On Drugs, Alcohol and Rape Culture

When Belvedere Vodka published this advertisement clearly depicting a rape in progress, it kicked off a shitstorm of controversy, as well it should’ve. Even the mainstream was shocked and/or offended by this obvious rape-imagery and mainstream feminists demanded that the ad be removed, the brand boycotted, and people be held accountable for contributing to “rape culture” by making light of rape.

Interestingly, the woman depicted in the ad hadn’t even consented been asked for her permission or given it to have her image used this way — she is now suing the company for using her likeness and for placing her in the center of this controversy.

But as usual, even though this extraordinarily rapey ad and everyone responsible for it deserves to be blasted for it, the mainstream response does not go nearly far enough, or into radical feminist territory at all. For example, what if we were to say that all media imagery depicting drug and alcohol use always contributes to rape and rape culture no matter how tastefully done, because drugs and alcohol reduce or remove women’s legal capacity to consent to intercourse?

Women and feminists have largely supported temperance movements around the world not because women were prudes, but because men were and are notoriously bad drunks and abuse, rape and otherwise destroy the lives of girls and women when men drink. Men spend their family’s income — and their child support payments — on booze and other vices constantly, depriving women and children of basic needs such as food and shelter. And women don’t like that. Men also use much of their discretionary income to abuse economically vulnerable women by purchasing prostituted women, strippers, and “dating” women who are then indebted to the men and coerced into having unwanted sex, or outright raped. Women have clear and valid reasons to support temperance, and to not support anyone drinking, including themselves — if it means that men wouldn’t have access to alcohol. It’s not that the women themselves don’t necessarily like or want to drink. Women are willing to give up their own “rights” as it were, to make the world a better and safer place for themselves and for all girls and women and to place much-needed social controls on men who cannot or will not stop abusing us.

This ad is pretty “rapey” too, and has been criticized on the internets somewhere…

Furthermore, women have every reason in the world to oppose drugs and alcohol because they are used against women to reduce our “inhibitions” and our known, legitimate personal and political resistance to unwanted intercourse — trolling bars and plying women with booze is the most widely-utilized well-known date-rape drug globally, but no one ever says it, or not quite. If male-centric sexuality were so pleasurable and positive for women, would we have “inhibitions” to it at all? Would men need to get women drunk, or would women’s magazines encourage overstressed housewives to have that glass of wine in the evening, so that women would more readily buy what men are selling — that intercourse is sex, and that we should do it? No — again, this implies that women are prudish and backwards, and need to be enticed to seek out pleasure and to engage in behavior that serves our interests.

What if we said this ad contributes to rape culture too, because it depicts alcohol and (hetero)sexuality in the same frame?

In reality, the opposite is true. Women who are in full possession of our faculties know what’s pleasurable for us, and know what’s in our best interests, and we act on this knowledge — often, by not having intercourse with men, or by being very selective about it, or timing it just right, or whatever. We might even say “no” to intercourse because we know the man is only going to be willing or able to do it once, and that’s not good enough — if we are going to engage in intercourse at all, it might be in women’s best interests to engage in it a lot. If we are going to be put at risk for unwanted pregnancy, disease, and the rest, why not get the maximum pleasure by having frequent intercourse, assuming it’s a pleasurable act at all? None of this, of course, is at all compatible with men’s concept of “sex” or their concept of “women’s sexuality,” or with what men are hoping to achieve by plying women with alcohol in bars, or in our own living rooms.

But beyond even that appears to be this: as long as we frame “rape” in terms of “consent” anything that reduces a woman’s capacity to consent is, in fact, contributing to rape culture. Isn’t it? Even a little bit of alcohol or mind-altering drugs reduces women’s legal capacity to consent to sex. In this context of reduced (or non-existent) capacity, “sexuality” should go out the window, lest women be placed at increasing risk of rape — the risk increasing as her capacity decreases — but it never does. “Sexuality” is always there, predatory men are always there, waiting, as women’s capacity to consent withers and shrinks to nothingness.

This ad depicts rape culture too, because alcohol reduces capacity to consent.

Drug and alcohol culture also serves to fetishize women’s vulnerability, which is another expression of rape culture and of patriarchal values — vulnerable, crippled and otherwise incapacitated women are seen in a positive light (sexualized) because hobbling women supports relative male power.

In this context of women’s nonconsent, “sex” does not and indeed cannot exist — only rape is left, where “sexuality” is mixed with drugs and alcohol. If sex and rape were so different, everyone would see this as a problem — so what does it mean that no one thinks it is, and that this very obvious dynamic/connection between drugs and alcohol, reduced-capacity to consent (and rape) is, in reality, completely invisible or ignored?