Was Emily Yoffe Right?

Slate magazine recently ran an article by Emily Yoffe, asserting that college women would be raped less if they drank less.

Two days later another article appeared in Slate, criticizing Yoffe: Instead of telling women to drink less, colleges and police should put forth effort to find and punish perpetrators.

To both of these claims I say, “of course!”

In reading Yoffe’s article, it’s important to remember that she is talking directly to women about ways they can protect themselves. She points to a 2009 study that found 80% of college sexual assaults involved alcohol. That isn’t just the women drinking, it’s also the men. But again, Yoffe isn’t talking to the men. She states clearly that rape is never the woman’s fault; it is always the fault of the perpetrator. But if a woman can, within reason, decrease the likelihood of rape, why wouldn’t she? I dress in flattering clothes, but when I dress, I also keep in mind who I will be with and where I will be. If I will be on a date with my husband, I may wear more flattering clothing than if I know I will be walking down a dark alley at 2am.

My three-year-old daughter loves to wear princess clothes, including plastic high heels. She cannot run in them, play on the playground, or do anything physically exerting. I often advise her to put on tennis shoes—“you’ll have more fun that way!” But she never listens. Although my daughter is only three, I worry that she may carry this fashion sense into adulthood. I convinced myself years ago, perhaps when I was minoring in Women’s Studies, that high heels aren’t just uncomfortable, they may be what stops a woman from fleeing her attacker. Thus, I don’t wear high heels, nor do I want my daughter to.

Although I am unlikely to be attacked walking from my car to the church or the courthouse, typically the only places I wear dress shoes, it’s the principle of the matter: I refuse to increase my vulnerability. Just as I eat healthy foods to protect my heart, so too will I forgo certain enjoyments if doing so protects my body. Should the food industry sell wholesome foods so I’m not lured by junk? Sure. But until that day comes, it’s up to me to eat right.

I miss wearing high heels. They are fashionable and attractive. I also drank in college, and I would have missed that, too. Is it fair that I have to take assault into account when I pick out my clothes? Would it have been fair to never enjoy drinks at a college party? The answer to both of these questions is a resounding “no.” I get that. But this isn’t about what’s “fair.” It is about self-protection.

I know that will anger some. Why should a woman have to worry about self-protection at all? Shouldn’t the focus be on, as article number two states, the men who rape and not whether women drink?

This is a no brainer. Of course we should focus on the men! We should educate them as well as make clear that sexual assault is never okay, no matter the clothes a woman wears, or what her blood alcohol content is. And if men rape, we should prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law and hold them accountable for what is 100% their fault. I long for the day that no man would ever assault a woman. But until our society becomes that pure and perfect, I’m okay with unfairly shouldering some of the burden for keeping myself safe. I’m also okay with reading an occasional article that addresses, from a concerned viewpoint, relevant data that demonstrate how to increase self-protection.