Whoooo! Beeer!

Fine, I’ll bite.

When I was a freshman in college, my roommate and I both got dumped by our respective boyfriends in the same week. The week before Valentine’s Day. That was an unhappy week on floor 7 of Witte Hall, my friends. Our dorm room was like a Relationship Black Hole: full of copies of Cosmo, empty Doritos bags, and heart-shaped signs on the wall that said “Love Fucking Sucks.” She spent the entire week having tormented conversations with the jerk who dumped her and debating the pros and cons of ex-sex; I spent it yelling at the creep who cheated on me and throwing things. By the weekend, we were done with men. Or at least, done with the ones who were done with us.

On Saturday night we went out to a party. I couldn’t find the house again if you paid me. Some friend of hers got us on the list. We showed up at 10 p.m., and immediately after we got in the door we split up. I walked up to a guy I thought was cute, told him he looked familiar, and asked him to dance. He might have been drunk, but he was upright, wasn’t slurring, knew his own name and didn’t know mine and at that point, that was about all I wanted. My roommate was off doing god knows what with god knows who, this was before cell phones were widespread, so I had no way of finding her. The house was one of these massive frat places, like you could get lost in. If I’d needed her or she’d needed me, we’d have been (pardon the expression) screwed.

Familiar Boy and I danced for a while, made out for a while, and then wandered around the house talking to friends of his. He was blond, a great smile, seemed kind of sweet, and was a hell of a good kisser. I was enjoying the knowledge that the jackass who cheated on me wasn’t the only guy who’d ever find me attractive. But when the boy asked me if I wanted to go upstairs with him, I told him no.

He was a stranger. There was alcohol all over. It was dark. I knew no one at that party other than my now-missing roommate. I’m no little lamb, but he was much bigger and stronger than me. If he’d wanted to drag me off into a dark corner, the music was loud enough that nobody would have heard anything. It was everything the freshman year “here’s how not to get raped” skits the college puts on had warned me about.

I told him no, though, and he smiled, kissed me again and wandered off. I found my roommate half-asleep on a couch in the basement, alone, and we left the party.

It occurred to me later that I should beat myself up for doing something that stupid. It occurred to me to thank God the guy I happened to pick out of a bunch of random hoorays standing near the door wasn’t a lunatic or an asshole. It occurred to me to feel grateful to the guy for not raping me and that’s when I knew I had gone completely off the deep end, that right there.

College campus anti-rape propaganda scares the shit out of young women, and to some degree it’s justified, I suppose. Girls need to be grown-ups. If you live in the city you lock your damn doors and windows, you carry a cell phone. But you can’t be afraid to leave the house for fear you might be attacked all the time. You can’t take on the responsibility that rightly belongs to law enforcement in particular and society in general, to allow its citizens, all its citizens, to live their lives without fear. And I saw a lot of girls doing this in college, accepting limits on their lives because of a fear of men that in some cases I didn’t feel was entirely justified (“Every man who sees me is going to jump me!”) and in other cases was just misplaced blame (It’s my fault for walking around all breathing and stuff! How dare I go out after dark!”).

Why on earth should I have been glad nothing happened that I didn’t want to happen? Does every man who doesn’t rape a woman get a cookie for not breaking the law? Nobody goes around randomly thanking people for not mugging or shooting them. If the streets of our cities aren’t safe that extends beyond women and rape. That’s everybody and everything.

We can’t start creating this rats’ maze of places where it’s okay to go if you’re male, it’s okay to go if you’re female, it’s okay to go if you’re black or you’re white. We do that, we wall ourselves off in networks of safe areas and danger zones, and we’re not free people. Rape is against the law. Murder is against the law. Kidnapping is against the law. Assault is against the law. They’re against the law for a reason.

I’ve been guilty of it, too, with this girl in Aruba. What were her parents thinking, her friends, what was she thinking? Why do girls do this, it’s so dumb. But I’ve followed strange men down alleys in countries where I don’t speak the language, because they said they would take me where I needed to go. I’ve trusted in the goodness and decency of humanity and so far it has never failed me. That should be our expectation. That should be the ideal we work toward. That should be the way our laws are designed; to punish those who transgress against that basic decency and take advantage, and not to further punish those who have been taken advantage of.

Why should I have been grateful to have dodged a bullet at that college party? The gun should never have been loaded in the first place.

A.