Trigger warning for blunt, direct discussion of sexual violence and assault.
Growing up, my father continually reminded me to “consider the context” when I was flustered or angry about something. It is the first best piece of life guidance I have ever received, and probably why I am now a sociology major. The second best piece of life advice I have heard I was told last night, by my a woman who lives in my apartment building. She told me that to do the work I was doing, I needed to “take it slow, and grow my skin.”
This all connects I swear.
I just finished reading Emily’s evaluation of Smith College’s sexual assault policies and how they pertain to title IX. It was a really great evaluation, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts about something that was briefly mentioned but really stuck with me throughout the report.
“In a large proportion of sexual assault cases involving college students, alcohol is often used as an additional weapon, to incapacitate the target in order to make them more vulnerable to attack.” (emily’s report)
In my point of view, alcohol is not only used as an additional weapon, but is the perfect weapon for rape culture to persist.
Vocab time, lets define rape culture.
“A rape culture is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.
In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes. This violence, however, is neither biologically nor divinely ordained. Much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.” (Source: Shakesville, Rape Culture 101)
So, what does alcohol do to your body, specifically, when it comes to consent?
“Alcohol can produce detectable impairments in memory after only a few drinks and, as the amount of alcohol increases, so does the degree of impairment.” (Source: NIAAA)
Alcohol effects the part of your brain that controls judgement first. One of the first things to go is your ability to make decisions the way you would when you are sober.
Considering the social context that alcohol exists within, it is a brilliantly designed tool for reinforcing and reproducing rape culture.
Alcohol is advertised as being sexy, as something that can help “grease the wheels” for sexual activity. And most advertisements show people who are sexually charged as having consumed two or more servings of alcohol, back to back, which is most people, puts them in the range for being legally intoxicated.
Alcohol seriously impairs anyones ability to consent to sexual activity. Legally, if someone is intoxicated, they CANNOT consent to sexual activity. Any sexual activity with someone who is intoxicated is sexual assault. I want to be very very clear about that.
Therefore, simply advertising alcohol as being sexy, or connected to sex in any way is advertising sex where consent is a grey area at best, and at worst cannot exist.
And what is non-consensual sex? say it with me. Sexual Assault. Rape. Not okay by any means.
Alcohol is easily accessible, comes without the stigma of other drugs, and is linked to things like social class, popularity, and sexual desire.
If you buy this drug, it will make you attractive. If you buy and consume this drug, you will be desirable. If you give someone this drug, you are helping them have a good time.
Alcohol can easily be linked to all three heads of the “dragon of rape culture”
These three proponents of rape culture are,
- Acceptance of rape myths
- Gender role socialization
- Victim blaming and stigma
The theory behind these three proponents of rape culture is a huge topic. I am going to attempt to explain briefly how alcohol and the three headed dragon are connected.
Lets break it down.
1) acceptance of rape myths.
Some common myths you may have heard are things like, “If someone doesn’t physically fight back, you can’t really say it was rape.” or “A woman who ‘teases’ men deserves anything that might happen.” If you look at what alcohol does to the body, physically and mentally impairing it, it becomes the perfect scapegoat for these common victim blaming myths.
2) Gender role socialization
One of my favorite sayings about alcohol, is that it takes everything undesirable about a person and amplifies it. This is an over simplification, obviously. However, it is not an oversimplification to say that if the first thing to go is judgement, and someone has been heavily socialized to be sexually predatory or socially “nice”, that alcohol can easily aid in amplifying rape culture seen through gender roles.
That being said, I have heard from a few friends of mine who fall on the transgender spectrum that alcohol is a way for them to feel comfortable with their gender and body, that is not possible without alcohol. A big part of me wonders if this is because of shame, stigma, added stress, and that there are no safe spaces for trans people. Marginalized groups drink more. Its true. Alcohol is advertised to marginalized groups, and liquor is cheaper and quicker than beer or wine. Alcohol has been used as a tool of genocide for centuries, and its important to remember the history a substance has when considering how it affects you personally.
3) Victim blaming and stigma
“She shouldn’t have had so much to drink” (as if that’s why she was assaulted)
“Whatever, I was drunk.”
Are two PRIME examples of how alcohol can influence and excuse victim blaming and stigma. When intoxication becomes an accepted part of sexual experiences, rape culture is created and pardoned.
The fact is, “she shouldn’t have had so much to drink” is a teaching opportunity.
Actually, her perpetrator should not have raped her. Done. She could not consent because she was intoxicated. However, that in no way, shape, or form implies that “she wanted it”.
Silence is not consent.
“Whatever, I was drunk” is a way to dissuade others into believing that the person may have been assaulted. The fact of the matter is, yes, you were drunk. However that does not mean that your experience as a survivor is any less real or valid than someone who was assaulted while sober. Its not just “something funny” that happened to you. It was sexual assault.
When people say that phrase around campus to me, it makes my skin crawl. Everyone has the right to identify their own experiences as they see fit, and I understand and respect that, but consent cannot fully exist when alcohol is involved.
Its also important to consider alcohol as a class issue, because at its core, everything is a class issue. Liquor is cheaper than beer and wine. People die from liquor at higher rates than from beer and wine. So who is buying the inexpensive alcohol? Those who can only afford to do so. And with added stress in the lives of the lower class, it is no wonder that alcohol is a literal tool of accepted rape and genocide.
Its very skillfully disguised, behind sexy advertisements and artful bottles, but its a poison.
I want to make clear that I am not anti-alcohol, however I am anti substances when used in the context of current societal spaces. I think alcohol is fascinating, and do enjoy a glass of wine with dinner every now and then. However, on an overall scale, alcohol existing in rape culture makes it the perfect weapon of rape culture. As my father would say, its all about context.
Consider your boundaries with substances, and how you consume them and why. Consider when sex and alcohol have come together in your life, were those happy times?
Oh, and because this was a pretty heavy post, take time for self care.
Here is a cute photo of one of my rabbits playing in a Trader Joe’s bag to lighten the mood, and get the self-care party started.
(His name is Mason-Dixon and he loves snuggling, food, and making loud noises at 2am)