The South Australian government has produced an “anti-binge drinking” ad that targets young women. It features a young woman slumped in a dodgy club toilet while someone else points her finger accusingly.
The tagline reads: “Drink too much, you’re asking for trouble.”
Journalist Catherine Deveney described the ad on Twitter as amounting to government-funded “slut-shaming”.
The ad does not mention sex. But in a context of media moralism that combines concerns over “dangerous binge drinking” with casual sex and even sexual assault, it is hard to not read the tagline as implying getting drunk could lead to “embarrassing” or even unwanted sexual encounters.
This is the ugly reality underpinning much of the government and media discussion about binge drinking.
Presented as discussion of a public health issue, the topic is used as an excuse for sensationalist moralising over the lives of young women.
Of course, heavy drinking is unhealthy and unprotected sex is dangerous. But the media combine such concerns with bouts of hysteria over a drunken, sex-crazed generation of young women spiraling out of control.
I keep expecting to read that Robert Menzies is seeking to outlaw the Reds in a referendum to confirm I have slipped into a time warp and it is indeed 1951.
Then I read The Australian’s repeated claims about Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon’s links to KGB spies and I realise it is not me that’s fallen through a rip in the fabric of time and space, it’s them.
For instance, Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph ran a story on January 29 titled “Generation Y-Not” that exposed “a generation of young women who blithely out-drink and out-smoke men”.
I was expecting an editorial advocating a stimulus package to rush booze and cigarettes to Australia's young men so nature's proper balance could be restored.
The article said: “Adding to the concern is that some girls are having sex younger than ever” — at an average age of 16, the legal age of consent. The cause for concern is left to the reader's imagination.
The Sydney Morning Herald joined in last June with an article titled “Do you know what your daughter’s doing tonight?”, in which Rachel Olding wrote that “today’s teenage girls” are “sexually promiscuous and binge drinking like never before”.
Olding's story featured two 18-year-old women and one 17-year-old who she watched get blind drunk on a night out. Olding filled her report with salacious details such as: "Theirs is a world in which giving a boy a blow job in the toilets is 'pretty slutty' but you’ll shrug it off the next day."
One of them told Olding: "It's just sex, to us it doesn't mean anything."
Young women enjoying sex for its own sake. The horror.
From this, Olding concluded the nation was facing a lost generation of young women and asked dramatically: "Where are the parents in all this craziness?"
Obviously, this generation of young women is the first to behave in such a shocking fashion.
Back in the '40s, when Yankee soldiers in Australia were described as "overpaid, oversexed and over here", that referred to the habit of the GIs keeping young women up late playing scrabble and discussing the advance of the Red Army on the eastern front.
You certainly never heard any such claims about the '60s, defined as that decade was by the famous slogan: "Saving yourself for marriage, hot cups of milo and rock'n'roll."
But the worst thing by far is that this hysteria ends up as a cover for blaming the victims of rape.
A Sydney Morning Herald article from October last year reported: “Young women planning a night out should tell their friends if they plan to have sex to avoid unwanted and potentially dangerous drunken encounters, the NSW Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, has warned.”
Surely a far better plan would be asking young men planning a night out to tell their friends if they plan to rape anyone. That way, their friends can glass them.
Scipione said the “rise in binge drinking among girls and young women is making them vulnerable to sexual assault”.
Right … it is not the existence of rapists that makes young women vulnerable to assault, or a misogynist culture that treats women as objects to be used. It is how much the rape victim has drunk.
These are public comments in 2012 from a leading public official in charge of the force meant to prosecute the criminal.
But it is not just him.
The SMH ran an article in November 2010 about a Flinders University report, funded by DrinkWise and the federal Health Department, that declared: “Heavier drinking is exposing young women to increased risk of sexual assault for which male perpetrators routinely escape blame.”
Sexual assault is the only crime treated this way. No one, hearing of a murder, questions how much the victim had to drink and then suggests: “If only he had a told his mates at the start of the night if he planned on getting stabbed.”
It is not heavy drinking that exposes young women to the risk of assault. Young women face sexual assault whether drunk or sober.
One in four women suffer sexual assault and it can happen in anywhere — very often in the family home.
What exposes young women to assault is the fact that men choose to assault them. And when society lets the perpetrator off the hook by shifting the blame to the victim, it makes sexual assault more likely.
This is where the hysteria about an “out of control” generation of young women ends up.
What is truly out of control is a society so riddled with misogyny that not only is how much young women drink and how many sexual partners they have a topic for public moralising, but the blame for the very real epidemic of sexual assault is shifted to them too.
[Read more Carlo's Corner columns.]