Sexual Assault, Alcohol & The Public Consumption of Women
There seems to be a lot of confusion about what constitutes acceptable vs. unacceptable behavior toward women in public spaces, especially when drinking is a function. There seems to be a lot of confusion about whether women are like alchohol — things for public consumption — and what public consumption looks like; but more importantly, what it feels like to be consumable. Let’s clarify, because this confusion interrupts the steps toward equality and quite frankly ruins my good time out.
I recently attended the National Conference on Campus Sexual Assault and Violence, hosted by UC Berkeley — a university that has recently come under fire for serious Title IX violations. At the conference, there were various workshops one could attend: some relevant, some research oriented, some innovative and some stringently problematic. Regardless, the recurring theme was the ‘role’ alcohol plays in sexual assault. Granted, one-half of the one in four women who will be sexually assaulted while attending college will have been assaulted while under the influence of alcohol. Understanding these statistics probably gave reasonable grounds for workshops entitled “Alcohol and Sexual Assault: Evidence and Next Steps” or “Hooking Up and Sexual Assault.” Yet, framing these workshops as if there is an inherent connection between alcohol and/or ‘hook-up’ culture and sexual assault repurposes the root of the problem.
Consuming alcohol and sexual assault are not synonymous. Strikingly so, not practicing consent is equivalent to sexual assault. Perpetrators are the only people responsible for committing sexual assault — not the survivors’ friends, not their family, not bystanders and definitely not the survivors themselves. We should have supportive communities that place a shared responsibility for preventing and ending gender-based violence amongst all people; however, to be clear, perpetrators are the sole reason for these crimes. Whether the perpetrator was drinking is not an excuse nor an explanation for why these crimes occur. Intertwining sexual assault with alcohol only adds to the misunderstandings about the base-line issues of rampant sexual violence. A severe lack of education about consent has created a need for engaged and active bystanders and hyper-conscious women, but these are harmful and temporary bandages for deeply traumatic crimes.
At a conference hosted by a campus who has adopted UCSA’s UCONSENT campaign and created their own Cal Consent Campaign, there was no workshop on how to effectively transform rape-culture-ridden campuses into those with cultures of consent and respect, much to the dismal of the Cal student attendees. Yet, we wonder why administrators and hearing boards are still comparing experiences of rape to other types of ‘risky behavior.’ Frankly, most of society is as well.
I attended a workshop, at the very same conference, on compassion fatigue, where the presenter told an audience of survivor advocates and survivor activists that the real problem with sexual assault is safety — that, as parents, we don’t teach our children to be safe. She explained that a law enforcement officer had once explained crime is about opportunity and there is always someone responsible for making that opportunity available. If this doesn’t sit right, it’s because statements and attitudes like these are called victim-blaming: anything that makes the recipient partially or fully responsible for violent and harassing behaviors.
And this leads me to my second point: my existence in public, or that of any woman, is treated as a provocation for gender-based violence. If we want to attend a party and have a drink or many drinks, or go to a bar and order drinks, we should expect and accept being mistreated as if we are public commodities. What follows are some of my experiences as a white, cisgender hetero woman in public, of which these experiences can only be exacerbated through the intersection of race, gender identity and sexual orientation.
I live in Newport Beach, and I like to go to the bars on the weekend. Yet, I can hardly go out without experiencing the infuriating pangs of being considered sexualized entertainment. One Friday, I was in line to enter a bar named Malarky’s (I am going to name these bars because they are complicit in ensuring gender/social inequality). I was one person away from the bouncer checking ID’s when a male patron walked out of the bar and very loudly yelled to me and my friends, “Show me your tits and I’ll get you in!” I mouthed something back along the lines of ‘go fuck yourself’ and turned to the bouncer to see his reaction. He didn’t budge, making no effort to address the objectifying, sexist and annoyingly heteronormative comment toward females who were to be patrons at the bar he worked. He received the statement and in that moment became complicit in our discomfort. But in case morality isn’t enough to act, a stranger yelling to my friends and I to “show him our tits” constitutes sexual harassment, therefore compelling the bouncer legally to address this comment. Not doing so meant that he failed in his job to create a secure environment for the patrons and failed to uphold the law.
Public harassment of women is normalized to the point where even women aren’t sure if they are being harassed. Regardless, we know how it makes us feel: demeaned, demoralized and disempowered.
Yes, I yelled for our harasser to go fuck himself, but while he already disrespects women, he probably didn’t care nor will he likely remember his action.
However, his actions will stick with me every time I go out and every time I experience sexual harassment because these experiences aren’t isolated.
Again, I was with the same friend at another bar in Newport — the District Lounge. Right as we walked up to the bouncer to hand him our ID’s, a man stumbled out of the bar and proceeded to hug my friend, locking her arms against her side. The bouncer, again, did nothing to stop this man nor to chastise him for behavior defined by the law as sexually assaulting.
Once again, the bouncer, whose role is to monitor the interactions of patrons, failed to address inappropriate actions immediately in front of his face. These are just two situations that happened within one week of one another, but consider there are fifty-two weeks in a year and the odds are stacked up against us.
This needs to stop. These behaviors are illegal for a reason; not only are they dehumanizing, but they also confine women to disempowered and subordinate roles in the public. This allows for the continued objectification and inhumane treatment of human beings regardless of gender identity or expression.
Let me be very clear about the contingent themes of these situations: women are not meant for public or private consumption. We do not exist for the pleasure of anyone else’s interaction nor entertainment. We are human beings who deserve to live and exist without having to constantly define and redefine that you cannot touch us, look at us, speak to us in an unwelcomed manner.
You will not treat us how you treat yourself; you will treat us how we want to be treated. End of story.
Tess Andrea is a fouth-year literary journalism and French double major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.