Emily Yoffe, better known as Slate’s Dear Prudence, is receiving a thrashing from many leading feminist writers for an article she wrote advocating that college girls and women avoid getting so drunk they can’t protect themselves from predators that rely on alcohol to facilitate committing sexual assault, outlined here on the girlsCAN! Headlines page.
It’s a safe bet that all feminists agree that the behavior of sexual perpetrators is the problem, not the behavior of their targets. But based on the uproar, not all feminists agree on what to tell our girls regarding the well-documented dangers of getting drunk at parties.
Our position is that it’s a mistake to teach our girls that because sexual harassment and assault are morally repugnant and illegal, it’s unnecessary for them to take actions that decrease the likelihood they end up being a victim of sexual assault. Everyone can decide to not get drunk, and not getting drunk is an effective way to lower the risk of being targeted by a sexual predator.
A non-controversial comparison is that while we agree that car thieves and home burglars are the real problem, we still buy insurance, park our cars in well-lit areas, and lock our doors. It’s the prudent (ha!) thing to do.
Our girls are smart, so they’ll understand the conflicting message that they have a right to not be violated while at the same time an obligation—to themselves—to behave in a way that minimizes the odds of becoming a sexual assault victim.
Our girls need to protect themselves from immediate physical injury and lifelong psychological harm. They can’t do that when they’re passed out. It’s our job as adults to point out to them the potential dangers of their actions. Making our daughters aware of this potential threat and suggesting ways they can protect themselves from it is not anti-feminist. It’s practical and realistic.
Our goal as feminists should be to advocate for the way it should be while acting in a manner that keeps us safe while living in the world as it is now.
We have an obligation to not undermine the safety of our girls because of ideology. And, in this case, upholding ideology and helping our girls be safe are not mutually exclusive pursuits.
Up with gender equality!
NOTE: It’s impossible for one article to cover all aspects of an issue, particularly one as expansive and controversial as sexual assault. Yoffe’s article focuses on how girls can protect themselves, not on how boys should behave, although that’s an equally relevant and important topic. Many comments made on Yoffe’s Twitter page don’t take into account the limiting nature of a single article. Because it’s so harmful, we need to always be moving forward with the gender discrimination issue, and unfortunately many comments are undermining that effort. Yoffe’s article is relevant and factual. It may not contain innovative advice, but attacking her is not the most effective use of our feminist time and energy.