Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Prudence, IN

Are there advice columns that aren't terrible? You never seem to hear about them. Perhaps it's because good advice is, in practice, usually pretty obvious, and the tough questions involve choosing between several terrible courses of action.

It's neither here nor there, of course, when a professional advice columnist fucks up one of the really easy ones. Case in point, Dear Prudence's Emily Yoffe's recent piece for Slate, with the impressively on-the-nose title "College Women: Stop Getting Drunk." The article in question splits its time between asserting the title's imperative and apologizing for existing. If you're interested in reading a thoughtful rebuttal, I recommend Erin Gloria Ryan's How To Write About Rape Prevention Without Sounding Like An Asshole.

Yoffe's article is attempting to suss out a tension that seems to be inherent in the prevention model: you can only issue direct advice to people already interested in preventing rape, since they're the ones reading the damn articles, but you can't really do so without engaging in victim-blaming or undergirding complicity narratives. There's also the not-insignificant problem that most rape prevention tips aren't worth the fear they're printed on: beyond proximity, about the only reliable common denominator is that rapists like raping people and don't like going to prison. They tend to target people to whom they have easy social access, and people who aren't likely to call the police, or who the police aren't likely to believe.

So, basically, we're talking about women, children, ethnic minorities, the elderly, the disabled, the homeless, sex workers, and God's own favorites, the poor.

Don't be in any of those groups, and you should be fine.

Even if this the risk-avoidance tactics of the prevention model were reliably successful, a more fundamental question remains: who gives a fuck? Living in fear does not solve the problem. In many ways, living in fear is the problem itself. Take it from #DepressedBane, relentless hatred and defiance will wear you the hell out. Teaching our more vulnerable citizens to be strong in the face of fear is all well and good, but seriously, fuck strength. Mere safety should not require strength. My allegiance, now and always, lies with the weak. There are a hell of a lot more of us, you see, and the strong don't like those odds.

Which brings us to the retaliation model. We tend to think of law and law enforcement as preserving safety, and, when well-designed and implemented, they can do that. Nonetheless, safety is incidental; the immediate function of law enforcement is not to make anyone's lives safer and happier, but to make criminals' lives more frightening and dangerous. Clearly, there are an awful lot of people out there whose lives are not currently dangerous enough, and rather than making victims responsible for deterring the behavior of their attackers, I wonder if it might not be more productive to focus the national conversation on ensuring that every rapist is arrested, charged, and convicted: to focus on breaking the secrecy in which predators necessarily operate, punishing police that scuttle investigations, and making prosecutors do their jobs.

If nothing else, focusing on the retaliation model it might help us cut through some of the bullshit about what a woman might "expect" to happen should she find herself drinking until she's drunk--you know, the way many college students do when they aren't too afraid--by moving to an entirely different expectation: that when someone is raped, drunk or sober, we expect the state to respond with all its fury, on her behalf and our own.

No comments: