Drinking until you can't say "no"
by Josh Franklin
In the Nassau Weekly's Princeton erotica entitled "Popping the Pink Bubble", we encounter a problematic female character, a freshman girl named Lizzie. We are told that "...Lizzie and some of the girlies were going to rip shots until they couldn't say 'no' in Lizzie's room." In light of the recent discussion about agency, alcohol, and the hookup culture, it's important to examine the paradoxical behavior of making a conscious choice to relinquish the ability to make decisions. How does consent operate in a culture where we seem to have a hard time distinguishing between predatory behavior and the empowered exercise of female sexuality?
I think that a fundamental aspect of a feminist analysis of sexuality is legitimizing the totality of sexual experiences rather than creating new images of normalcy; this is why I want to give the highest respect to the beliefs of any women who indeed spend their Saturday nights drinking alcohol to such excess that they lose the ability to make real decisions. What I want to question is whether this person is real: do people actually behave this way? The Nassau Weekly prefaced their story with the claim that, "This story is based completely on true events and on verbatims from the Princeton community at large." This seems plausible, since the image of a freshman girl drinking to the point where she cannot make legitimate decisions is certainly a legible one on campus.
But does that girl drink that much because she decided to, or because she has little experience with alcohol or is pressured to drink excessively by people around her? Does the practice of intentionally drinking to a point where consent disappears really exist, or is a myth that has been produced discursively in the Princeton community? The point has been made that our current discussions about sexual assault tend to paint all men who participate in the 'hookup culture' as sexual predators, and the majority of men are certainly not rapists. But there are predatory men in college. The idea that some women choose to participate in a high-risk drinking culture in which it is expected that men commit what is ostensibly sexual assault, whether or not there are women that actually behave that way, serves as an excuse for undeniably predatory activity.
I appreciate the need to assert female sexual agency; however, I think it's important that we make sure that that agency isn't deployed to reinforce a system of violence towards women. And even if we grant that there are women who make a deliberate choice to drink in this fashion, we have to realize that that expectation doesn't hold for everbody. How does one distinguish between someone who is extremely intoxicated and expects to have sex and someone who doesn't want that?
I don't mean this to read as an indictment of the 'hookup culture'. I wholeheartedly support the individual right to discover and define one's own sexuality. It's not acceptable for the existence of sexual assault to be deployed in a crudely political fashion to restrict women's freedom. On the other hand, it would be unfortunate if feminists quietly accepted the equation of women's sexual empowerment and sexual assault, and allowed their dedication to the former to lead them to give up on fighting against gender violence without reservation. If feminism is to transcend merely advocating for the right to be promiscuous and to achieve real empowerment, it has to represent the expression of possibility. That is, rather than using the reality of sexual violence as a supporting point for a particular political vision, we ought to realize that the confusion and difficulty surrounding certain forms of gender violence arise from the interactions of a multiplicity of sexual possibilities. The challenge is developing a culture that can accomodate this diversity, rather than merely excluding or repressing certain visions of sexual existence.