The Vagenda

A Woman’s Right to Drink

I like a drink. Sometimes I like one or two drinks. Sometimes I like to drink more than five cocktails and dance with my best friends, my hair as big as all the secrets that will spill out that night, lips loosened by gin and cigarette smoke. Sometimes I’m sensible when I’m drunk and I walk home with a friend or get a taxi. Sometimes I’m stupid and I walk home by myself, stumbling into bushes and trying to kidnap any cat that crosses my path. Luckily nothing has ever happened to me whilst I’ve walked home alone, bar a period where I kept drunk ordering on Amazon and thought I had a secret admirer who was sending me thoughtful (if slightly random) gifts. I count myself lucky that every time I’ve walked home by myself, I’ve been fine. However, I keep seeing the same tired horrible point made in drink awareness campaigns focused at women – women shouldn’t drink too much in case they get raped. The linking of excessive alcohol consumption with rape is ridiculous and crosses the dividing line between someone being responsible for the amount of the alcohol they drink and someone getting raped and being partially responsible because they were excessively drunk. If I go out and get drunk and raped what am I responsible for? Being drunk? Being drunk AND raped? It doesn’t matter if I walk around wasted and naked except for artfully placed vodka labels over my nipples at 5 am, it doesn’t give anyone else the right to rape me. The only way to avoid getting raped is to not be in the company of rapists, which is unfortunately entirely impossible.
This drink awareness tactic is often used when talking about precautionary actions to avoid rape and links to a dangerous premise – if you take the argument that women ‘should not’ make themselves vulnerable to its logical conclusion what happens? So I go out in a short skirt, get pissed and am raped. If society says I should not have done that does my attacker get a lesser sentence to reflect this? Or no sentence? Who would decide what counted as ‘vulnerable’ or provocative dress or enough alcohol? And in what way should it count against me? I just don’t get it. ‘Women shouldn’t drink too much for fear of being raped’ soon turns into “Well if she’d followed this advice she wouldn’t have been raped” which turns into ‘It’s her own fault she got raped.’ The conversation about responsible drinking is necessary and important in today’s society but it shouldn’t involve the correlation of rape, drinking to excess carries many other risks that should be highlighted.
I have filthied many a gutter but I didn’t deserve to get raped for it.  We are all responsible for our own behaviour of course, but no one deserves to get attacked when they are vulnerable. Taking preventive measures and following common sense rules are always important but with regard to rape, they can have little bearing on whether you become a rape victim or not. But working to change the culture – educating and targeting people about consent and changing attitudes DOES work. Women will never be able to win whilst we are told ‘don’t be alone’ and ‘don’t be with strangers’ whilst the statistics tell us that the majority of rapists are not strangers, but rather known to their victims, and that many rapes occur in a place that the woman had previously viewed as a ‘safe place’, like their own home, or that of a friend. What I’m wearing, how drunk I am etc is one thing, but the majority of rape is conducted in situations where the vulnerability is the result of trust. Adverts that say ‘don’t drink’ are brilliant and advice I should take more often. If they wanted to truly be accurate, perhaps they should say ‘Don’t drink too much because you will get off with your boss, spill cheesy chips down your best top and leave your favourite purple suede shoes in a taxi.’ 
I get what people are saying about “everyone should be careful with drinking”, but the thing is that the rape prevention conversation is never couched just in those terms. Not making yourself vulnerable also apparently involves not wearing that skirt, not behaving in a way that could be interpreted as seductive, not talking to strangers, not going out alone after dark etc. 
So what is the obvious conclusion? To never go to the gym, or to never wear anything that shows a bit of ankle, or to never smile or make eye contact with a man, because, oh shit, that might be interpreted as seductive?… To only spend time with people you trust? Oh shit, the majority of rapists are people you already know… To never leave the house? Oh shit, many rapes happen in the woman’s home… So what? To move to a nunnery? Or what? Because I’m seriously running out of options here. 
THIS is why telling women and girls not to slut it about isn’t good enough. THIS is why focussing anti-rape messages on women won’t stop rape. What we need is a sea change in how society view and understand women. Telling girls to stay sober won’t help the cause. In fact, by putting the onus on women rather than men, it does the opposite. Now where’s that gin? 
- RF

24 thoughts on “A Woman’s Right to Drink

  1. It’s an old observation but one many people still won’t listen to. BTW I left the gin under the bed. I sometimes get thirsty in the middle of the night on a weekday

  2. THIS! Plus one of the most important things is the way we say it: “get raped”. It’s like a natural disaster that just happens to women, like we minus the rapist completely out of the equation as soon as we start talking about the situation. Like, what?

  3. This presents a totally false dilemma, and posting such a logical fallacy only serves undermines the feminist cause.

    You have the right to drink, and be as responsible as you wish to be. You are responsible for how vulnerable you make yourself by doing so. This has no bearing on whether or not there is a rapist about, so the choice you are making is whether you are vulnerable or not in the situation when the rapist sizes you up. He is still entirely responsible for the act of rape, but the rape might not have occurred at all if you had been more sober and with it.

    So, as education cannot ever be either instantaneously or totally effective in removing potential rapists from our society, while we’re waiting for it to slowly move the averages over the next few generations, how about we take some personal responsibility, as nobody ever wants to be saying “I told you so”?

  4. ‘but the rape might not have occurred at all if you had been more sober and with it’

    actually, you have just the same chance as being raped if you were sober. seeing as more people are raped in their house by someone they know

  5. Also the people who send this message out need to consider how it affects the general consensus. Legal defenses of rapists using tactics of attacking what the victim wore etc. only works because juries buy into it. Thus, victim-blaming as a “preventative” measure diminishes one of our strongest weapons against re-offending. Yeah.

  6. That’s an interesting logical deduction. So you’re saying both that date rape and stranger rape are statistically negligible and that one is not more vulnerable to being raped in one’s house by someone one knows if one has drunk to excess.

    Or, realistically, is it not ‘just the same chance’, and you are hesitant to shoulder the personal responsibility to reduce the chance?

  7. I’m not victim-blaming. It is exactly this sort of defensive debate denying which has given feminism such bad PR and promotes the view of feminists as shouty women. Of course I abhor violence against anybody anywhere – it’s not a choice between me saying that women are allowed to drink and women should be beaten in their homes. Drawing such simplistic false dichotomies only serves to push away otherwise sympathetic people. Don’t do it.

  8. For someone so happy to shout, or rather whisper (you don’t like ‘shouty women’) about choice you seem awfully ready to tell someone to not do something. I agree that ‘making’ yourself a victim is silly; getting your phone out in public, showing off your iPad on the tube, chatting to a random bloke in an alley at 3am, but honestly, the statistics show that the majority of rapes happen by people you know in a place you’re familiar with. By saying, effectively, ‘well, you should take responsibility for yourself’ is sensible yes, but taking responsibility might be drinking less, getting a taxi and then being raped by the taxi driver. Whilst I can see both sides of what’s being said here, I don’t think anyone is ‘debate denying’. I think there are a lot of very pissed off women out there who are sick of being made to feel being raped was somehow their fault and something unfortunate that happened ‘to’ them.

  9. Firstly, note that I don’t actually say that I “don’t like” shouty women, but that it is a damaging common view of feminists. And the thing I’m saying not to do is use short-sighted logical fallacies and mendacious argumentative techniques. You can insist on using them if you like, but know that they are entirely counterproductive.

    The rest of your post I largely agree with, but I’d insist that the tone and a large proportion of this article is simply unrealistic and unhelpful. I know that most rapes are not of the “stranger in the dark alley” variety, but following the path promoted by the article would in the best case not increase the incidence of those proportionally rare but still tragic cases, and still does nothing to reduce the incidence of the “familiar person in a familiar place” variety. The only upshot is that you get to drink more.

    I’m a guy and a feminist. I have guy friends who are feminists. Almost none of the girls I know would willingly describe themselves as feminists without me coaxing it out of them. Feminism has a real PR issue, and I usually recommend the Vagenda to people as a young, new face which can make you laugh and make you think, and give you something to discuss. I’m honestly not here to pick a fight or insult anyone, but if I see something which needs to be called out for falling short of a solid argument, I’m going to do it, because feminism deserves better.

  10. The author doesn’t fall short of a solid argument. She’s saying that focusing anti-rape messages on women won’t stop rape, which it won’t. If a man wants to rape, he will do so regardless of what the victim is wearing or how many drinks she has had. By saying otherwise you’re essentially opening up the hypothetical situation to so many variables that it becomes illogical. You could say ‘if she carried a knife she could have protected herself’, or ‘if she hadn’t walked home after 9pm this wouldn’t have happened’ or even ‘maybe she just shouldn’t have gone out at all’. Furthermore, you claim not to be victim-blaming but your crappy line of argument contributes to a culture that does exactly that. Try and imagine a guy being beaten senseless outside a pub and everyone going ‘well he shouldn’t have drunk so much’. Then give being a tad less pompous in your posts a try, and read this thing on rape culture:

  11. A girl in Glasgow was raped at 4.20pm outside her own front door this month. All the excuses people give such as “out too late, drunk too much, wearing heels and short dress, walked home at night, flirted at a bar, didn’t take a taxi, should have fought him off…” are just ridiculous. In the real world, if a rapist wants to rape, he will find someone to rape and there is no use discussing what she “could have done”. He is a rapist. He is the one who did it. Sometimes I wish I could carry pepper spray legally…but I doubt that would do much anyway because statistics can only change when our culture stops blaming victims and starts dealing with sexual violence from within. It’s no use an older relative telling a daughter not to wear a short skirt or she’ll look like “she’s asking for it” without equipping a son with respect for women. All too often the “boys will be boys” tag comes out and the blinds go down.

  12. Astro Kenty, what are you trying to make a point about? I am not hesitating to shoulder responsibility, I am saying that no matter what circumstance it happens in, you are just as likely to be raped drunk or not drunk, short skirted or not and at home or outside

  13. “You could say ‘if she carried a knife she could have protected herself’, or ‘if she hadn’t walked home after 9pm this wouldn’t have happened’ or even ‘maybe she just shouldn’t have gone out at all’. Furthermore, you claim not to be victim-blaming but your crappy line of argument contributes to a culture that does exactly that. Try and imagine a guy being beaten senseless outside a pub and everyone going ‘well he shouldn’t have drunk so much’.”

    You could say these things, and you’d be correct to an extent. More variables doesn’t make things illogical at all, it just makes them more complicated. When you make a decision, you have to accept the consequences of that decision, even if it’s only a miniscule fraction of the ‘blame’ for what befalls you, which in itself is a very human construct.

    Again: the false dichotomy here is that we are “focusing anti-rape messages on women” and this is at the expense of educating men not to rape or dismantling rape culture. When, in fact, we can use the slow process of education to change the culture, but we also might stop even ‘just’ a few rapes by exhorting temperance, at the cost of perhaps a few duller evenings. The man who is going to rape regardless might not rape you specifically, which seems an improvement to me. Perhaps he might even run out of people he could rape at all, at a stretch.

    I’d say the same thing about drunk people getting mugged or stabbed. I accept that it’s harder to hear about rape because there is such a stronger historical weight to it – that there is a societal concept of ‘rape culture’ as opposed to ‘mugging culture’ or ‘stabbing culture’. I’m not trying to prop up that terrible culture at all; I’m trying to identify the best way of knocking it down. This article’s argument doesn’t stand up to me as the best way of doing that, for the reasons outlined above. Sorry if that sounds pompous.

    Selina: Again, I’d hesitate to write “just as likely”. Because when you state a certainty like that, all it takes is one example to take a wrecking ball to your argument. In fact, as most rapes take place within pre-existing relationships, it seems you’re actually more likely to be raped in your home, for example.

    On a broader note, I know that when I drink that I have made a choice to abrogate some of my responsibility for while I am drunk – things might happen to me which would not have otherwise, for better or worse. I make the choice to drink, and so I bear the responsibility for the change in what happens to me thereafter. If anything befell me due to my dulled perception or reactions or dexterity, or my fogged reasoning, then I’d have to say, at least in part, no matter how small, that it was my fault for drinking in the first place. It is that step of responsibility, no matter how small it might seem, which I think this article neglects, and why it raised my hackles. If we are to have A Woman’s Right to Drink, we must also have A Woman’s Responsibility for Drinking.

  14. Looking back at my first post, I used sober and drunk just as much as inside and outside of the house. Perhaps I didn’t make it clear. The current reported stats say that rape is more likely to happen by someone you know but that could mean more likely at home, drunk or sober.

    While we all need to be careful of how much we drink, we never say that to men. That’s part of the problem as I see it. People are always monitoring and judging women for over drinking and but they shrug it off with men like it doesn’t matter and it’s ok. It’s not ok. Being drunk is the state that many men are in when they commit crime but it doesn’t seem to cause as much judgement and guidelines as with women

  15. Well, rest assured that I judge it just as much. It is true, though, that your standard Daily Mail photo of binge drinking culture is the fat hen night lass lying in the gutter, and not the probably more damaging aggressive young men being cuffed by the police. But this is probably just an extension of the DM’s continuing salacious/disgusted complex regarding women, and a more eye-catching photo. Their readership will tut as they run an eye over the poor girl, and insist that it’s not ‘ladylike’.