Last weekend, I stood on the subway platform, thumbing through a magazine and grumbling about how the next train wouldn’t arrive for another 11 minutes. As I waited, more and more feet descended the stairs. Two pairs caught my attention — one was manicured with bright red polish and strapped into a sky high silver sandals, the other was in electric blue stilettos. Both pairs of ankles wobbled as their owners awkwardly lowered their feet. It seemed like at any moment, one—or maybe both—of them would come plummeting down the stairs. A few unsteady steps later, two women appeared in full view—both their faces were flushed and they clung to each other’s arms for dear life. “Wha a you lookin’ at,” one of them slurred to a guy who shook his head as they passed.
These girls were trashed. It was only 8 p.m.
Watching them zig and zag down the subway platform, I felt adrenaline rush through me. I felt like I should do something. But what? These are adults. They’re just having fun, I thought. They can take care of themselves.
But then another part of me thought: how naive.
No good was going to come to these two women that night. Best case scenario: one of them would lose their wallet or twist their ankle and end up in the emergency room. Worst case scenario: Some a-hole would take one look at them and sense an easy target.
The more I think about alcohol and its relationship to sexual assault, the more I am convinced that binge drinking is a feminist issue—one that young women in the U.S. need to think about in addition to more obvious issues like equal pay for equal work, better access to gynecological care, and the need for more women representing us in government. Extreme drinking—the kind we see on “Jersey Shore,” the kind we know goes down on college campuses all across the country, the kind we see around us in bars on weekend nights, the kind that fueled “The Hangover,” the kind that inspires all those “last night, I was so drunk” stories that people like to tell—regularly puts women in danger in the name of a good time.
A look at the statistics is sobering. In 47% of reported rapes (and I’m talking in this essay about heterosexual rape with female victims, though of course many other types exist), both the victim and the perpetrator had been drinking. In an additional 17%, the perpetrator only was intoxicated and in 7% of cases on top of that the victim only was tipsy. This has me wondering if changing our culture—from one where binge drinking is allowed, normalized, and in many situations even encouraged to one where people are urged to know their limits and always have their wits about them—could lead to a significant drop in the number of women who have to endure sexual assaults.
This “rape cop” case is an example. (The Frisky has written about it extensively—you can read about it here and here.) In going over the details of this horrible case, there is one thing most women don’t want to say: what if this victim had recognized she was getting drunk, slowed down, and had a few glasses of water before leaving that bar in that cab? The reason we don’t want to go there is because it sounds like victim blaming. And do not mince my words here—there is only one person to blame in this situation—the police officer who used a drunk women’s keys to enter her apartment four times. At best, as he’s admitted, he cuddled with her when she was in nothing but a bra and kissed her on the forehead and, at worst, as the victim remembers it, he rolled down her tights and penetrated her from behind.
In an ideal world, rape wouldn’t exist. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t matter how much a woman had to drink, what she was wearing, or what overtures she had given—no man would ever consider sex without explicit consent and would recognize that anyone who is deeply intoxicated is unable to give consent. But we don’t live in that world. Unfortunately, short of some Herculean sensitivity raising effort, we do not have control over what men, drunk or sober, will do when presented with our drunkeness. What we do have control over is our side of the equation—how much we drink.
With excessive drinking, men often become more aggressive and women’s inhibitions are often lowered. There becomes too much grey area. I have too many friends who’ve experienced something that wasn’t quite sexual assault but wasn’t something they were completely comfortable with either. I’ve heard too many stories where a friend wanted to make out, or at most have oral sex, and somehow was coerced to go all the way after a few drinks. Another friend recently told me a story about how she’d been dying to have sex with someone she was dating, but after going home following a night of many drinks, he’d entered her without a condom and she felt totally violated.
Even in cases where sex is completely consensual, we all know that a woman is more likely to go home with someone the more drinks she’s had. We’ve all seen how The Situation operates, haven’t we? No wonder so many fraternities encourage keg stands and club culture idealizes women who are a “walking holiday.”
It’s clear to me that women need to question how we play into binge drinking culture so readily. We need to learn and stick to our own alcohol limits. We need to stop equating celebration with getting blasted. We need to stop dulling upset and hurt feelings with alcohol. And perhaps most importantly, when we’re out, we need to watch out for our friends and other women who may have had too much. Far too many of us can think of a situation—as Amelia bravely shared the other day—where something awful could have happened to them because they’d had too much to drink.
Thinking about all of this reminds me of a situation I still feel guilty about years later. A few years after college, I went out with one of my best friends and we began the night with a few shots (a drink I’ve since sworn off since it’s only purpose is to get one toasted). When we were sufficiently soused, she got a phone call from a guy friend she’d had her eye on, asking if she wanted to go dancing. We met up with this friend and had a blast dancing with him and his buddies as we downed more cocktails. By 2 a.m., my friend and this guy were making out on the dance floor. Meanwhile, I was exhausted. I grabbed my friend as she headed to the bathroom.
“I’m tired. I think I’m going to go home,” I said. “But I want to make sure you are alright.”
“I’m all good,” she said, eyes glassy. “Definitely gonna bring him home.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” I said.
I didn’t want to cockblock her—not to mention that all I wanted to do was go to sleep—so I left them to it.
When I called my friend the next morning, she was vague about how things had gone after I left, saying she’d had “fun.” But a few days later, when I saw her face to face and referenced that night, an expression I’d never seen before crept over her face. A completely different tale emerged. She said that by the time they got back to her place, she had a hard time standing up and dropped her keys several times as she tried to open the door. In an ideal world, this guy—her friend—would have opened the door, put her in bed, and left. Instead, they made out. He took off bits of clothing even as she made it clear first base was as far as she wanted to go, but she went along with it—mainly because the room was spinning. Next thing she knew, she was having sex, even as she asked him to stop. And she wasn’t sure if he’d used a condom.
In this conversation, neither of used the word “date rape.” But that’s what I think it was. Again—the only person to blame is this guy, who I would kick hard in the nuts if I ever saw again. What he did was morally reprehensible at best and criminal at worst.
But recently, I’ve been thinking about sexual assault like a cancer. If cancer spreads, your odds of fighting it are slim. But if you go for preventative screenings and catch it early, your chances of survival are much higher. What I’m talking about here is prevention. And on that end of things—my friend could have done things to keep a fun night of dancing from going to a traumatizing place. I could have, too. When I saw how drunk she was, I could have stayed at the club and urged her to share a cab home. I could have suggested going for food to help sober her up. I could have told her that she seemed too drunk, and should meet up with this guy another night. If we’d been able to break out of party hardy mode, so many things could have changed what happened.
As women, we need to take care of ourselves and each other. And drinking too much too often doesn’t mesh with that goal. I only hope that sometime soon, if I saw those two women stumbling into the subway, I could say, “Hey, it’s 8 p.m. and you’re clearly pretty drunk. I am worried about your well-being. Can I walk you home? There will be so many other nights to party when you are fully in control of your faculties.” And instead of being thought of as the crazy busybody who obviously hates fun, I would be thought of as someone who has a point.
Original by: Kate Torgovnick