Over the years, I often have found myself wanting to point out to young women that if they get blind drunk they run a very serious risk of being raped. But I know that the advice will be misunderstood and misused.
So I leave it unsaid because some listeners will inevitably conclude that I am blaming women for being raped, rather than their assailants for raping them.Those listeners will think that by telling women to stop drinking I am ignoring the need to redesign criminal law so that it stops the rapists from raping.
Rather than advising women that they are entitled to drink as much as men, we should condemn this behavior in both genders, and put safety first.
It’s true that victim-blaming has long been part and parcel of the criminal law’s acquiescence to rape. Over the years, rapists have been let off the hook because of their victims’ failure to fight them off, sexual experience, reputation, demeanor, clothing and – yes – drinking.
Feminists are working to change a culture and a law that have vilified women for the very same conduct that we tolerate, if not celebrate, in men. Until those changes fully take hold, we should be wary of saying anything that will reinforce the sexual double standard that has made it difficult to prosecute even the most violent rapes.
But, until that change fully takes hold, women remain vulnerable to forms of sexual violence against which the criminal law does not adequately protect them. Since that is so, it is essential – in some spaces, at some times, for some audiences – to make sure that women are told how to protect themselves.
We also must begin asking whether we should be defending anyone’s right to get blind drunk in the first place. Whose equality interests are served by insisting that, because men have long been valorized for binge drinking, women must be valorized for it too? The conduct is dangerous for men as well as for women, leaving members of both genders vulnerable to all sorts of injuries, including rape.
Rather than seeking to achieve gender equality by advising women that they are entitled to drink as much as men, we might consider condemning this behavior in both genders.