Tuesday, November 02, 2010
Alcohol Doesn’t Rape
A couple of initial items today! First, vote for BARCC in the Stay Classy Awards! BARCC’s been nominated for a whole bunch of different things, including charity of the year and best use of social media. I’m not saying that last nomination is entirely due to what Shira and I write here, but I’m basically saying that. If BARCC wins, not only is it a cool honor to get, but there’s dollarbucks involved. BARCC can seriously use more currency to continue it’s mission, so please get your vote on.
Item two: get your vote on.. I can’t be partisan (too much) in this space, but I can encourage people to exercise their franchise. Do it! Go participate in representative democracy!
Ok, administrative announcements complete. Real post commence.
Last Thursday night was the annual BARCC Gala. Because BARCC’s development team is full of rock stars and royalty, the gala raised a ton of money and was a great, fantastic, wonderful experience. Part of the great, fantastic, wonderful experience of said gala is that there is free alcohol (well, free beer and wine, anyway). It’s a cool occasion to get all dressed up, hang out with fellow volunteers, board members, and other folks committed to ending sexual violence, and get (a little) hammered at the same time. I have a habit of bringing friends who then end up volunteering with BARCC after they realize that it’s such a cool organization, so if you want to work with BARCC but aren’t sure you’d fit in, contact me next October and I’ll bring you to the gala. And you can check out my pocket watch, too, since I bust that out for big events like this.
Back to the alcohol, though. Because the CAPS team is full of exciting, extroverted people, we liked to get our talk and good times on. I enjoyed some beer ahead of dinner, and maybe had a little too much wine during dinner itself. Afterwards, I might have had another couple of drinks in the hotel bar. I’m a big dude, but I’m not impervious to liquor. The next morning, my head let me know that I perhaps would have been wiser to be a little more restrained in my enjoyment of the evening. Glancing over some friends’ facebook statuses, it was pretty clear that I wasn’t the only person who felt that way. Hang-overs are good times!
Now, it might seem strange or even inappropriately to write so flippantly about alcohol on the rape crisis center blog. Alcohol and sexual violence have a fraught relationship, or at least we’re often told they do. We get a wonderful study every now and again that tells us that women who drink are more likely to be raped. We hear this especially on college campuses: drinking impairs decision-making. Make good decisions, don’t drink, and be clear about communication. The reason I don’t have a huge problem writing about drinking on the BARCC blog is that alcohol is a boogey man for sexual assault and violence. It’s an easy out for people who want to keep things the way they are now without having to address the root causes of sexual violence. Alcohol use slows reaction time, lowers inhibitions, impairs decision making, and makes people voluntarily want to sing karaoke. One thing alcohol cannot do, however, and has never done in the history of humanity, is rape someone.
Jill tackled a lot of this really well back earlier this year, here:
It’s tough to discuss the interplay between alcohol and sexual assault, because too often the conversation veers into "drinking will get you raped" territory, with women being warned of all the things they should or shouldn’t do in order to avoid rape. Of course, drinking won’t get you raped - only being in the presence of a rapist will result in rape. At the same time, though, rapists do use certain tools to get to their victims. Often, they exploit trust - if you’re a regular feminist blog reader, you probably know by now that most sexual assaults are committed by people the victim knows. Women are also much more likely to be assaulted in their own home or in the home of someone they know than in a public place - the rapist in the bushes exists, but isn’t nearly as common as the rapist you hung out with a few times.
And college dudes who rape their classmates? A lot of those dudes rely on alcohol. It makes their victims less able to physically resist, and it has the bonus of laying some of the blame on their victims. After all, dudes know that women are treated to Ways To Not Get Raped lectures all the time - don’t go out at night by yourself, don’t walk down a dark alley, don’t drink too much.
I think the one thing I can add here, and she covers it pretty well already, is that rapists use a lot of tools to get to their victims. Alcohol is one way of making it harder for victims to resist, but to be honest, saying that alcohol facilitates rape is like saying "knowing men" facilitates rape. Let’s look at all of the powerful, powerful tools that people who rape use to make their victims less capable of resisting:
- Alcohol and drugs
- Knowing the victim
- A culture that supports their actions and doesn’t identify rape
- Gender norms
- Pretty much all of the organizing principles of a culture that devalues what women say and a legal system that is completely incapable of handling sexual assault
This intense focus on women to not drink, to not get themselves raped, has little to do with actually preventing sexual violence. Why are we telling survivors of rape and sexual assault not to drink? Why are we holding them responsible for anyone else’s conduct?
I think I need to start having more conversations with Holly over at the Pervocracy, because she keeps writing amazing posts about the exact same ideas I have, but saying them better. So, I’ll let her say what I think about why we focus on women so much with the alcohol message:
Rape prevention tips tend to overlap suspiciously well with "be a proper little lady" tips. Gosh, dressing conservatively and not getting drunk and not being out on my own and not getting too close to strangers will protect me from rape! I’ll buy my prairie dress and arrange a suitable male escort home from my 7PM prayer meeting at once!
Having freedom of movement and expression isn’t worth getting raped, but frankly, it is worth a 0.0001% chance of getting raped. This tends to be discounted by people who drive on highways and take plane flights without a second thought.
Those messages we send to women about drinking have virtually nothing to do with stopping or ending sexual assault, and not a ton to do with the safety of women or survivors in general. It’s a warning (especially on college campuses): if you drink, you don’t get social protection anymore. We will consider you ripe for raping. You did unfeminine things. You acted out of your bounds. Rape is the social punishment you get for that.
I believe this pretty firmly because the moment we step outside of the arena of sexual violence and its highly gendered sphere, we find much more directed messages about drinking. Think of the drunk driving movement for a really good comparison. Who is it, exactly, who is not supposed to drink? Is it pedestrians? Is it the people who are struck by cars operated by drunk drivers? Is it the police who pull over drunk drivers? No, of course not! It’s the people who might potentially operate a motor vehicle while they are drunk. The very successful efforts of groups like MADD have helped to shape our national consciousness in these situations - if you are hammered, you’re not supposed to drive. You probably can’t control your car while drunk, you might not notice important road signs, and we know for a fact that drunk drivers are more likely to cause accidents. Friends know it’s a bad idea to let each other drive drunk, and it’s not considered a terrible thing to intervene when a friend looks like they might try to drive drunk to call them a cab.
In none of these messages are we blaming someone hit by a drunk driver for the driver’s actions. Our culture is quite capable of putting the blame for injury where it rightly belongs, except in this case of sexual assault and rape, where we just can’t seem to figure out that someone has to actually do the raping. There’s a reason for that - rape and sexual assault sit directly on top of the fault line for how we organize the power in society.
For better or worse, a lot of mainstream culture’s social activities are built around the consumption of alcohol. I’m a young-ish man, and I like meeting people and going out into the world, and oftentimes when I do so, I will drink. Sometimes, I will drink heavily. Expecting that women who exist in this culture will not get the same messages that I get, and expecting that they will abstain from things like drinking in order to maintain their perfect potential victim status is ludicrous. Right now, we are offering women two choices: either don’t exist in the world as a normal person (don’t drink, don’t explore your sexuality, don’t wear provocative clothing, don’t talk to men), and we’ll believe you when you get raped, or exist as a normal person, but know ahead of time that culture will expect you to get raped and won’t do anything about it.
Social control, social control, social control. When writers like Susan Brownmiller assert that rape is a cornerstone of patriarchy, this is what they are pointing out. The messages come in a variety of ways, often times innocuously enough ("women who drink are more likely to be sexually assaulted"), but they all have the same purpose - to tell women what they can do in the world, and what they can’t.
I’m done with that. If we can keep people from driving while drunk, or at least start to, then we can do the same for rape and sexual assault. No one who drinks can rape themselves. There is always a perpetrator in sexual violence. Every time. That perpetrator is the one responsible for 100% of the assault. Every time, no excuses.