There’s a pounding in my head…
I grew up in Newcastle. As soon as I reached my mid-teens, “going out” involved dressing up and heading to Dobsons in the city centre where Happy Hour meant you could buy a treble Bacardi and coke for £1.25. For less than a fiver, by 8pm you could be staggering merrily through the Bigg Market, chancing your luck with the bouncers, before teetering to the bus stop to catch the last bus home. House parties involved Diamond White and cheap lager; blurry fumbles on the coats and the crippling dread of Monday morning.
It’s a blacked-out blur…
The drinking culture was hidden in plain sight. As soon as I got my first Saturday job at sixteen, the hours between fitting customers’ shoes would be filled with veiled competitive tales of the night before. At school, then sixth form, the gossip of who had got most pissed and done the most outrageous things was a particular form of currency which seemed to buy admission to the coolest cliques, even as the rules changed and changed and changed.
Think we kissed but I forgot…
For me, emerging from a shy and bullied start to teenagerhood, partying seemed like a kind of get-into-jail free card. It seemed like the easiest way to change who I was, though I realise now it worked more like a badly-fitting disguise. A lot of the time it was fun, of sorts. But a lot of the time, it really wasn’t. Who I’d kissed? Well, I usually wouldn’t have been able to tell you. When you’re insecure to the point of turning yourself inside out; when you’ve learned, without quite realising it, that your value is inherently bound up in whether or not some bloke thinks you’re worth the honour of a shag, it makes a mockery of the vapid “empowerment” line we’re all sold. I wonder how many women, really, have sober one-night-stands – and why that might be?
Trying to connect the dots…
There have been two high profile cases recently involving alcohol and consent (fast becoming a caringly concerned gloss for “rape”). Two young men who, legal consequences aside, we’re given to understand have suffered the life-changing effects of innocently having sex with women so drunk that it required forensic examination as to whether or not they consented. The effects on the women are less important, it seems. “We must educate”, implore these young men, piously, presumably so that no man ever goes through the ordeal they have.
I agree we need to educate. But I think that the education we’re talking about is vastly different.
I have three young children: two boys, one girl.
I will fight like a tiger to teach my daughter that she is worth infinitely more than being considered fleetingly fuckable by any man. That she has the right, always and in every circumstance, to refuse consent to being penetrated. This is blunt language, but it’s a brutal world. And I am not so naive as to think that whatever I teach her will stand up against the cultural messages which tell her otherwise.
And my sons? The boys who, I suspect, will be the target of this “education”?
I will tell them that they have no right to the body of another. That their pleasure does not trump (in absolutely all senses) the integrity of the person in whom they seek to find it. That they cannot go through life assuming consent is the default, or that the onus is on their potential partner to demonstrate otherwise. That whatever she (and for the purposes of this, I do mean she) may have said, or done, or suggested; whatever she wears, however she dances, however much she may have drunk, she never becomes a convenient excuse for release.
The bitter truth, though, is that they are all three educated all the time. Even though they’re still too young to be exposed to the kind of sex online which makes the stuff we saw as teenagers look like material for Topsy and Tim, they see pop videos and hear pop lyrics and read billboards and magazine covers which make it clear what society really thinks about their respective roles.
I don’t believe that alcohol reveals the true person, although in vino veritarse has a certain ring to it. But I do believe that it drops inhibitions to make people act in a way that they believe they are supposed to, in the way that they’ve been taught to, in a million subtle lessons we will never have noticed. And I believe that this, at least where sex is concerned, benefits one group far more than the other.
I am all for helping to educate our children and young people about the dangers of combining alcohol and sex. Just not, ever, to enable boys to find a way of safely screwing incapably drunk girls and getting away with it.