The Advice Column of Shame: On Perpetuating Rape Culture

Dear Emily Yoffe,

If a woman does not consent to having sex and has sex, she is a victim of rape. It does not matter if she was biting, kicking and screaming, or if she was too drunk. It’s really quite simple. A woman giving consent equals consensual sex. A woman not giving consent equals non-consensual sex. Non-consensual sex equals rape. That’s it.

You all know Dear Prudence. What would you think the advice given on this question would be?

“Friend Has Revised One-Night Stand Story:A friend recently called me and said she had a one-night stand after drinking too much. She was beating herself up over drinking too much and going home with a guy she met at a bar. I reassured her that everyone makes mistakes and didn’t think much more of the account. However, since then, she has told many people that she was a victim of date-rape—that the guy must have put something into her drink . She spoke to a rape crisis line, and they said even if she was drunk, she couldn’t have given consent so she was a victim of rape. She now wants to press charges—she has the guy’s business card. I have seen her very intoxicated on previous occasions, to the point she doesn’t remember anything the next day. I’m not sure on what my response should be at this point. Pretend she never told me the original story?”

I know that I expected Yoffe to tell this reader to support her friend, listen, offer sympathy and help where she could, and let her false, and frankly catty, assumptions go. I expected a litany of reasons why alcohol should not be used as a way to force shame upon anyone. I thought Yoffe, acting as Prudence, would soothe the friend while setting her straight about what rape really is and offer words of wisdom to help buoy women up. I thought she’d tell the reader that it’s not her friend’s fault and that the friend had every right to proceed as she felt best.


Instead, she starts like this:

“Trying to ruin someone else’s life is a poor way to address one’s alcohol and self-control problems.”

I admit, that’s as far as I got last night. I had to stop so I wouldn’t throw my computer across the room. (I would then, of course, blame the computer for breaking itself, since the computer was the reason I saw such angering content. That’s how this works, right, Prudence?)

“Trying to ruin someone else’s life…”

First, why should this woman care about this man’s life? He raped her. Secondly, he ruined his own life when he took advantage of her. So, what Yoffe is basically saying here is that not only is it the woman’s fault she had sex without giving consent, the blame will also fall on her shoulders should something bad befall this man due to his actions toward her. That’s a lot of blame. I guess it’s not enough to be “asking for it,” anymore, huh? Now, as victims, we also have to be wary of inconveniencing our aggressors due to our piddly trauma over the event. We need to be sensitive to aggressors’ needs. After all, they didn’t ask to be prosecuted. We wouldn’t want to do anything without their consent, now, would we?

“a poor way to address one’s alcohol and self-control problems.”

If she only had some self-control, none of this would be an issue. If she’d only had some self-control, she wouldn’t have gotten raped. Obviously. Her alcohol problems are the reason she was raped and now she’s going to vindictively ruin some poor innocent man’s life just because she likes whiskey and can’t keep her legs shut.

You asshole.

Why don’t we correct this a bit? If he only had some self-control, none of this would be an issue. It is not the woman’s fault that someone raped her. I don’t care if she’s “knee-walking drunk.” I don’t care if she’s blacked out. It’s not her fault.

Then, Yoffe manages to get even more insulting.

“Since her first version of the story is that she was ashamed of her behavior, and since you have seen her knee-walking drunk on other occasions, it sounds as if she wants to punish the guy at the bar for her own poor choices.”

First of all, her “first” version of the story and her “second” version of the story are the same story. Nothing about her story changed, other than her waking up to the fact that what happened wasn’t her fault, a notion her “friend” would do well to keep in mind. I cannot see one bit of difference in the woman’s stories. In the first she’s ashamed of herself. And that’s better, Prudence, somehow? And because she has been brought up in this culture of rape, because she has been brought up to take the blame in a situation as unfortunate as this one, she should be reminded that her first reaction was to blame herself? She should then be blamed by others? Her wrong view of the situation somehow taints the events, making it even more her fault? What if she’d come out the gate not being ashamed? That would have made a difference. That’s bullshit.

And what does it matter how often she gets drunk? It still doesn’t give any guy at any bar right to have sex with her if she cannot give consent. Would it be better or worse if she never got drunk but had that one night? I don’t care if this woman wakes up drunk, takes three shots of vodka for breakfast and drinks nothing but beer for the rest of the day until she wakes up to do it again the next morning. It’s still not her fault she was raped.

Her own poor choices? Where did she choose to have sex with this person? Nowhere, that’s the point. Choosing to get drunk at a bar is now an offense rightfully punished by rape? Whether or not getting that drunk is a poor choice, it doesn’t equal should-be-raped-and-shut-up-about-it. In fact, getting drunk has nothing to do with having sex.

“Yes, I agree that men should not have sex with drunk women they don’t know.”

Apparently you don’t, actually.

“But I think cases like the one you are describing here—in the absence of any evidence she was drugged—where someone voluntarily goes home with a stranger in order to have a sexual encounter makes it that much harder for women who are assaulted to bring charges.”

Well, isn’t that a pretty load of assumptions. How do you know she was going home with a stranger in order to have a sexual encounter? They could have been going back to his place to bake cookies for all you know. And more importantly, it doesn’t matter if she did intend to have sex with him. Here’s a novel concept: people can change their minds. Women can decide no at any point, at any time. Ask Herman Cain.

If you decide at 8 p.m. that you want a cookie, then you bake cookies, then when they’re done at 9 p.m. you decide you don’t want one, you can do that. Minds can change. You do not set your path in stone with just one decision.

“makes it that much harder for women who are assaulted to bring charges.”  

You know what makes it harder for women who are assaulted to bring charges forward? This column. All the people who think this way. The culture that makes a woman ashamed to begin with. The culture that tells her it’s her fault, no matter what the circumstance. People like you telling her she deserved to be raped. That’s what makes it hard for people to bring charges forward.

“Talk to your friend. Tell her that she needs to think very long and hard about filing a criminal complaint against this guy if there’s any way her behavior could be construed to be consensual. Say you understand her shame, but you’re concerned about her drinking, and if she addresses that, she won’t find herself in such painful situations.”

This paragraph, in fact, is why women find it hard to bring charges forward. Why don’t you leave it alone, Prudence, and let the court decide what’s consensual and what’s not?

And “say you understand her shame?” I’m barely able to type now. She has nothing to be ashamed of. (I’m going to use caps, watch me.)


(I feel better.)

Her shame is the result of columnists like you, of the world we live in where getting drunk equals deserving rape.

If she addresses her drinking she won’t find herself in such painful situations.

If she addresses her drinking she won’t find herself in such painful situations.

If she addresses her drinking, she won’t deserve to be raped and we can all rally behind her. Is that what I just heard you say?

And how is this parenting related? I have two girls. If anyone ever tells me my kids got raped because of their bad decisions, I will most likely go to jail after my bad decision to beat the shit out of that person. And then I’ll tell the person, no, you had it coming. You’re not a victim of my fists. When you opened your yap to blame my girls for something that was not their fault, you made a poor choice, and you were punished for that choice. Think very carefully about your actions, and maybe you won’t find yourself in such painful situations.

For the full column, visit Slate.

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About parentwin

Parent of twins, blogger, writer and journalist. I write things. Sometimes people even read them.
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