Wente is wrong, wrecks & rankles

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Margaret Wente’s recent column about alcohol and sexual assault had its reasonable moments, but unfortunately, these were overshadowed by the column’s many flaws.

Wente argues that the easiest way to attack rape culture on university campuses is to address what she calls “booze culture” and, in particular, female student’s binge drinking to the same extent as their male peers. By doing so, she argues, women are putting themselves in high-risk situations that are more likely to result in sexual assault.

This article reflects Wente’s regular tendency to sensationalize, resulting in an oversimplified, disingenuous and underdeveloped argument.

One of articles’ most glaring missteps is its disproportionate focus on the actions of women. Wente begins by regurgitating the same warning that many university-aged women have heard a handful of times: you shouldn’t get too drunk around young men or you might end up getting sexually assaulted.

The premise that the consumption of alcohol is the catalyst in the vast majority of campus sexual assaults is tenuous at best. There’s no doubt that sexual assaults would continue after an end to binge drinking, as the underlying gender dynamics and power imbalances would remain. Wente reduces a fairly complicated conversation to a piece of impractical advice.

Young men should also take offence to Wente’s column, as she generalizes their actions to the point that they come across as rapists-in-waiting.

It’s unfortunate that Wente goes on to undermine those who insist that “rape culture” exists. Feminists who talk about “rape culture” often advocate a male focused approach to sexual assault prevention. The idea that we should counsel young men about sexual assault is one that Wente could stand to engage with.

By comparing rape to other crimes like mugging, Wente excludes herself from rational debate. Taking someone’s wallet isn’t the same as violating their body. Anyone making that comparison isn’t attempting to discuss the topic seriously.

Everyone owes themselves a basic level of vigilance and responsibility in order to avoid dangerous situations. This is so self-evident that it shouldn’t be central to this conversation. To prevent sexual assault, the main focus should be on the actions of rapists. Women shouldn’t be forced to significantly change their behaviour due to the threat of attack.

By excluding any serious analysis of wider cultural sexism, Wente maximizes the blame placed on sexual assault victims. She insults the intelligence of young men and young women alike. She sensationalizes, and therefore narrows her argument to the point of absurdity.

— Journal Editorial Board

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