. need to think about in addition to more obvious issues like equal pay for equal work, better access to gynecological care, and the need for more women representing us in government. Extremely revealing clothing —the kind we see on “Jersey Shore,” the kind we know women wear on college campuses all across the country, the kind we see around us in bars on weekend nights, the kind that fueled “Charlie’s Angels,” the kind that inspires all those “last night, I looked so hot” stories that people like to tell—regularly puts women in danger in the name of a good time.

In an ideal world, rape wouldn’t exist. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t matter how much a woman had to drink, what she was wearing, or what overtures she had given—no man would ever consider sex without explicit consent and would recognize that a short skirt isn’t an invitation to rape. But we don’t live in that world. Unfortunately, short of some Herculean sensitivity raising effort, we do not have control over what men, drunk or sober, will do when presented with our bare legs. What we do have control over is our side of the equation — how much we decide to show.

I think you can probably tell where this is going. I don’t have much to add to Jill’s take. I especially appreciate her point that consent is not actually a tricky thing. In a healthy sexual interaction, even between drunk people, there is little gray area “if you think of sex as something that both partners…do with each other.” And if you are someone who has trouble with that concept when you’re several drinks in, well then you should probably not get so drunk if you want to avoid being a rapist.

Reading the Frisky piece, I was reminded of this article about the NYPD rape case that says women are generally known to be more judgmental jurors in rape cases–especially if the victim was drinking:

“It’s a well-known fact that, in rape cases, you generally don’t want women on the jury,” says trial lawyer Lisa Bloom. “Women have said to me, ‘How could she have let herself get so drunk?’ Maybe it’s self-protective, the idea that this could never happen to you.

This kind of policing of other women is, of course, nothing new. And it’s sad. But it’s also understandable. Because we all want to have control over our lives and our world. Believing that you can avoid getting raped if you just don’t get drunk or wear mini-skirts means you don’t have to acknowledge that you too could become a victim. And believing that you can prevent rape by urging all women to do the same means you don’t have to tackle the “Herculean” effort of creating a world in which rapists don’t rape people anymore.

But make no mistake: building that world is the feminist project. And all victim-blaming, even when motivated by a sincere desire to “help women,” ultimately sets that project back. I think my feelings on the matter were best articulated by Savitri D. at last week’s anti-rape rally in NYC:

“We should be allowed to be vulnerable. We should not have to be vigilante every moment of every day…We should be allowed to drink a few fucking beers. I’ll get drunk if I want!”

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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