The XX Factor

Drinking, Rape, and Feminism: Let’s Be Pragmatic

Jessica, I’ve been thinking about the issue of women and drinking and rape ever since I read the victim’s statement the other day, on the NYT ’s City Room blog, particularly the passage:

I have waited two and half years for closure that will now never come. Hearing that verdict brought me to my knees; it brought me back to my bedroom on that awful night when my world was turned upside down.

I don’t want to minimize the importance of having conversations on this matter, even if we’ve been debating about drinking and rape ever since the dawn of feminism and not gotten anywhere. But all this theoretical conversing  ignores a very unpleasant reality. Rape is ugly and miserable and terrible. And so we need to be more pragmatic.

On the one hand, alcohol consumption is no different than dressing: Just because a woman wears revealing clothes doesn’t mean she’s asking for it, and neither does a woman having a few drinks.

On the other hand, we make all kinds of concessions to the affect alcohol has on our minds and bodies. If “friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” as the old PSA goes, why do friends let their drunk friends go home with strange men? If we have friends or relatives who are endangering their health or their relationships with alcohol abuse, we’ll encourage therapy or stage an intervention or drag them to an AA meeting. Because we know the risk outweighs the personal freedom to drink. But if you try to suggest that drinking too much and going home with a stranger isn’t a wise idea, you’re castigated as anti-feminist.

The victim of the NYC police offers (and I’m going to stick with calling her a victim, rape conviction or no) has chosen not to identify herself, and we don’t know much about her. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, were it possible for her to go back in time, she would gladly give up the few hours of carefree drinking in exchange for not having to spend two and a half years waiting for “closure that will now never come.”

This is what happens when you are raped: If you go to the police, you have to tell your story to complete strangers, several times. You have to submit to a physical exam, letting nurses touch you in precisely the areas you don’t want to be touched. You have nightmares. You’re easily spooked. You might go months or years before you feel safe spending the night alone. You hate walking to your car late at night, or driving by yourself late at night. It’s awful.

Rape will never be eradicated. But in many cases, it can be prevented. It doesn’t require women to become teetotaling prudes,  but it does require the exercise of common sense.  I don’t agree with everything Kate Torgovnick writes in her Frisky piece , because I think it leans too far in the direction of blaming the victim. But we can take her advice that we need to watch out for our friends. That’s something we should all be able to agree on.