This article has been updated below.
I want to know more about the filming of the latest social media video sensation, which could be categorized under the growing “men are pigs” genre. In this one, a pretty young actress pretends to be drunk and stumbles around Hollywood Boulevard, asking men for directions to the bus. Of the five men featured on the video, one seems like maybe he’ll help her get home, rather than take advantage of her. The others, within moments of eying her, are rushing her back to their cars or apartments, with promises of help, beer, a bed, and anything else that might lure her closer to their bedrooms.
It’s pretty sickening to watch. I hope this video was very selectively cut. Surely she approached more than five men during the course of filming, and those left on the cutting room floor were more chivalrous, or at least less jaw-droppingly lecherous? Surely the producer picked this particular location because it’s known for being populated by loiterers, criminals, or those seeking prostitutes? After all, it seems to be mid-day in the video and none of the guys appear to have any prior obligation that might have discouraged them from spending their afternoons taking advantage of a drunk young woman. Dare we hope that different circumstances might have yielded different results?
Yet it is easy to see how the producer could have stacked the deck even more against men, say by filming at night or at a bar or party where the men were also drunk. One can imagine that, in those circumstances, there would have been a longer line of men fighting to take the drunk girl home.
It’s a thoroughly depressing video. After all, even if the men featured were a minority and there were others who had wanted to help her, it’s clear that women are too often surrounded by predators seeking to take advantage of any vulnerability.
What a Free Society Can Do about Misbehaving Men
So what do we do about it? What are the takeaways from this video that might improve the situation?
Of course, we can lecture men on how their behavior in this video is disgusting. The very existence of the video might help, in a small way, by reminding men that in this technological age where video cameras are imbedded in just about every device, they ought to consider if they’d want their actions recorded and broadcast to the world. Men should, in cases like this, feel the threat of legal vulnerability. This is by necessity a gray area: A free society ought not attempt to outlaw all drunken sex; to do so would represent a significant loss of liberty. The idea that a woman under the influence of alcohol can never consent to sex reeks of a sexist strain of paternalism that conflicts with our idea of women as fully equal, responsible members of society.
Yet clearly there are instances in which “taking advantage of a situation” crosses over the line into rape. This actress was pretending to be drunk enough that one could easily assume that she would have soon lost consciousness. It seems sadly unlikely that the men on the video would have found that as an obstacle to an afternoon of fun with her. That clearly would have made them rapists, even if it would be difficult to prove their guilt in the legal arena.
While our immediate reaction may be to condemn men and focus on possible ways to change their behavior and inculcate greater respect for women, clearly the biggest, immediate takeaway for anyone who wants to prevent women from being sexually exploited is to urge women not to leave themselves so vulnerable.
Women Need to Be Smart
Yes, in a perfect world, a pretty young woman ought to be able to stumble around drunk in a short dress and no harm would come to her. But we aren’t in a perfect world. Not even close. And since young women are going to pay the biggest price from the current situation—and that will remain the case regardless of what intrusive “affirmative consent” laws happen to be on the books—it makes sense that short-term prevention measures begin with women.
Changing men’s behavior, at best, will take a very long time. No legal regime can solve this problem, and attempts to institute such a one will come with significant drawbacks (see here for more on this). That means that much of the burden has to fall on women to do what they can to protect themselves.
Let’s hope that women seeing this video come away with a few common-sense lessons: If you are going to drink, make sure you do so in the company of others who will help ensure your safety. Before you start drinking, figure out how you will get home on your own without having to rely on the kindness of strangers—since many strangers aren’t kind at all. If you have to ask someone for help, ask a woman.
We can rail against how awful it is that men would seek to take advantage of a woman like this but, in the short-term at least, that’s not going to do much to help women or reduce sexual exploitation. It may not be fair, but it’s reality: Women have to be their own first line of defense.
UPDATE: Since this article was published, I’ve learned that this video was indeed a hoax: The men in the film were told how to act and given lines to say to the actress. Reportedly, the men are now rightfully angry for being depicted as would-be rapists. I’m embarrassed to have fallen for the message in the video. I had thought that it might have been selectively edited, but never thought it would have been fully scripted. Next time, I’ll remember to be more cynical about propaganda films, and less cynical about men.