The monster in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Freddy Krueger, kills his victims in their dreams. So long as you can stay awake, so long as you can refrain from sleeping, you’re safe. But, as you might expect, the young people who Krueger stalks can only stay up for so long. Eventually they fall asleep. And when they do, as they all eventually do, he uses a glove armed with razors to slice his victims into pieces.
The monster in Emily Yoffe’s Slate article on sexual assault “lurks where women drink like a lion at a watering hole.” Though mitigated with caveat after caveat, Yoffe’s advice to young women is about as stupid as that given to the young people in A Nightmare on Elm Street. So long as you can stay sober, so long as you can refrain from drinking, you’re safe. What’s ironic is that Yoffe clearly views her advice as pragmatic. It is, in fact, quite idealistic. It’s also unrealistic.
Drinking has been a central part of youth culture for thousands of years. There are plenty of good and bad reasons for this. But that’s another conversation for another day. What matters here is that we pragmatically acknowledge one simple fact: partying is a central feature of college life, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. As such, asking young women to avoid it—for their own good—is profoundly unfair. Why should they have to miss out on a big part of the college experience? Is it any wonder that they ignore us? I would.
The nightmare on Elm Street is caused by Freddy Krueger. He’s the problem. Not the young people who keep falling asleep. Likewise, the nightmare on College Street is caused by sexual predators like Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on January 17th, 2015. They’re the problem. Not the young women who keep drinking.
I partied like a champ back in the day, as did most of my friends, and it did lead to some stupid decisions. It occurred to some of us to take on a bouncer twice our size. Or a football player three times our size. Fair amount of fighting happened. But it just didn’t occur to any of us to rape. And we were regularly around passed out drunk girls. That’s why I just don’t buy this whole “WHOOPS, I RAPED HER” defense. There are plenty of things that guys who are “totally out of control” refrain from doing almost all the time (e.g., stabbing pets to death, stealing from friends, sticking forks into electrical outlets, cutting their own dicks off for fun, etc.). If drunk guys were just as likely to rape as they were to cut off their own limbs, or jump out of penthouse windows, I’d be prepared to take the diminished capacity argument seriously. But we all know that’s simply not the case.
If drunk words are sober thoughts, drunk actions are sober fantasies. And full-blown fantasies aren’t born full-grown. To rape when you’re drunk, you’ve gotta be fantasizing about it a whole lot when you’re sober. And what kind of a culture produces a steady supply of kids who fantasize about raping each other? Um, I don’t know, maybe a rape culture! Look, there have always been, and there will always be, a small number of weirdos and outliers with strange desires (e.g., cannibals, necrophiliacs, bestialitists). These people are rare events, black swans, freaks of nature. The parents who produce them, and the communities who nurture them, can’t be held responsible for their fantasies, nor can they be held responsible for their actions. The same cannot be said of the Brock Turners of this world. Because their fantasies are anything but rare. And their crimes are all too common.
There are people in our midst who think it’s totally appropriate to use someone else’s body like a blowup doll with a pulse. If we’re ever to wake up from this nightmare on College Street, your tragedy must cease to be their fantasy.
I’m told on a fairly regular basis, usually by other middle-aged teachers, that it’s simply impossible for them to resist the urge to stare at their students. I’m always mystified by this, because I find it very easy to refrain from checking out teenage girls, just as I found it very easy to refrain from checking out my little sisters when we were growing up, just as I find it very easy to “hold it” and not piss myself when I’ve gotta go but have yet to find a bathroom.
The ability to effortlessly repress drives and focus our sexuality and aggression on appropriate people is central to what it means to be a civilized grownup. When we see an older kid who’s still in diapers, we don’t say “well, you know, it’s natural to piss yourself whenever you feel the need to pee”, we say: “Why isn’t that kid potty-trained yet?” Likewise, when I meet a middle-aged lecher who can’t stop eye-fucking every teenage girl he sees, I don’t say, “well, you know, it’s natural”, I say: “Shouldn’t your face be potty-trained by now?”
First it was that smiley feminist ally, the Q-ute metrosexual guy on CBC, Jian Ghomeshi; and then it was that Yoda-like Zen master, Joshu Roshi, who wisened up my homeboy Leonard Cohen, my cousin Lindsey, and David, sweet David, da Albuquerque; and then it was Bill Cosby, Cliff, motherfucking, Huxtable! Then it was Harvey Weinstein, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Spacey, David Bowie, and Louis CK. And now it’s Tariq Ramadan.
What’s next? Seriously, what’s next? New archaeological evidence from 1st-century Palestine implicating Jesus in the inappropriate touching of his disciples? Proof that Santa forced himself on several elves? I’m open to practically anything now! Bob Ross? Mr. Rogers? Tom Hanks? Justin Trudeau? I know disillusionment is part of growing up (a part I’ve never been particularly good at). And I know that wanting to be “illusioned” is itself morally suspect in this broken and burning world. But, life, for God’s sake, can you at least stagger the bad news, give me a chance to catch my breath, before you punch me in the stomach again?
Buddy of mine says this is going to be remembered as The Year of the Asshole, a year of reckoning wherein a whole lot of assholes get their comeuppance. And that prophecy proves more and more prescient the farther we push into this godforsaken Year of our Lord. Because it’s November, it’s grey, and the party appears to be over. But perhaps it’s all for the best. Perhaps it’s good to be down here, on my hands and knees, picking up the pieces of broken glass, with all the other sinners.
If the fallout from Morgan Spurlock’s mea culpa—“I am Part of the Problem”—proves anything, it’s that confessing your sins in public won’t do you any good in the post-Weinstein era. All pathways to redemption have been closed by the #MeToo Moment. Deny it all and you’ve got a shot. Confess it all and be damned. Spurlock’s next movie could be a cautionary tale entitled Super Crucify Me (2019). This is what it feels like when somebody presses History’s fast-forward button.
We now know that Hindus used to eat beef. Cows weren’t always sacred to them. And eating them wasn’t always prohibited. Historians of Ancient India believe that the prohibition against eating beef spread slowly at first, over the course of decades, maybe even centuries; but after reaching some sort of tipping point, this quirky regional taboo became a rigid subcontinental norm. And it did so with remarkable speed: one year your neighbors are gossiping about you because you eat beef, giving you dirty looks; next year they’re burning your house to the ground for doing so, driving you out of town.
The India that emerged out of this massive cultural shift was, in essence, a safe space for cows. Unattended cows can walk down streets and alleyways lined with the hungry in India, and they can do so fearlessly, nonchalantly, without a care in the world. They can do so because the taboo boundaries against harming them are well-established, well-guarded, and rigidly enforced.
Are we living through a cultural shift of a similar stamp? It certainly looks like it. After decades of disappointment, we appear to have reached some sort of a feminist tipping point in the civilized West. Sexist behavior that was merely considered uncouth a generation ago is now deemed thoroughly disgusting and decidedly uncool; men who were merely seen as pigs back in the day have been redefined, seemingly overnight, as criminals and degenerates.
The society that emerges from this messy cultural shift has yet to take shape. But this much is clear: it will be a safer space for women and children. It will be safer because the taboo boundaries against harming them will be well-established, well-guarded, and rigidly enforced. Who knows, we may soon find ourselves living in a brave new world, a radically transformed moral landscape, wherein women and children can walk down streets and alleyways fearlessly, nonchalantly, without a care in the world.
Isaiah dreamed of a peaceful world without predation: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat . . . and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” John Lennon dreamed of a peaceful world without religion, nation states, and private property: “Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people / Sharing all the world.” We dream dreams of a similar stamp.
At the dramatic climax of Traffic (2000), Michael Douglas’s character, the guy in charge of the War on Drugs, breaks down in the middle of a press conference and goes off-script: “If there is a War on Drugs then our own families have become the enemy. How can you wage war on your own family?” The overarching message of Stephen Marche’s The Unmade Bed (2017) is of a similar stamp: namely, that the martial language employed by “social justice warriors” and “men’s rights activists” is a toxic dead-end. The Battle of the Sexes is bullshit: “Rather than enrich the realm of politics with the difficult business of intimate life, identity politics flattens the personal until it fits into established intellectual categories.” If the hawkish ideologues who fan the flames of the “Gender Wars” in Social Media Land are to be believed, then our own families have become the enemy. But how can you wage war on your own family? And why would you want to? Your spouse isn’t the enemy: “The central conflict of domestic life right now is not mothers against fathers, or even conflicting ideas of motherhood or gender. It is the family against money.”
The Unmade Bed is a deeply moral book. And Marche treats his subject with all of the seriousness it deserves. But it’s also a remarkably funny book. The following scene is a case in point: “I was at a bachelor party, one of those bizarre rituals in which men have to stoop to their stereotype as a kind of recognition of common brutality, and we were all drunkenly heading to a strip club when my wife called. She needed to talk. A man she worked with called her ‘Honey.’ It pissed her off. It pissed me off. It pissed me off that this classic old-school garbage should survive. And so I found myself enraged, genuinely enraged at the sexism of a world that would call my wife ‘Honey’ just as I was entering a business in which I was going to pay to see women naked. Such are the everyday minor anti-epiphanies of living through the twenty-first-century rearrangement of gender. They subtract from rather than add to what I thought I knew about myself and others.”
Marche’s discussion of housework in the last chapter is equally hilarious: “Housework is the macho bullshit of women. And, in this light, it is perhaps not surprising that men have not started doing more housework. Men might be willing to lose the garbage of their own gender stereotypes, but why should they take on the garbage of another? Equality is coming, but not the way we expected. The future does not involve men doing more housework. . . . Caring less is the hope of the future. Housework is perhaps the only political problem in which doing less and not caring are the solution, where apathy is the most progressive and sensible attitude. Fifty years ago it was perfectly normal to iron sheets and vacuum drapes; they were necessary tasks. The solution to the inequalities of dusting wasn’t dividing the dusting; it was not doing the dusting at all. The solution to the gender divide in housework generally is that simple: Don’t bother. Leave the stairs untidy. . . . Never make the bed. . . . A clean house is the sign of a wasted life, truly. Eventually we’ll all be living in perfect egalitarian squalor.”
As Marche demonstrates, in loving detail, we’re all in this together, whether we like it or not, and we’re going to have to find a way to muddle through it together. We didn’t create this mess, this mess of world-historical proportions, but it’s ours to clean up: “Instead of furious despair, what our moment demands is humility and compassion.”
—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)