A while back a college student named Liz Funk posted an op-ed at Women’s e-news that drew a lot of criticism because it was rather appallingly framed in a way that made rape victims seem at least partly responsible for the violence that was inflicted upon them.
I’ve discussed related issues with students in a variety of contexts, sometimes because they have asked me to help them deal with the consequences of negative (to put it mildly) social or sexual experiences. I asked several current and former students for their opinions of the Funk piece. One commonly expressed reaction was that Funk had at least correctly observed that bars and clubs hosting free or discounted drink schemes are attractive to predators, including sexual predators, thieves, and people who like to start fights and engage in physical violence against strangers. This was true regardless of whether the drink specials were available to all patrons, or were “female only.” However, they did feel the dynamic at a “Ladies Night” tended to be especially problematic. All the students I consulted had advice they might give a friend or sibling about navigating a club scene safely, but after witnessing the reaction to Funk’s article, none was willing to blog about this here, fearing that they would be accused of “victim blaming and slut shaming.” I don’t know if this concern was justified, nor can I be entirely sure that some portions of their advice couldn’t legitimately be interpreted as victim blaming. But it worries me that they felt silenced.
After hearing so many sad and awful stories, and finding so many “Ladies Night” fliers on my car windshield, it’s hard for me to think about this issue without feeling a desire to warn my students, especially the females, not to drink excessively in unsafe situations; circumstances that start out seeming safe, but then go horribly wrong, without notice or reason. But what useful things can I tell them?
If advertising free or discounted admission or drinks for women only is a mechanism by which both women and men are lured into an establishment, something “gendered” is happening. Moreover, none of my students recalled seeing a bar or club advertise free admission or drink specials pitched exclusively at men. How can we talk about this imbalance productively? Is there a way, without blaming or shaming any victims of sexual assault, to prevent future victims, and to call out the victimizers? In a recent article posted at The American Prospect, Courtney E. Martin has suggested that high quality, comprehensive sex education might have a role to play. You can read her analysis here.