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.


  1. You got a lot of exotic spellings of "Yoffe."

  2. LorenzoStDuBois7:00 PM

    Hmm... I'm male, so grain of salt if you like, but isn't her article akin to telling non-white youths not to talk back to the police? Is it really that much of a problem? I mean, what would you tell your 16 yo daughter, cousin, etc.? That Bros are assholes and leave it at that?

    Does the comparison fail because society correctly places the blame on racist cops in that case, whereas here the CW doesn't focus enough on Bro Culture?

    1. isn't her article akin to telling non-white youths not to talk back to the police?

      Sort of, which is sort of the problem for me.

      Let's look your example: telling people of color not to talk back to cops. Wouldn't that be incredibly patronizing? It assumes they don't already know more about dealing with the cops than the middle-class white lady writing for Slate. And it implies talking back to cops is a significant factor in police harassment of black and Latino youth, for which there is no evidence.

      It's the same thing with her column on sexual assault: she's lecturing college-age women on the risks of drinking in college, something they have already heard a million times -- and very unhelpfully suggesting that said drinking is the leading cause of sexual assault, not just the leading excuse.

      In my experience, I've heard a lot more people go down the route of rape-apology -- "gosh, what did she think would happen?" -- than I have heard people say that the presence of unanimously enthusiastic consent should be a given. So that's my other problem with the piece: it supposes there's this universal condemnation of Bro (i.e., Rape) Culture that doesn't exist. More columns on Bro Culture!

    2. LorenzoStDuBois6:05 AM

      Thanks Chuck! It does seem ridiculous how far afield we are in 2013 from a mature view of male-female relations. And keep living the dream for those of us who took the boring roads in life. Maybe you can get on board for Greenwald, Poitras and Scahill's new venture, past disagreements aside.

  3. Anonymous7:59 PM

    It's actually a pretty good comparison because people do sometimes place part of the blame on non-white youths in these cases, as in "Of course what the cop did was totally wrong, but if only the kid had kept his mouth shut . . ." My take is that there's an important difference between advice that might be helpful on an individual basis, versus policy prescriptions for society as a whole. So while it might be fine to tell a non-white youth that it will be in their best interest not to talk back to the police (sad that it would be necessary, but probably sound advice), it would be absurd to approach the broader problem of police brutality against minorities with, "Let's just advise all minorities to never antagonize the police." The same goes for rape: It's one thing to advise your daughter/friend/etc. to be careful about drinking to potentially protect her - she really doesn't have a lot of options since she can only control her own behavior - but if you're giving advice about reducing rape to society at large, it's a really shitty place to start. It's not effective on a large scale and it encourages victim blaming. The questions "What can I tell my daughter to help reduce her chances of being raped?" and "What can I tell a larger audience about how we as a society can reduce the incidence of rape?" ought to have very different answers.

    1. Anonymous8:02 PM

      (that should have been a reply to LorenzoStDuBois)

    2. Anonymous1:10 PM

      That was absolutely fantastically said. Reminds me of Bill Cosby's "these kids need to stop wearing do-rags" prescription for fixing what ails the black underclass. Do you have a blog?

  4. Anonymous11:33 AM

    Yoffe does a poor job of linking alcohol consumption BY THE WOMAN to sexual assault. Abbey's article indicates that 75% of the perpetrators and 55% of the victims had been drinking alcohol. This means 45% of the women raped while at college hadn't consumed alcohol at the time of the rape.

    1. In other words....1:17 PM

      So really, she makes a good case for young men should not drink, as 75% of rapists have been drinking.....

  5. Anonymous1:04 PM

    Ugh. She makes some fair (although trite) observations... but some real ugly whiffs: likening drinking and getting raped to drinking and crashing a snowmobile.....failure to explain why GUYS should tone down their drinking, except for one awful warning that they could "wake up and be charged with rape" like such situations are uncontrollable acts of nature.

  6. Buddy3:02 PM

    I have a serious problem with this article. For you, a male journalist, to attack a female journalist with the hope of ending her career, and do it under the guise of feminism, is disgusting. And for what? The only actual points you seem to be making with this article are
    1) Charles Davis has a basic understanding of feminism.
    2) lower the drinking age.
    Which is just, how did you even justify writing this thing in the first place?

    And besides, your characterization of her position in the original article is all wrong. She's not trying to shift the blame away from men at all. She clearly states that college age men intentionally get people drunk with the express intention of raping them. She explains that they face few to no consequences for doing so. Just because she doesn't say the words ‘rape culture’ doesn't mean she's not calling it out. But given that this fucked up situation exists, what other advice do you expect a mother to give her daughter—or for any woman to give to another woman—than to stay the fuck away from it?

    Binge drinking is not just an ‘excuse’ for rape culture, it is rape culture's most effective weapon, and your article fails to address that.

  7. 1. I critiqued an article. If my critique ends a career, it couldn't have been that good an article.

    2. Binge drinking is the product of prohibiting young adults from openly consuming alcohol. Lowering the drinking age is an effective means of addressing it. Certainly more effective than a column on the Internet.

    3. Young women are told all the time that their drinking habits invite sexual assault, yet the author obnoxiously frames this message as some great unspoken truth.

    4. The greatest contributor to rape culture, in my view, is the suggestion alcohol consumption is the greatest contributor to sexual assault. It isn't, according to all available research, but that it's presented as common sense -- and a brave, inconvenient truth by columnists for Slate -- let's a lot of people off the hook for raising or being a part of a generation of men who don't respect women or understand the concept of consent.

    5. As a young man, I heard a lot how women who get drunk risk getting raped. I heard precious little about addressing the behavior of the rapist. And I heard next to nothing about enthusiastic consent.

  8. Buddy9:40 PM

    Look, I understand that what she was saying is problematic, but still I feel that men have a greater responsibility to examine our words and actions for signs of patriarchy than women do, and that it's all too typical of patriarchy for a man to attack a successful woman as a way to boost his own ego, and that "I'm just speaking the truth; if a woman gets hurt it's her own fault" is an INCREDIBLY patriarchal stance to take.