by Ty Slobe
These past few weeks have marked the beginning of my last year of college, and with the commencement of the semester so began my first year as a 21-year-old student who can finally go out to the bars with the cool older kids. As my friends and I were taking advantage of this on Friday night, we started to reflect on the experiences that each of us have had with alcohol before getting to this point.
We laughed at all of the freshman putting on more makeup than can fit on their faces, wearing mini-skirts and bro-style baseball caps in hopes that leaving the dorms this weekend to walk up and down the main street around campus would result in them getting an invitation to a frat party, where they can drink until they pass out. We laughed at ourselves for doing the same three years ago. And then I started wondering why we did those things in the first place.
More than anything, I think that we just felt like we should be; like it was a normal part of college culture and adulthood, and that if we did not participate in it we would regret it after graduation. That’s what we had all heard about college. It was almost as though many of us were just mindlessly dressing, acting, and following along with things that we had seen and heard about in the years leading up to finally getting here. But where were these notions of college life and alcohol consumption coming from?
I think many of my own internalized ideas about appropriate alcohol consumption likely came from a lifetime of internalizing misogynistic and demeaning alcohol advertisements. Alcohol may be forbidden for people under 21 in the United States, but alcohol advertisements certainly are not. According to a study performed by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 1 in 5 alcohol advertisements contain sexual connotations or sexual objectification. This means that for years, even decades, before our first alcoholic beverage, we are well aware of the relationship between sex and alcohol portrayed in these advertisements. In addition to making alcohol consumption look “cool”, the alcohol industry exploits the female body—creating an extremely dangerous relationship between the commodification of a woman for pleasure and alcohol. This is something that toddlers are exposed to.
According to NYU’s student health center: one in 4 college-aged women report experiences that meet the legal definitions of rape or attempted rape, one in 5 college women are raped during their college years, most survivors of sexual assaults are full-time students, and approximately one-third of them are first year students between 17-19 years old. Obviously many sexual assaults do not involve alcohol at all, but many of them do, and I wonder if much of this has to do with the commodification of the female body in the media being internalized by alcohol users—or even by society in general.
Creating a relationship between alcohol, sex, and the commodification of the female body is very dangerous. These ads take sexualization to a new level when they literally turn a woman’s body into a bottle of beer for a man’s consumption. As if my body being associated with a product for sale were not bad enough, let’s add booze into the mix. Even if I were able to overcome the idea that my body is not a bottle of alcohol to be consumed by men, other drunken individuals are still seeing me this way.
It’s time to take a more serious look at sexual assault on college campuses, and maybe the place to start is by looking at the media’s influence. We cannot keep allowing girls and boys to internalize and normalize the images that we see in alcohol advertisements. The alcohol industry clearly has an invested interest in young people. However, the advertisements that they are currently producing are not acceptable in that they are creating a dangerous environments for the young people who they are targeting. They are creating a dangerous relationship between alcohol and sex, one that feeds directly into strengthening rape culture. We cannot let the alcohol industry define how kids grow up perceiving themselves and perceiving their lives after high school, particularly when such notions of what is “normal” for college students are leading to such serious consequences as sexual assault.