Rape, alcohol and feminist posturing: On women who defend Emily Yoffe

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve read the same article on young women, alcohol and rape over and over again. This isn’t, I hasten to add, because it’s a particularly good article. It’s more to do with the fact that each time, it appears to have been written by a different woman, even though the ideas, tone and prejudices remain the same.

It started with Emily Yoffe’s Slate piece College Women: Stop Getting Drunk, in which Yoffe rehashes old-as-the-hills advice on drinking less to avoid rape:

Young women are getting a distorted message that their right to match men drink for drink is a feminist issue. The real feminist message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will attract the kinds of people who, shall we say, don’t have your best interest at heart. That’s not blaming the victim; that’s trying to prevent more victims.

Not surprisingly, plenty of feminists have read this and said “well, that’s a load of bollocks” (obviously they only got round to saying this once they’d finished discussing the male-female booze gap, always top of the agenda). It is such obvious bollocks that it pains me to reiterate why (although I’ve tried to here and here).  Does anyone really believe that you reduce the prevalence of rape by targeting opportunity (defined in very limited terms) while reinforcing the rapist’s sense of entitlement? Articles such as Yoffe’s add nothing to the discussion on why getting wasted isn’t sensible (you don’t say?) but do contribute to the internalisation of rape myths. Great work, Slate.

So, Emily Yoffe wrote a bollocks article. So far, so predictable. This kind of nonsense forms so much background noise it would, ordinarily, be easy to ignore it. What’s harder to ignore, however, are the number of female journalists stepping forward to back up Yoffe’s view. “Look at me! I’m a woman! I think this, too! Ergo, it must be right!” Except it’s not.

In last Thursday’s Washington Post Ruth Marcus told us that Yoffe’s message “was as important as it was obvious”. The Globe And Mail’s Margaret Wente nods approvingly, while bemoaning the fact that “this is not a message that feminists want to discuss – especially people who denounce ‘rape culture’” (yes, them again!). In The Atlantic Emily Matchar decrees Yoffe’s “basic point” to be “indisputably sensible”:

College-aged women should be taught that moderating their alcohol use is an important tool in staying safe from sexual assault. In this age of beer pong and Jäger bombs, when 64 percent of college women drink more than the recommended weekly amount, this seems well worth repeating.

Elsewhere, in a piece entitled Women, Please Stop Getting Wasted Evann Gastaldo reminds us that “it’s possible to have fun without binge drinking” (hey, at least she said “please”). Maclean’s’ Emma Teitel, meanwhile, suggests the alternative to telling women not to drink — teaching rapists not to rape — is akin to telling “terrorists not to terrorize, dictators not to dictate, hit men not to hit men and con men not to con” (raping is now, apparently, a vocation rather than a form of interaction which thrives on being culturally condoned).

So much for the sisterhood. The thing is, I don’t really believe any of these articles has much to do with beliefs about rape, alcohol and risk. I don’t know whether, deep down, these women believe what they’re writing. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. What I am sensing, however, is a form of posturing in relation to women in general and feminists in particular. The other women — those who deride Yoffe’s views — are casts as hysterical, over-emotional, lacking in reason (typical “female” qualities). The likes of Marcus, Wente, Matchar et al are, by contrast, measured, thoughtful, eminently reasonable (so much so, they could almost be men!). What’s taking place here isn’t so much a debate about rape prevention as an attack on uppity, demanding feminists and their strident views. It’s a mode of differentiation — “I’m not one of them! I’m rational!” — that isn’t actually coherent yet manages to persuade by its constant self-identification as the voice of reason.

This is particularly clear in Marcus’s piece, in which we’re told that “the regime of feminist political correctness that chills discussion” and “this isn’t a gender studies class; it’s the real world” (no, it’s not; it’s a rape apologist op-ed). Wente notes that Yoffe was “torn apart by furious feminists” (using their evil harpy claws, presumably). This pseudo-intellectual posturing, with its resigned sigh (“why am I the only woman with any sense?”) isn’t at all new, of course. It’s there in Victoria Coren’s recent call for “nuance” regarding Roman Polanski, and it was there twenty years ago when Katie Roiphe wrote The Morning After. These clever, clever women are far too clever to get angry about the world and want to change it. How silly! Far better to breathe deeply, smile and advise the rest of the female population to calm down, dear. After all, it’s only common sense.

I don’t buy this. It’s incredibly easy to repeat the same tired arguments. Anger doesn’t prove a person is right but calm acceptance of the status quo isn’t necessarily logical or productive. I wish these women had more nerve. What comes through in these pieces is fear, not just of violence (I can control rape, as long as I do the “right” things) but fear of appearing too stupid, too womanly or too shrill in a man’s world. This shouldn’t be about rape or alcohol; what’s more important is maintaining the will to want things to be different.


6 thoughts on “Rape, alcohol and feminist posturing: On women who defend Emily Yoffe

  1. Yep. The only one who has responsibilty for rape is the rapist. As a culture we are to blame for naming the behaviour of women differently from men, and by that letting men off the hook when taking part in unacceptable behaviour.

    Having said that – getting wasted in public and in an unsafe environment – is bloody stupid – for many reasons and only one of then is the possibilty that some men feel they can take advantage. OTOH not being wasted in the same environment is no defence against rape either…

  2. you make some really interesting points and I hadn’t thought about the frustrating proliferation of apologist articles in this way (for more rape apologia post-emily yoffe, by the way, check out Mia Freedman’s article on mamamia).

    rape apologists have this idea that making people stop raping is this impossible task because women and their weird signals are just *so confusing*. it underscores the idea of consent as this elusive concept, when it is really just not that hard to get. did the other person say yes or otherwise unequivocally convey their consent? if not then there’s no consent.

  3. Perhaps if men didn’t get off their faces they’d have the judgement to keep it zipped until the boozy girls sober up and are able to give informed consent.

    Do men who are raped and assaulted have to endure this type of victim blaming?

  4. Yesterday, I went into a parking garage and saw a sign that read “Do not leave valuables in car”, so I filed a complaint against the window smashing and theft apologists.

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