No, really, college women: Stop getting drunk

  • Article by: RUTH MARCUS , Washington Post
  • Updated: October 26, 2013 - 4:21 PM

To say so isn’t the same as letting predatory young men off the hook.

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A spring break reveler gets a drink at a bar in the resort city of Cancun, Mexico.

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The message of Emily Yoffe’s recent article in Slate about binge drinking and sexual assault on college campuses (published under the headline “College women: Stop getting drunk” on startribune.com, Oct. 16) was as important as it was obvious: The best step that young women can take to protect themselves is to stop drinking to excess.

Young women everywhere — not to mention their mothers — ought to be thanking Yoffe. Instead, she’s being pilloried.

A “rape denialism manifesto” full of “plain old victim-blaming,” Lori Adelman wrote on the feminist blog Feministing.com. Erin Gloria Ryan, on Jezebel.com, accused Yoffe of “admonishing women for not doing enough to stop their own rapes.”

Argued Yoffe’s Slate colleague Amanda Hess, “We can prevent the most rapes on campus by putting our efforts toward finding and punishing those perpetrators, not by warning their huge number of potential victims to skip out on parties.”

Excuse me, but no one’s suggesting that our daughters should be holed up in the library studying every night, forswearing any semblance of a social life. Yoffe (disclosure: she’s a close friend) is saying that the responsible advice is the one that I’ve been trying to impart for years to my now-teenage daughters: When you drink (because, let’s be serious, they’re not waiting until 21), don’t drink too much.

You don’t want to wake up like the female Naval Academy midshipman who started with seven shots of coconut rum and woke up in an off-campus “football house” wondering what had happened. (Answer: Sexual encounters with three midshipmen, two of whom are being court-martialed.)

None of this — none of it — excuses men, sober or drunk, who prey on women, sober or drunk, to have sex without giving consent. Men who behave that way ought to be punished. Parents should warn their sons: Not only does “no mean no,” being too incapacitated to say “yes” may also mean “no.”

But it is important to underscore two points here.

The first concerns the disturbing culture of binge drinking on college campuses. This phenomenon is, at least in part, an unfortunate and perhaps inevitable artifact of raising the drinking age to 21. That has had the perverse consequence of transforming alcohol from a no-big-deal substance that was readily attainable into the bizarre focus of social planning.

Without knowing if they’ll be able to drink later, our children, male and female, resort to “pre-gaming,” doing shots — and too many of them — to steel themselves for the evening ahead.

This tactic lowers inhibitions among both genders — indeed, that’s kind of the point — but the unavoidable facts are that women get drunk more quickly than men and that intoxication is highly associated with campus sexual assaults. Yoffe cites a 2009 study finding that by the time they are seniors, almost 20 percent of college women will be victims of sexual assault on campus, overwhelmingly by a classmate, and that more than 80 percent of such incidents involve alcohol.

“I’m not saying a woman is responsible for being sexually victimized,” Christopher Krebs, one of the study’s authors, told Yoffe. “But when your judgment is compromised, your risk is elevated of having sexual violence perpetrated against you.”

The second point is the regime of feminist political correctness that chills discussion.

“A misplaced fear of blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn inexperienced young women that when they get wasted, they are putting themselves in potential peril,” Yoffe wrote. “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 … don’t have your best interest at heart.”

Writing in a New York Times discussion of the issue, Anne Coughlin, who teaches feminist jurisprudence at the University of Virginia, described her reluctance to give this very advice to young women for fear of being “misunderstood.”

Accompanying commentary suggested Coughlin’s concern was not misplaced.

Yale law student Alexandra Brodsky, cofounder of a campaign against campus sexual violence, said suggesting that women drink less “preserves the power structures that perpetuate violence” and demands “that the victimized sacrifice their freedom … so we don’t have to disturb the status quo.”

University of Massachusetts philosophy professor Louise Antony likewise warned that it sends the message “that we have chosen to regard misogyny as inevitable.”

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