Waging Battles on Slippery Slopes

I am not an expert in any of the topics I’m about to discuss. I am a twenty-two year old Asian male studying structural engineering, and I spend nearly all my time at Stanford thinking about finite element analysis, solar-powered homes, and global sustainability. I stay away from house parties because hard alcohol tastes like poison, I hate the music, and my friends turn into complete assholes.

But a recent article on the Daily, while raising valid points about the dangers of sexual assault, seemed to go too far when it built its argument around a war-like image of women fighting male privilege at parties. As the author illustrates, “Parties are a war of survival” in which women “suit up in their favorite cut-off shorts and crop tops” and stage “rescue missions” for their allies. Perhaps this is appropriate rhetoric given the assaults, sexist remarks, and objectifications in the media that pelt us like a torrential rain, and I suspect this is the perceived setting in which some women on campus wage “battles” every Friday and Saturday night. But I’m concerned that many women, inspired by the thunder around them, are fighting the wrong battle, and possibly even the wrong war. The primary enemy at a house party is alcohol abuse, and most men and women are fighting to lose. Parties perpetuate a culture that entangles alcohol abuse and sexuality, and these two are so closely linked that we simply cannot accept arguments about sexual abuse that ignore the effects of alcohol or assume that the house party is an inherently innocuous pastime.

The author of the Daily article took the wider party culture for granted, as many proponents do when they claim that there’s nothing wrong with twenty-year-olds turning up on a Friday or Saturday night. But those who have self-selected out of this culture are perhaps most attuned to its true nature. I experienced this in my freshman dorm when peers would ask me if their crop top made their breasts look bigger, or if their bro tanks showed off their biceps, or if their cutoff shorts would attract more attention to their butts. These men and women did not have the intentions of sleeping in their own beds that night. Some put down shot after shot hoping that the alcohol would let them make less rational decisions when it came to sex. Some even wanted to be objectified because it made them feel more desired. And this was just one freshman dorm room, out of hundreds on campus. The staggering majority of partiers are not going to house parties to battle the enemy of male privilege with their valiant allies. They are going there to make bad decisions and have fun with it. To get fucked, in all senses of the word. Which means, unfortunately, that those who do like to party in a responsible way have no choice but to subject themselves to uncomfortable and dangerous situations.

I suspect these claims will only cause more outcry from partiers. But culture by definition protects its own interests, and its most defensive voices are often those most inebriated by its influence, so we should never assume any culture to be objective, especially when the consequences can be life-threatening. Waging battles on slippery slopes only perpetuates the war.

Removing parties and alcohol from the equation, we can return to a sober and principled discussion about gender equality, namely the inherent biophysical differences between men and women, the institutionalized governance we need to assure those differences don’t translate into political or socioeconomic differences, and the cultural misrepresentations of both men and women that plague both to feel that they are in some neverending quest for dominance. The greatest flaw of the Daily article, and perhaps college feminism, is in mistaking the head spins, raging bodies, and trashy EDM of the house party as a sign of war between men and women. If we really want to talk about gender equality, the right war is no war at all. Rather we should be participating in a mutual intervention on our cultural upbringings to make sure that the deeply-established beliefs and habits we’ve formed can one day become gender-blind at a personal and societal level. This should be about everybody winning, not one side or the other. Perhaps this is the ultimate goal of feminism that often gets lost in its aggressive rhetoric — but then again, I’m no expert.

Afterword: Read “This Ain’t For You,” a rejoinder by the original Daily writer. Here’s one comment on that article:

After reading this Stanford Daily article, I decided to search for Derek Ouyang’s offensive comments […]

But contrary to what I thought would be a condescending and hateful speech (like some of the comments I often see on the daily’s comment section), I found an honest, well written analysis. He was not looking to offend, but give an honest perspective.

Derek responded with a thoughtful article that referenced the original. But the author of this article did not return the same privilege: she did not bother to reference any passages from his article at all (to reiterate, I was convinced he was a hate-mongerer). I hope anyone who reads this article here also takes the time to read Derek’s article as well.

Derek, you are brave and should continue writing your honest thoughts. As someone who also writes honestly, I know what it feels like to take angry criticism. I don’t understand the pain of women and minorities in the slightest, but I do understand different types of pains. In particular, the pain of having one’s writings shot down.

You didn’t deserve a Stanford Daily article like this published. I hope when you read “This ain’t for you” know that “This attack ain’t deserved.” Keep writing, keep thinking, and keep up the good work.

Best,
Otis B.

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