by Jessica Valenti -
I have done lot of irresponsible things throughout my life.
In high school I cut a social studies class for weeks at a time, threw parties at my house (sorry, Mom and Dad!), got stoned, and had sex – all before I was 16. When I was in college I got so drunk that I slipped on some ice outside my apartment and decided to lay there for an hour. One of my roommates – who shall remain nameless – got so trashed once that she walked into the wrong dorm room, got into a bed, and peed in it. It was reckless, stupid and hilarious.
Youthful transgressions may not be our best moments, but they’re also part of growing up. And let’s face it – a lot of them were really fun too. So I can’t help but be put off by the neverending stream of “advice” thrown at young women about how to be “safe” or “respect ourselves” – advice that boys of the same age never hear.
Equality is about politics and economics … but it’s also about the ability to be a damn fool every once in a while if we want to. As Rebecca Traister wrote in Big Girls Don’t Cry, true equality “would involve as many Sarah Palins as it would Hillary Clintons.”
Young women need to be able to move around the world with the same amount of stupid that men do because, if women are held to a higher standard of behavior, and we’re inevitably blamed if – and when – we don’t adhere to it.
Take Caroline Kitchens of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, for example. Kitchens, who previously characterized concern over rape culture as “hysteria”, recently published a video in which she suggests that, if women don’t want to be raped, they shouldn’t get drunk. It’s not a new line of thinking – last year Slate’s Emily Yoffe came under fire for writing that the “common denominator” in rapes is alcohol instead of, you know, rapists.
In addition to just being ineffective – women get raped drunk and sober, in skirts and in sweatpants – warnings to avoid alcohol in order to avoid being raped send a clear message to women: you can never make a mistake, or any crime committed against you will be at least partially your fault.
Do we really believe that women shouldn’t have the freedom to get drunk and be stupid? That they can’t partake in the silly, fun, dumb behavior that we’ve come to expect of young people – young men – on the brink of adulthood? That one bad decision and they could “get themselves” raped, but that never making a bad one will protect them?
Do we really believe that only women can stop rapists?
Sure, binge drinking is a problem among young people – and, though men are far more likely to binge drink than women, the rate of women binge drinking has stayed steady as the rate among men declined. No, we should not encourage people to do dangerous things (and there are dangers). But the freedom to have fun, make mistakes and participate in some youthful irresponsibility shouldn’t be limited to men.
And if we spent even a fraction of the time and energy teaching affirmative consent, fighting rape and punishing rapists that we normally squander on chastising women for not being good boring girls, it wouldn’t have to be. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a drink.