I’ve previously covered a gender-essentialist Double X Fail for the blog, and unfortunately, they’ve done it again. As now infamously reported across the feminist blogosphere, Emily Yoffe thought it was a good idea to tell college-aged women to stop drinking alcohol in order to avoid rape. In her extremely paternalistic piece, Yoffe writes such gems as:
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, shall we say, don’t have your best interest at heart. That’s not blaming the victim; that’s trying to prevent more victims.
I’m so confused: Since when is it a feminist issue to match men drink for drink? Did I just not get the memo on that? Did Yoffe just try to (wo)mansplain victim-blaming, while simultaneously victim-blaming? Does Yoffe even know what feminism is? I just…I can’t do it today.
Almost immediately, feminist journalist Ann Friedman posted a parody to her blog (later published at The Cut), that switches the pronouns on Yoffe’s piece with often hilarious and insightful results, including the following sentence I find devastatingly true:
But the obsessive focus on blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn young men that when they get wasted, they are putting young women in potential peril.
Although Friedman’s exercise is deceptively simple, it gets at something: when we discuss rape culture, far too often the onus is on women to change their behavior. Rape doesn’t occur because of Yoffe’s ignorant assumption that there’s a lack of knowledge about potential prevention methods. On the contrary, growing up socialized as female means being constantly aware that your body is not your own, that it is vulnerable to violation by any man at any time. We are drilled by a misogynistic society to expect a potential rapist to be an unknown assailant that jumps out of the bushes and so-called prevention methods are rattled off accordingly: to carry keys to use as potential weapons, to have a buddy system if we do have to walk home alone, to carry mace or pepper spray, to not wear short skirts or shirts that are too revealing. So, yeah, Emily, me and every other person socialized as female in this culture is probably aware of what we supposedly need to do to “prevent” rape.
What I love about Friedman’s parody is that it addresses the missing piece too often ignored in conventional discussions of rape culture: male perpetrators rape women, and they often use alcohol as an aid to do that, yet no prescription is ever made on men’s behavior. Outside of feminist circles, men are never told not to rape, and when they are (as in the case of Zerlina Maxwell’s badass appearance on Fox News), they can expect vicious death threats.
By omitting the crucial fact that drunk men play a role in coercing women, Yoffe’s article assumes “boys will be boys,” with insatiable sex drives they have no ability to control. Despite what the conventional narrative would have us believe, these men know what they’re doing – rape is about control and domination, and we should acknowledge that preying on inebriated women creates a clear power imbalance.
Most conversations had about rape in our culture, Yoffe’s piece included, render invisible the obvious role that male rapists play in rape, and in so doing, assumes the innocence of the white male perpetrator. And, I, for one, am sick of this unquestioned centering of the white male experience. But if the cultural conversation about rape in our culture is going to stay at the level of changing behavior, we may as well talk about men’s behavior. (But for self-care purposes, I also endorse Mychal Denzel Smith’s response to her follow-up.)