Unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard something or other in the past month about a horrifying gang-rape case out of Steubenville, Ohio, involving two of the town's star football players, an inebriated out-of-town girl, and an alarming number of adults willing to defend the boys and blame the girl. (Because: football! Is there anything more important?)
Actually, if you have been living under a rock, consider yourself lucky, because this case just gets uglier with every new bit of information. With the juvenile-court date approaching in early February and online activists (both masked and not) stepping up to protest the city's handling of the case, there's going to be even more to parse in the coming weeks. So here's a primer on the events.
It turns out! Women drink too! Sometimes they even drink faster or more than men, according to a charmingly colloquially written science news piece that crossed my notice over the holidays. According to a survey of Spanish college students, male college students drink more on average, but women drink faster, and a higher percentage of women were identified as "binge drinkers." A survey of US students also found that students in mixed-gender housing were more likely to binge-drink than students in single-gender housing. Which, as we've discussed, is completely true in my experience, therefore I believe it! And nothing is wrong with the article itself, and the research could guide policy changes on college campuses that keep students safer, whether they drink or not.
But an almost-inevitable result of research – however sound or suspect – on gender breakdowns on, well, anything, is the inevitable tide of sexist eye-rolling or concern trolling that follows. (Look no further than the comments on that article. I kid. There is no reason to read them.) I've long been fascinated by moral panics, as they inevitably target the young, or the ladies, or people of color or sexual minorities. (Christine Sismondo notes that while bars catering to sexual minorities have probably always been around, raids on same in the 1940s and '50s started because Joseph McCarthy was disproportionately interested in the behavior of gay men, who he believed could be more easily blackmailed and brainwashed by Communists. Of course, the moral panic – and the attendant official interest in gay bars – took on a life of its own, and raids continued well after McCarthy's resignation.)
In college, I lived in a co-op – on-campus, owned by the university and so-called because rather than rely on the custodial service that cleaned the other campus buildings, we divvied cleaning tasks among ourselves. It was cheaper to live there than in the dorms or off-campus. There were several on our campus, and I lived in no fewer than three. There were not the hippie havens they sound like, though the one I lived in for two years in a row had a hackey sack circle going out front pretty much 24/7. That house – the only coed house in Oregon State's co-op system – was far more like a coed fraternity.
None of us would have admitted that at the time, of course. All of considered ourselves a little too cool, a little too lefty and a little too mellow to participate in the, pshhhh, Greek system.
Though I wouldn't admit it to just anyone, I really like Judd Apatow. Sure, he's partially responsible for comedy's obnoxiously named Frat Pack, and with it the continued celebration of adult men who act like bratty adolescents—but he also brought us Freaks and Geeks and Bridesmaids, and he appears to share my hardcore crush on Paul Rudd. Plus, Apatow is the rare sort of dude's dude who puts his money where his mouth is when it comes to supporting women in comedy. He's not batting a thousand by any means, but he's produced a fair share of work by women, and he generally seems like a pretty smart guy. That's why I was excited when Apatow was announced as the guest editor of this month's Vanity Fair. That excitement was a little premature.
I drink. I like to drink. I do it for a lot of reasons and I'm glad I have the right to do it. (The right to drink was actually never taken away from the public, but we'll get to that in a minute.)
I also grew up in a family in which some people abused alcohol. Most of the details of that, I'll refrain from making your business, as they involve folks who haven't consented to be written about here. The point is, I am under no illusion that drinking is only a personal and private choice. And not just in cases where people drink and get behind the wheels of cars, beat or sexually assault their parnters or children or die too young of cirhhosis of the liver because they drank too much: the subtler effects of drinking on human behavior affect the drinker's work and relationships, and these can ripple outward. Anyone who's ever lost a job due to a single, unproductive, hungover morning, or had a friendship go south after one boozy night, knows what I'm talking about. (I broke my foot earlier this year in a bike accident after riding home with a couple of cocktails in my system. It cost me the part-time job I was using to supplement freelance work, and that affected my finances, and my financial status has affected my relationships with my friends. Heck, so has my reduced mobility, an ongoing thing I am still getting used to. So, drunks – and users of other intoxicants – can we agree that "I'm only hurting myself" is not necessarily the right way of talking about these things?)
Some of the negative effects of drinking – particularly the subtle ones – are, I think, best managed in privacy. Break a wine glass? Sweep it up, go to Ikea or the thrift store and get some more. Find out you're pregnant following a boozy one-night stand? Do what you think is best. From that perspective I've been sympathetic to the NRA's rhetoric about responsible, educated gun ownership. I think there is such a thing; I really do. Just as I think there is such a thing as responsible, educated alcohol consumption.
Just Detention is a Los Angeles–based organization working to end sexual violence in detention facilities. Last year, they sent over 1,700 messages of hope (including ones from Bitch Media readers) to survivors of sexual abuse and violence in prison. This year, they're sending even more.
From Just Detention:
Every day, Just Detention International hears from survivors of sexual abuse who are behind bars and struggling to heal. This holiday season, you can give a survivor some hope by sending a personal message to remind them that they have not been forgotten. Here's how it works: 1) Submit your message below (in 140 characters or less) 2) We'll pass on your message to a survivor in time for the holidays 3) Someone's life is changed forever because of YOU
Myself and many women like me, who've grown up privileged, educated, single, childless, career-oriented, and feminist, have also figured that we'd get around to having kids eventually. Unlike generations of women who came before us, we have the option of delaying the babymaking process until we've taken care of other business we might want to accomplish, like advancing our careers and finding people with whom to have and possibly raise said babies. Many men are considering those factors too, putting off fatherhood as a result. It is a good thing that we have those options. But what happens when a whole bunch of people decide to have kids later in life? According to the latest issue of the New Republic, delaying parenthood might have further-reaching consequences than we realize.
So far in this series I've talked about women making and marketing beer, the gender politics projected onto drinks themselves and women visiting bars. But I haven't yet talked about women behind the bar.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak to Mindy Kucan, the lead bartender at Hale Pele, a tiki bar in Northeast Portland. Kucan has been tending bar for 10 years, but got interested in "craft bartending" (which focuses on complex, balanced cocktails mixed on quality liquors and unusual ingredients, as well as reviving classic drinks from bygone eras) five years ago, while tending bar at a Hilton in Texas. "I wanted to get better at what I did, so I just found ways to do it," Kucan told me.
In 2008, she attended Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans both to meet more people in the craft cocktail scene and to watch skilled bartenders at work. Eventually, she started entering mixology competitions. Often, these are sponsored by the makers of spirits or liqueurs, and the competition centers around (quickly) building a drink with that ingredient inclusive – but they grade on personality and aplomb as well as quality of cocktail. Others are charity events asking competitors to quickly build a drink with that ingredient inclusive – such as the Iron Bartender competition I attended earlier this month, in which Kucan competed (and where she is pictured here, dressed as Angostura bitters).
This summer, a Los Angeles gay bar called the Abbey banned bachelorette parties from its establishment until marriage equality is achieved, which sparked discussion in LGBTQ communities elsewhere about the tradition of straight bachelorettes celebrating impending nuptials in queer spaces. Here in Portland, a gay bar called CC Slaughters announced it would permit bachelorettes and their parties to celebrate there provided they didn't "flaunt it." That is to say, bridal veils, tiaras, penis hats – and, presumably, sequined "Bride" T-shirts – now have to be checked at the door.
Just how long brides-to-be have been crashing the gates of gay bars for pre-nuptial fun, I can't say: the bachelorette party itself is a relatively new phenomenon (historical info online is spotty, but the first how-to-plan-a-bachelorette-party guide was published in 1998, and etiquette and bridal books only started referencing this alternative to the bridal shower in the 1960s). Why precisely dancing at a gay bar, or seeing a drag show, evolved as the counterpart to male bachelor party traditions (mostly, if Hollywood is telling me the truth, going to Vegas and either accidentally marrying strippers or accidentally killing them) is another question.
Part of it at least stems from a perception of gay bars as safe spaces for straight women – where they can drink or dance without likelihood of being hit on or groped the way they might be in straight clubs. (I like dancing in queer clubs for just this reason – and sometimes drag my computer or a book to happy hour at the gay bar in my neighborhood, partly because they have really good drink specials and partly because I know no one will tap my shoulder and ask me what I'm reading or working on.) Perhaps seeing a drag show, or dancing with gay men, or watching male strippers might provide straight women with a means to act out sexually without running a real risk of zero-hour infidelity (the likelihood of which is the running joke in pretty much all plans and narratives around bachelor/ette parties).
The Leveson Report on the ethics of the British Press has vindicated U.K. feminists by concluding that our tabloid media demeans and sexualizes women. But now that the dust has settled, will there be any real change in British newspapers?