I was perusing Beerit, and came upon the question, “What was the first beer you ever had?” My Dad had let me take a few sips of his Molson when I was a kid, but the first beer I got for myself was at a frat party my Freshman year of college, in the fall of 2000 that I had gone to with my four suite-mates.
One of my roommates had gotten a pass to a Frat party, an exclusive one, which meant that they were only letting people in who had invitations. This was good because it meant that we could party in the beautiful fraternity house that they lived in – I went to college in a town that had seen better days economically, and there were plenty of large gorgeous Victorian homes available for ridiculously cheap rent. But an invite only party meant that it would not be too crowded to move around, dance or have a good time. A girl in my Math class would be there, her boyfriend was a pledge. She said it was going to be great.
We talked about the party as we got ready. We decided what taxicab company to take, and agreed to keep an eye on one another. Remember, the other ladies warned me, drink the beer, not the punch. I nodded in agreement. The beer was what the guys drank, it might taste like crap, but it wouldn’t make you immediately drunk (As little as I knew about sex when I was seventeen, I knew less about alcohol.) like that punch. We speculated that the punch was mostly cherry Kool-Aid mix, sugar and vodka. See, girls like pink, sweet, fruity drinks and not manly, bitter beer. If they made it sweet enough and strong enough, we tried to guess the fraternity guys reasoning, women would get too drunk and be more likely to say yes to sex…or, as we darkly reasoned, would be less likely to out up a fight if they were being raped. So, drink the beer so you can be sober enough to decide if you want to hook up or not.
The beer tasted like dishwater. But I danced with my friends and some of the guys who were there, chatted with classmates and people I knew at the party, played some pool. I had a really good time. The music was great. And I didn’t think twice about going to a party where I suspected the hosts were actively trying to rape – if not me, my friends or other women there.
I drank my first beer because I was trying to avoid being date raped.
There is no reason to blame myself for wanting to go out and have a good time with my friends. The college frat party is such a cultural touchstone, who wouldn’t want to see what all the fuss was about? We took reasonable precautions, watched our own and each others drinks, looked out for each other, didn’t drink and drive. But I had walked into that party, where I actively suspected that the men throwing it were attempting to hurt women who attended. Now, they might have all been very nice boys. The fraternity in question didn’t have a reputation for assaulting women. They might have only made the punch as an alternative for people who didn’t want a beverage that tasted like mud. It might have had a reasonable amount of alcohol in it. But that’s not what I was thinking when my friends and I planned to go. I was thinking “these guys probably made this punch to coerce women into sex they don’t want to have” and my reaction wasn’t not to go, it was just not to drink the punch.
Not for a minute did I think to question for a moment my assumption that GHB was everywhere, or think that I should be angry about it. It was just part of the dating landscape, I supposed. I did some research online for this post and found that the drug most commonly related to sexual assault is alcohol. Only about 2 or 3% of women who go to the emergency room after being raped were slipped a drug like GHB or Rohypnol. But my mother had warned me about watching my drink since I was a preteen, and this poster was all over my campus. We were acting rationally given the information we had available. Given the facts, would it have been more reasonable for our parents and school to tell us to stay home and never to drink at all? In the same way that telling people they must only ever be abstinent is not an effective way to teach them about sex, “hide under your bed and never touch a drop of alcohol” isn’t realistic or practical either. It would also put the responsibility to stop rape entirely on women, and imply that those who dared enjoy a drink deserved to be assaulted – with no attention paid to the rapists who are actually perpetrating the violence.
Looking back on that night, I feel nostalgic, yet startled at my naivete. Overwhelmingly I feel warmly about that time of my life and happy that it all worked out so well. Eventually, we moved out of the dorms and into those swank houses ourselves. We came of age and could buy our own drinks. There were raucous parties where we genuinely felt safe – those were the best of all – and we drank beer that actually tasted really good.