Quick hit: Roxane Gay on that advice column

Prudence, dear
*Trigger warning*

I’m not going to link to it here, because it was cynical, atrocious link bait, but if you want to go find the Slate advice column about how women can just magically stop rapists from raping by not getting drunk, you can go do that. But you’re better off reading Lori’s takedown, or Roxane Gay’s response, a piece about how royally messed up our collective conversation about sexual assault is:

We have to talk about young women exercising better judgment to reduce their risk because it’s such a seductive fantasy: If we’re good enough girls, maybe we won’t get raped. Slate’s Emily Yoffe offers the latest iteration of this fantasy in a piece that purports to advocate common sense. Young women should avoid binge drinking; they should avoid making themselves unnecessarily vulnerable. Yoffe essentially suggests that an excess of alcohol in a woman’s bloodstream turns otherwise normal men into rapists, so we best avoid that. Yoffe also works through her own anxieties as a parent. She has a daughter heading off to college next year, you see. And of course, there is this incontrovertible evidence: “I have never been so drunk that I browned out, blacked out, passed out, or puked from alcohol ingestion.” If she can maintain her self-control, so should we all.

It’s natural to dismiss Yoffe’s piece and others of its ilk as click bait, but these pieces continue to get published because they satisfy the cultural narrative that victims are ultimately responsible for their own violation. It’s well and good to suggest that predators should avoid predation, that rapists should just stop raping, but no one wants to hear this brand of genuine common sense that places the culpability for sexual violence where it actually belongs. We don’t dare imagine such a perfect world.

Instead, we surrender to our cynicism. We continue to remind young women that they should make better decisions, drink less, wear modest clothing, remain chaste, avoid walking alone at night, as if there is some ideal combination of respectable behaviors that will definitively protect women from sexual violence. Why don’t we just tell women to avoid going to college while we’re at it? The most absurd part of Yoffe’s piece is the suggestion that we’re “reluctant” to tell young women to stop getting drunk, as if tactics for rape avoidance have not been a constant refrain for young women throughout their lives.

Gay is right that these articles, these excuses we make for rapists, satisfy a cultural narrative. But they do something else: they ensure that that cultural narrative survives. They strengthen it. They make it harder to break it down. It’s a cycle, and Yoffe did her part this week to make sure that the cycle keeps on turning. Go read the whole thing.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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