Recently there was some media buzz about women and alcohol, and how our society should approach the topic.

It all started when Emily Yoffe, a writer for Slate, wrote this column on college women, drinking, and sexual assault. If you don’t feel like reading the whole article, a headline pops up on the website which sums it up: “The Best Rape Prevention: Tell College Women to Stop Getting So Wasted”. (To be fair, the article is more nuanced than that, and I’m not convinced Ms. Yoffe wrote that tagline.)

The response to the article was swift. Some responded with rebuttals while others strongly agreed. The New York Times ran a “Room for Debate” piece that had a number of interesting viewpoints. Basically, opinions seem to fall down two lines: one party thinks women imbibing alcohol become vulnerable to sexual assault, and they should be told not to drink in order to protect themselves. The other sees this as a victim-blaming piece of advice that support a status quo in which rape culture runs rampant, and young women are expected to prevent their own rape.

So, even though I’m late to the game, I thought I’d give my take on this (although I’ve covered a lot of it in my Teens and Sexual Assault series).

I have no problem with advising women not to binge drink. I have no problem with advising men not to binge drink, either. Binge drinking is unhealthy, dangerous, and unless you’re over 21, illegal. And yet as we all know, teens and young adults both above and below 21 are binge drinking. We can educate young people, try to lower the risks, support policies that discourage alcohol abuse, and hope that the problem will diminish. But despite our best efforts, some teens and young adults will continue to use alcohol, and most in the U.S. will attend a few drunken parties.

So what is wrong with advising young women to protect themselves from becoming vulnerable? Nothing, in my opinion, as long as it’s a small piece of a much larger picture we are presenting.

Some of the messages just for women disturb me. The statement, “Don’t drink, you’re more likely to get raped” is at its core a problematic one, from the presumed responsibility of the young woman to prevent rape, to the phrasing “you get raped”, in which there’s no mention of a perpetrator.

However, I have no problem with telling young men AND women, “Try to avoid binge drinking, it not only impairs your logic and judgment, but dulls your gut sense of when you’re in a dangerous situation.” “Dangerous situation” can indicate anything from getting into a car with another intoxicated person, to not recognizing alcohol poisoning in a friend, to going home with someone who means them harm. This isn’t a message for women, it’s a message for people.  

Another part of addressing the issue of drinking and sexual assault is educating all young people on on what rape is, what consent means, and how to help a friend who someone might be taking advantage of. Should we teach basic, practical self-defense skills to young men and women? I think it’s a good idea. But we need to make a push to start stressing that people shouldn’t rape, rather than that people should watch out and not get raped. No, education isn’t going to “fix” budding sexual predators or stop someone who is unapologetically intent on rape. But it can start changing our rape culture to a more humane and just one, and perhaps make the issue of consent crystal clear to all.

One message I do think women need to get about alcohol is that it affects women differently than men. The standard “one drink takes an hour to get out of your system” was based on males (and white males at that.)

What do you think? Should young women be taught not to drink in order to lower the rates of sexual assault? What have you told your daughters and sons?