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Telling Women to “Just Say No” to Alcohol isn’t the Answer

HandcuffsEmily Yoffe’s Slate article and Margaret Wente’s response in the Globe and Mail have received criticism for what they think is good advice for preventing on-campus rapes: women should stop binge drinking.

Telling a woman to avoid drinking to the point of blacking out seems like sound advice. After all, over-drinking can lead to a number of terrible and tragic consequences not only for the drinker (number one that comes to mind is drunk driving).

But why are we only targeting women with this advice? Why should women have to be held accountable for someone else harming them? I think that is what lies at the heart of criticisms for these articles. 

Click on the image for the full-size version.

Men who commit sexual assaults often use alcohol consumption as justification for their behaviour yet these pieces don’t say “tell men to stop getting wasted”.

Let’s look at it another way. If a drunk pedestrian has the right of way at a traffic light and is hit by a drunk driver who runs a red light, who is at fault? Who should not have been drinking? The driver (i.e., the perpetrator). Why is the answer different when applied to sexual assaults? Of course I’m not saying that men shouldn’t drink, but if women are getting the message to avoid over-drinking then men should too – and louder.

The bottom line though is that sexual assaults are not the product of too much booze and poor decisions, but of a society that teaches men to be “manly” and aggressive and to take what they want. The same society that teaches women that their only role in the dialogue on sexual assaults is to avoid being a victim and to not wear revealing clothing.

Unequal and unhealthy power dynamics between the sexes are ingrained at such an early age and have become even more widespread in our social-media addicted world that even our solutions for addressing sexual assault minimize women and raise up men.

When #rapeface is used, by both boys and girls, to describe a photo of an “awkward smile”, we’re clearly not having the conversations we need to have to effectively change these dynamics. Articles like Yoffe’s and Wente’s don’t help, but instead shift the conversation away from areas where real focus is needed (e.g. redefining what makes a man, stopping victim-blaming, encouraging social equality for women, empowering women, etc).

So my problem with these articles, and others like them, is not that they necessarily provide bad advice, but that they look only at a grain of sand amongst an entire desert of issues.

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