Sunday, October 12, 2008

Why, Rosemary Feal?

I’m not an avid reader of the MLA Newsletter, but for some reason I skimmed the most recent one. Rosemary Feal’s back-to-school column covered some familiar topics: student financial aid, state university funding, full-time versus adjunct faculty, the reasons students take language and literature courses.

And then there was this:
I know that if I were returning to campus this year, I would be thinking about something else, too, and it has been on my mind since my first year at college, when I witnessed the spectacles of keg parties, frat welcome events, and the like: the effect of alcohol consumption by young people who are often living away from their families for the first time. [Paging Margaret Soltan’s red pen. --N] How many of you, I wonder, have heard the same stories I used to hear, year after year, about the (sometimes devastating) ill effects of a “few too many” on young lives? On several occasions distressed young women confided in me: they went to a party, they drank too much, they don’t remember much after that ... well, you know the rest, as I did before they concluded. I informed them of the resources available on campus and tried to assure them that they’d get through it.

Yes, I know the rest, and I’ll name it, since Feal so decorously declines to do so: rape.

Memo to Rosemary Feal: alcohol does not cause rape. Rapists cause rape. You can drink yourself unconscious, and if no rapist is in the vicinity, there will be no rape. Yes, drinking can impair a woman’s ability to fend off rapists. It also impairs people’s ability to operate heavy machinery, avoid being mugged, or avoid being hit by a truck. In fact, if you’re too drunk to remember things, you’re not in much of a position to avoid anything. Nobody acts as if drinking causes being hit by trucks -- rightly. But apparently the established procedure is to tell our college women that they’ll get through it, and sorry, but being raped is the price that uppity Ovary-Americans pay for thinking they can act like college students. Just a little reminder, by way of physical assault, that even if they earn more than 50% of degrees, they're still fundamentally outsiders in the university.

Yes, college-age drinking is a serious problem. But don’t you go writing in the MLA Newsletter that rape is an “effect of alcohol consumption.”

Note how that nominalization, "consumption," carefully elides agents.

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