Sometimes I like to think about what would happen if women (all people who are at risk of rape victimization, really, but the advice is primarily aimed at women) really followed all this “personal safety” advice ostensibly designed to prevent rape? Of course it’s really about making sure they rape someone else, but still: what would happen if we really did what the unending Greek chorus of comparing women’s bodies to unlocked cars were constantly shrieking at us to do?
“Don’t walk alone at night!” “Have a buddy with you at all times!” “Don’t stay out so late!” “Stop getting so wasted!”
“Guys like this don’t pick on the SOBER girls!”
I want to share another issue I have with all this finger-wagging at women to avoid rape by not getting drunk: this is not serious advice.
I’ve already said a lot about how inappropriate it is: rapists target their victims, and they make good and sure their targets drink too much. Drunk victims are seen as less sympathetic, while drunk rapists are seen as less culpable.
I’ve already gone on about how unproductive it is: if drunk girls aren’t available, rapists choose their victims based on other vulnerabilities.
But there’s something else that I don’t see in the discussion about the “personal safety” approach to rape prevention: all these people constantly scolding us not to drink so much, not to “let” rapists find us vulnerable, not to leave our proverbial cars unlocked in bad neighborhoods? They don’t mean it. Not really.
What would the world look like if we actually followed this advice? What if all women agreed not to drink in excess around men? Oh, well, except rapists pressure their targets to keep drinking more. They have their ways of making sure we drink more than we should. So, what if we agreed not to drink alcohol in any amount in men’s presence, unless we’re only around men we trust? Yeah, okay, except, often it’s the men we trust who rape us. Let’s say we wrote up a petition asking all women, everywhere, to swear off drinking alcohol in any amount, at any time, in the presence of any men at all, ever, for the rest of our lives?
Let’s say it actually worked. Let’s imagine that all women actually agreed to make that change to our behavior: no alcohol around men. No alcohol at all. Ever. Around any men. Any men at all. Not even the ones we trust. Especially not the ones we trust.
If that actually happened…it probably would cut down on the incidence of rape. At least for a while. It would force sexual predators to work harder at getting their victims vulnerable and isolated. It might even present an obstacle sufficient to make them rape a lot less, at least until they figure out other strategies for choosing and grooming their victims.
(Brief digression: it would probably force rapists to choose victims of much lower privilege profiles than they currently do, which could have the effect of limiting victims to people who are too disadvantaged and desperate to speak up about sexual violence at all. Rape still happens, but nobody talks about it anymore. I’m sure a lot of the Enforcers of Personal Safety would consider that a victory.)
Imagine a scenario in which rape was a lot more difficult to accomplish because men did not have access to less-than-sober women. At all. Ever.
I can hear the screams of indignation—from the very people now demanding that we stop getting so wasted!—already.
They’d wail and gnash their teeth about how it didn’t use to be so difficult for a man to get to know a lady. We didn’t always make it so hard on all these poor honest gents who just want to get our phone numbers. Why can’t we dance with the guys like we used to? When did it become illegal for men and women to have fun together?
The women who insist that they have remained safe because they know when to stop drinking, would not be any happier about this new Safer World Order. They’d complain about how we evil feminists coerced them into giving up the right to have a good time. They’d publish impassioned op-eds in Slate about how everything used to be so much more free and spontaneous before we vicious man-hating feminists decided to browbeat all the normal women into being too terrified of men to have a glass of wine.
The truth is, nobody actually wants women to stop getting drunk in mixed company. They want no such thing. They want us to wear skirts with flimsy underwear and impractical shoes, they want us to lose track of the time, they want us to let men put drinks in our hands, they want us to stay out partying until it’s too late to catch a bus, they want us to lean on men’s arms and make it clear that we’re available. A woman who doesn’t do these things is called a prude, a dyke, a killjoy, a man-hater, doesn’t know how to have fun, not letting herself enjoy life. They want us to be vulnerable, and then they want to treat us like morons for being vulnerable.
They don’t want us to lift weights until we’re too strong for men to overpower us. They don’t want us to wear sensible shoes at all times so we can always run away, or keep our hair cut short so it can’t be used to restrain us. They don’t want us to pull away and shout “NO!” at that guy who refuses to keep his hands to himself. They don’t want us to stop dating that guy who doesn’t respect our boundaries. And if we do stop dating him, they don’t want us to warn our friends away from him.
There is no magical zone in which we are cautious enough to be safe from violence, but still open enough to have fun and also let men have fun with us. Whenever we hear about a rape, the Personal Safety Enforcers immediately demand to know why the victim didn’t do more to protect herself. No rape victim is ever safe from the pressure to have done more.
They want us to put on a show of being “careful” and “protecting” ourselves, but not for a second do they really want us to give up our vulnerabilities.