The PA Liquor Control Board released an ad campaign that, if the goal of ad campaigns is to draw attention, succeeded brilliantly. If the goal of the campaign ad was to contribute to rape culture, they might have done that well too.
And the resulting fervor has been intense.
From Feministing: “Their case? Don’t drink too much, or else you’ll get raped, but hey–that’s your fault, because we warned you!”
From Alternet: “Offensively titled “Control Tonight,” the ads suggest girls look out for themselves and friends during a night of drinking. Otherwise, a rape might happen. The blame is quite clearly not on the rapist, but the victim and her friends, as if rape is a monster that emerges from the bottom of a bottle.”
And due to the large amount of negative feedback, the ad has been pulled.
Responding to the criticism, PA Liquor Control Board spokesperson Stacey Witalec said, “First and foremost our intention was never to offend anyone with the images but to bring about a greater conversation about the dangers of binge and problematic drinking. We did a lot of work with focus groups and a lot of research for this campaign, and heard from our target — individuals 21 through 29 — that these are scenarios they have faced and their friends have faced.”
And despite being a person who regularly tries to inform people about rape culture and fights viciously against anything or anyone that takes sexual assault lightly, I wasn’t mad at these ads. I didn’t perceive them as victim blaming.
I’m fully open to hearing arguments to the contrary, as it’s entirely possible that this is just slipping through some crack in my brain left from one two many nights of my own teen drinking… when I definitely had more than one occasion where I stupidly drank my face off and some stupid drunk teenage boy tried to take advantage of it….and one of my more sober friends saved my ass.
Yes, it’s absolutely a fact that we need (not should, NEED) to stop aiming sexual assault prevention towards potential victims. It needs to be aimed at potential assailants, presenting the importance of taking personal responsibility for obtaining consent and the value of using ones power for protecting, rather than hurting. It’s absolutely, undeniably a fact we live in a rape culture where victims are tasked with the job of rape prevention. And that needs to fucking change.
But it’s also true that in America, we live in a binge drinking culture. We don’t teach kids about safely consuming alcohol in moderation. There is no “glass of wine at dinner” or “couple of beers and chill the hell out with your friends” mentality promoted by the adult establishment. “Under-aged” consumption is both a celebrated taboo and highly illegal. So teen drinking is clandestine, poorly managed and done in binges. Between the fact they have limited hours to do their partying before an authority figure arrives and their lack of experience (and frontal lobe development), teens often aim to drink their faces off. They don’t stop until the room is spinning and their shoes are covered in half-digested tortellini.
And so while this ad in some ways perpetuates the idea that a young girl can and should do things to prevent being victimized, which (for some people) places blame on her if an assault does occur, it is probably the most helpful self defense advice I’ve seen aimed at young women. This is a far cry from the BS about not dressing slutty and not trusting any of your male friends. This is tactical information for a young person who doesn’t know how to drink and will, very possibly, learn about hook-ups while hammered.
From my vantage, the line “she couldn’t say no” is clutch. It’s about maintaining your control and ability to fend off unwanted attention. It’s still the asshole’s job to respect your boundaries, and totally his fault if he doesn’t. But it’s a hell of a lot easier to make sexual decisions of all kinds when you’re not completely blasted. Everything from consenting to sex, whether or not to use condoms, even decisions about whether or not that person is actually good looking are harder when you’re plastered than when you’re just lightly buzzed. That is a fact.
Ultimately, I’m ecstatic that people got mad about this. That’s encouraging as hell. I’m not disagreeing with them; they’re not wrong. I’m choosing, in this instance, to see this as a reasoned approach to talking to young females about drinking in a world where rape culture is the norm, rather than a perpetuation of the norm itself. Educating young people on sexuality and alcohol are similarly challenging. And hopefully all this controversy brought these ads to the attention of people who could get the message that drinking is not naughty and sinful, it’s just serious business.