Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Don't be that guy

Don't get me wrong. This is an important issue, and these messages need to be said.

But it's also scary for me to note that these same messages were pitched at me when I was a teen, more than 20 years ago. Has anything changed?

This campaign, launched yesterday by Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton, is intended to raise awareness among young men that intoxicated women cannot consent to sex. In other words, sex with these women is rape.

According to the campaign site, this is a new approach:
"Typically, sexual assault awareness campaigns target potential victims by urging women to restrict their behavior. Research is telling us that targeting the behavior of victims is not only ineffective, but also contributes to how much they blame themselves after the assault. That's why our campaign is targeting potential offenders - they are the ones responsible for the assault and responsible for stopping it. By addressing alcohol-facilitated sexual assault without victim-blaming, we intend to mark Edmonton on the map as a model for other cities."
The "Don't be that guy" campaign has already picked up blog coverage from AdFreak and others. But curiously, the full ads have not been made available until today, when they popped up on SAVE's Facebook page.

According to the first article I saw on the campaign, in the Edmonton Journal, there is also a third ad that appears only in men's washrooms at bars and reads: “Just because she’s drunk doesn’t mean she wants to f***.”  [UPDATE: Here it is...]

As I said, an important message. But why has nothing changed in two decades?

When I started university in the late '80s, there was a very tense environment of gender politics at Queen's. The "take back the night" and "no means no" campaigns were in full swing, and the sensitivity about sexism was so hair-trigger that a student group prevented the Barenaked Ladies from performing on campus, just because of the band's goofy name.

It was one of those times in history when the pendulum of political correctness was hitting an apogee. And I daresay that there was at least one life-destroying rape accusation that didn't stand up in court.

Like I said at the start, don't get me wrong. Men who purposely get women blind drunk to take relatively lucid advantage of them are criminal rapists. They're little better than guys who use roofies.

But there is another side to this issue, and that is the mutually drunken hook-up. Young men my age were terrified by urban legends of women who would go home with them willingly, only to regret it later and claim coercion. Magazines like National Lampoon joked about not having sex with someone without a notarized contract.

Do young men still have this paranoia? As much as I wish we could move on from our instinctive sexism that views women as gatekeepers of sex and men as the barbarians at their gates, I doubt we've made much progress. Women are still seen as having more to lose from a casual sexual encounter than men are, even with effective birth control. Why is that?

And that's the thing that gives me pause about this campaign. Women are prey. Men are the predators. Therefore, we must scare away the predators through the threat of legal action and social shame. And the women are helpless in the face of male pressure and demon alcohol.

Won't it be great when we can have a campaign about fixing that?

You can access, and freely share, all campaign creative here.


  1. Nice article.

    Just a quick comment: "Men who purposely get women blind drunk" Unless you are physically opening someone's mouth and pouring booze in, or drastically increasing the presumed alcohol content of drinks you supply to women, you are not "getting someone drunk." The same way McDonalds isn't making you fat.

  2. You obviously never had Mayor McCheese force feed you a Happy Meal while the Hamburglar pinned you down, Pat. McDonald's was pretty hardcore in the '70s...

    Seriously, though, there is such as thing as coercion, and there is a problem with a guy who uses it to feed drinks into a woman while staying relatively sober himself. But it's the lack of sober consent to what comes afterwards that's the issue here.

  3. I have mixed feelings about this campaign. I do like that it targets behaviours rather than telling survivors how to avoid being raped. However, the frequent portrayals of the campaign as "finally telling men not to be rapists" is more than a little minimizing to male rape survivors. Further, it does give the impression that only men commit rape and that they are all going to be rapists unless taught otherwise. Consent campaigns are an improvement, but I take offense at the concept that I have to be taught not to be a rapist. When I was the age of the target demographic - I was being raped - by a woman who used alcohol she bought to drug me. I'm not a statistical anomaly, more than simply a deliberately ignored demographic. Consent is not a gender issue, regardless of how some may wish to paint it for their own purposes.

    The woman who raped me BOUGHT my drinks for me and spiked the second one before doing what she wanted and then blackmailing me into silence. Of course, I've been told by both men and women that I must have wanted it, was at fault for drinking with a woman I didn't know, men can't be raped, women can't be rapists and every other victim-blaming tidbit you can think up.

    Someone never told my rapist "Don't Be That Gal." 20 years, countless panic attacks, years of lost sleep, and thousands of dollars in therapy bills could have been avoided if she'd cared about consent herself. How many women violate the consent of their partners regularly, only to get away with it because female on male rape is considered a big joke, or worse - that he was asking for it (i.e., erections = consent, men can't be raped, men always want sex).

    Somedays I hate her and other days I reserve my stronger emotions for those who make excuses for people (not just men) who violate consent and do what they want, when they want, without regard to the damage they leave behind.

  4. Thank you, James, for sharing what must be a very difficult story to tell. I'm glad you have sought help.