Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Slate Columnists: Stop Getting Published

Advice columnist Emily Yoffe is not blaming the victims when she suggests that young women getting drunk is why young men sexually assault them. We know this because she says it about 13 times in her piece for Slate, though you could get a different impression from the headline, premise and content of the article:

The problem with the article is not contention that drinking to the point of excess is probably unwise. The problem is the implication that a college woman's decision to get drunk is the chief factor in their being sexually assaulted and Yoffe's assertion that, "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."

Like many who style themselves brave tellers of uncomfortable truths, Yoffe is doing nothing of the sort. She's not saying anything that young women have not already heard hundreds of thousands of times by the time they are 21 from everyone with a tongue. Her advice is commonplace -- and about as useful as telling young women not to dress that way.

The reason women are so frequently assaulted on college campuses is not because, like male students, they choose to drink alcohol. They are so frequently assaulted because many college-age men do not respect women. With or without alcohol, women would still be sexually assaulted -- rapes did not stop during Prohibition -- because too many guys do not recognize the autonomy of the differently gendered and, worse still, many "good guys" do not even recognize they are doing it.

Yoffe makes much of the fact that many assaults on campus are "linked" to alcohol, but the real link is something called "patriarchy", or: all that shit I wrote in the preceding paragraph. In the context of a patriarchal culture that already blames women for what men do to them, Yoffe is indeed engaged in tired old victim-blaming when she infers from the alcohol-assault correlation that women getting drunk is the causation. Changing a patriarchal culture is not easy, which is why lazy thinkers instead go on blaming individuals, but changing the culture starts with not doing that; with not dispensing "helpful advice" that really isn't so helpful and really only reinforces the notion that victims of violence were irresponsible and sort of asking for it.

Yoffe makes another error when she writes more generally about the college culture of excessive drinking. In the column, she writes that, "Reducing binge drinking is going to require education, enforcement, and a change in campus social culture," which is both vague and wrong.

There's the word "culture" there, which seems promising, but Yoffe is actually once again blaming victims here. When I was in college, I primarily drank to excess in dorm rooms, parking lots and in the back seat of a friend's mom's minivan. I did that primarily because I was barred from drinking at restaurants and bars and non-fraternity parties. My clandestine and irresponsible drinking was not the product of my own, but of a system that demands tee-totalling from people old enough to go to war and inflicts harsh punishments on those that get caught, such as expulsion and the loss of one's driver's license (meaning, in many areas, one's job and social life).

If you want to reduce binge drinking, you don't lecture young adults on the need to save themselves for their 21st birthday. You let young adults drink, legally, in the same places Slate columnists can, thus taking away the compulsion to binge knowing you can't drink later -- and demanding a little more responsibility than is required when chugging Bacardi on a bunk bed. You don't implicitly blame people for a situation they had imposed on them against their will. But that's just what Yoffe does.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Shut it down

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wrote a letter to House Speaker John Boehner. In that letter, Reid played the role of seasoned, wise statesman and extended offered some sage political advice: "Ignore your base."

With respect to the Republican base, that advice is admittedly sound. The problem was that Reid contrasted the GOP's shutting down of the government over Obamacare to his refusal to hold up funding for the war in Iraq, which he claimed would have been "devastating to America."

In my latest for Al Jazeera English (the one not safe for American IP addresses), I argue that there's no comparison between Obamacare and a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, whatever one's opinion on the Affordable Care Act. And I maintain that, if it did come down to it -- which it probably never would have -- one would probably be justified shutting down a government for a few days if it meant saving tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.