When we rely on “safety tips,” it is impossible to do everything right. So, my spring break safety guide consists of this: Don’t fucking rape people. If you have sex with a chick who is too drunk to say no, you are not “scoring,” you are not “getting lucky”: you are a rapist. If you use alcohol in order to get people to do things you think they might not do if they were sober, you are not cool or slick or clever: You are a rapist. If you don’t bother to get consent, but you figure this person would “totally want it anyway” because you are hot or an athlete or in law school or whatever, then you’re a rapist. And you suck.
When I got to college I got a speech about not going anywhere with anyone I didn’t know, not walking alone after dark, not drinking too much, not leaving my friends alone at parties, generally not behaving in any way like a person might expect to be able to behave if she, for example, was a college fellow.
The end result of which is that I felt like I was entirely responsible for the behavior of others toward me. I’m not an idiot, okay, I live in the city and I lock my doors at night, but the responsibility for committing a crime lies with the criminal, and until we settle that the rest of this is useless.
We say around here all the time that nobody’s safe until everybody is, that our fate is your fate, and this illustrates that very neatly: If the streets are not safe for me, my staying inside only protects me. If the streets are not safe for me, and I stay inside, what about you? Or you? Or you? Are we all supposed to stay inside? It gets dark at 4:30 p.m. around here six months out of the year. Should we hibernate until spring?
If the streets are not safe for me, then the streets are not safe for anyone. If a party isn’t safe for me, then a party isn’t safe for you. If enough drinks to make me silly aren’t safe for me, then they’re not safe for everyone. And so I can control my own behavior, I can wall myself up in a tower and refuse to let down my guard, but all that has changed is that I am limited in how I can live in the world. The world hasn’t changed one bit.
I don’t know if there was another seminar, in college, for the boys. I don’t know if they got a little play-house demonstration of what enthusiastic consent looks like, of what it looks like when someone wants you versus lets you, of power versus pleasure. I don’t know how many people get the lesson that it’s not okay to take advantage; looking at our politics, I think very few of them do. I don’t know what we’re teaching young men these days, about walking home alone, about drinking too much, about watching out for their friends.
I do know I walked home from a bar one night with a man who I’d met two hours before. I know I’d had more to drink than I strictly should have, kissed him, and got a distinct feeling at that moment that this was a bad idea, so when we reached my door I thanked him for walking me home and told him this was as far as he’d get. I know he said he liked me and asked me (politely) to reconsider, but left when I told him to go.
I know that by all contemporary standards I should feel lucky he left, which is insane. I should feel lucky that he didn’t force his way inside, or turn violent. I should feel lucky the worst thing he did was tell his pal the next day that I was a frigid little virgin. I should feel lucky that I wasn’t assaulted, but mostly I should feel lucky because I put myself in a situation that could have been dangerous, but wasn’t.
How crazy is that, that I should feel lucky I engaged in behavior that involved going out, having a few beers, meeting someone, being attracted, considering the option, declining it upon further thought, and going to bed? Where is he, in all of that considering of my own actions? What was his responsibility? He behaved at the time exactly as a person should behave: he made an overture and accepted that I did not reciprocate.
Does he deserve a cookie for not being a rapist? Do I deserve a lecture for risking my virtue or my life?
This doesn’t work at all until we place responsibility for the crime upon the criminal, and have a bunch of posters that say, “if she is too drunk to be awake, she is not saying yes” or “if she is not saying yes, she is not saying yes” or “drug someone to get them to fuck you and you will go to jail, you fucking cretin” or whatever.
I don’t know what kind of program you make up that teaches young men that making an offer does not convey the right to acceptance nor justify resentment at rejection, but I do know it’s got to be better than putting young women in smaller and smaller boxes of risk, such that eventually they can’t leave their four walls. Eventually they can’t put enough locks on the doors.