August 22, 2010

Distract Ben with Women:

Like more than 500 colleges and universities across the United States, the University of Chicago requires that incoming freshmen complete an online alcohol awareness program called I always get a kick out of activities like this because they give me the opportunity to see how adults think that teenagers want to be addressed. This program is a full-on multimedia blitz, complete with corny, collage-y graphics. I learned about alcohol through watching videos, reading fake instant message conversations, and reading informational graphic novels. The whole program took me around two hours to complete, thirty minutes of which I spent screenshotting things and laughing at the "hip" down-with-the-kids style lingo.

I thought this was especially weird. In offering tips about how to take a drunk friend's keys so that he doesn't drive, offered this tip:

I think it's bizarre that it's still acceptable to use women as objects of distraction, especially coupled with "food" and "video games." I also think it's weirdly limiting how they automatically assume that these are the three most effective things for distracting a drunk boy. I think "distract Ben" would have been sufficient. People taking this test are college students, and can probably manage to think of distracting things on their own.

In actuality, I believe that you should do whatever works to prevent someone from driving drunk. It just seems wrong to me to formally codify sexism and stereotypes in this manner.


  1. Personally i dont think its bizzare ... cause normally it works. I mean how often have i stayed on a lame party cause of a cute girl there :)

    What i think is more bizzare is that apperently only the guys drink.

    i would have added "Distract Ben / Katy with a cute girl or guy" ... depending on the sex of the test taker ... but well even that causes problems ...

    Plus video games ? yeah as if only guys play ...

  2. So what are you supposed to do when the drunk person in question is female? Or does that not happen enough to make it worth it?
    This course sounds suspiciously like high school health class.

  3. Funny that they don't suggest distracting him with more alcohol.

    But yes Jamie, if you see a drunk guy with car keys it is your job as a woman to throw yourself in his path to save him. Just start stripping if he threatens to drive away. (Of course, I don't like cars, but I will get on my bike and pedal really fast if no girl shows an interest in me.[1])

    Seriously. It looks very strange and (at least) mildly sexist/hetro-normative. (It seems to be part of a scenario, but it is 'funny' how they always pick certain stereotypical scenarios.)

    [1] This may actually be a saner strategy than the one I used during MY first year of college over a decade ago: Look dour, if a girl talks to you rant as fast as you can about geek stuff. That strategy only worked once, and only because of all the tequila (For those keeping score at home in the gender wars: I was the one who needed loosening up, not her).

  4. Wait, so does that mean alcohol makes gay guys straight?

  5. Oh that's great. You can also encourage Ben to assault the girl since she's only there for distraction. She doesn't have a say in what happens. As long as you get those keys....

  6. hahaa I remember the one of these I had to do my freshman wasn't as bad as this example that I remember. What I do remember is the tip where if you don't want to drink at a party, instead of, you know, SAYING that you're not drinking and expecting your friends to respect that, you "pretend your coke is a rum-and-coke".

    Also, I appreciate that college freshmen are adults and many if not most of them are going to end up drinking, but why is it so assumed that the entire school is gonna break the law? It always feels weird to me to see these tips because, although I drank before 21, it was at home with my parents and their permission, or with responsible older friends and still standing permission from parents. I never like how it's treated as such a given that all teens/young adults will end up at these crazy wild drinking parties where having a diet coke makes you some kind of nutcase

    /long story short, I really like this blog and have pent-up old teenager issues that it's great to see addressed

  7. Finally, women have reached the level of food and video games. "You've come a long way, baby."

  8. Ew. Not surprised, but a little disappointed that the sexism would be so codified like that.

  9. Isn't it a bit worrying that an alcohol education program is suggesting that Ben is only "not in any shape to drive" if he's so drunk he doesn't notice you taking his keys?

  10. Yes, it's sexist, yes, it's patronizing, and yes, you need to realize that the college probably doesn't care.
    The other thing you need to know is that colleges need to keep their insurance companies happy. Colleges can be sued over alcohol related incidents when people and property get hurt. Colleges that can say that they have made an effort to provide "alcohol education" can put a check in the box and decrease their liability. It doesn't matter how lame said effort at education is, the requirement has been met. Now, if Ben doesn't get his keys taken away and goes out and kills himself or an innocent bystander with his car the college is less likely to be sued successfully. "We warned all those irresponsible young people that this could happen..."
    Education is a business - follow the money...8^)

  11. I remember doing that my freshman year, but all I remember is videos of teens doing some project about alcohol and being all "So alcohol can be harmful?! Golly, what fascinating stuff we've learned today!"
    That and the fact that there was no information in it we didn't learn in like 5th grade.

  12. They don't bother with anything like that here in the UK. Perhaps it's because the drinking age is legally 18 here, so it's assumed we all know what you do when people are drunk, or they just don't care. All I ever got was a "Know your limits" card that had how much a shot, glass of wine etc was and what the legal limit is printed on it.

  13. Kind of strange. Let's distract Ben with a cute girl? Anyways. Let's all counteract that with this song. Boys look so much hotter in the summer, yeah yeah. :P

  14. If that's the kind of "alcohol education" kids are getting these days, I'm glad I attended college a decade ago in a city where cars are largely unnecessary. We just got the stern "Don't drink until you're legal" speech at orientation, and even that felt condescending. (And somehow took second place to the "Don't throw things out of the dorm windows" speech, because at least that one had a funny example in it.)

    The fact that they've used such a sexist, heteronormative example mostly feels like laziness to me. If they'd gotten a few more sets of eyeballs on that section, they probably could have come up with less insulting suggestions.

    Perhaps could employ some actual college students to create more realistic scenarios and solutions? I do appreciate that they're at least acknowledging the reality of underage students being in the same place with people who are drinking, even though they probably can't explicitly acknowledge underage people doing the drinking for legal reasons.

  15. Ha! If Ben is anything like the other Bens I know, he wouldn't be distracted by a girl... Those suggestions almost made me vomit :(

  16. I just get a big wave of secondhand embarrassment when adults do this. The people that are interested in drinking are not going to be interested in doing something like that and will take it as a joke. The people that are not interested in drinking will take it as an even better joke.

  17. Alright whatever whatever whatever. It could just as easily have said, "Distract Jen with food, a cute boy, video games..." Would you be up in arms about that?

  18. Wow I would hate to be that cute girl. A drunk guy fawning over me lands pretty highly in my list of things I don't like.

    In my own personal experience if you have a drunk guy that is belligerent and determined enough you're not going to stop him from driving drunk anyhow. I was at a friends house one night when about 10 people all tried to keep one of our friends from driving home. Including calling his gf to come pick him up which she refused to do (idk). We also tried taking his keys which just turned into him getting really angry because even though he was drunk he knew someone took them and that he hadn't lost them

  19. Three items:
    1) love your blog. I'm teaching a lit class currently on adolescence, and I'm SUPER happy to have found you & your work.
    2) in (mild) defense of drunkenness-education programs [but NOT in defense of objectification and heteronormativity contained therein]: while this sounds absurd to the readers here, consider who constitutes readership here. There IS a swath of people who have never been in situations before with drinking, or who have no idea how to behave, or need to be told what the right/safer decisions may be. ALSO: college is weird, because very often - and especially early on - you are always surrounded by people you don't know well, or don't know at all. It can be hard to figure out a new social situation (ie, dealing with drunk-ass Ben) when even the friends you're with are people you've known for all of two weeks.
    3)Genuinely interested: what would YOU put in place of's suggestions?

  20. I am an 18 year old girl, never been in any kind of situation like this so I understand that my perspective is probably somewhat skewed, but I would have told the person to

    *Distract Casey (that's one of the better gender-undefined names I've come up with during my fiction writing) however you can, providing that you are not endangering anyone else (this meaning, don't hand Casey a steak knife, an attractive person who might not be able to fend off drunken advances, etc). Games and food both seem to be decent suggestions. If necessary, another drink, as long as it is possible to get the keys away and keep them away for as long as it takes Casey to sober up. Please, in the name of sanity, don't get one of your attractive friends to stand in front of Casey. If Casey is that drunk, they're a lot more likely than someone sober to interpret "Hi, I'm Sally/Sammy, wanna go play video games and have a hot dog?" as "Hey, I'm Sally/Sammy, I think you're really sexy, let's find somewhere private." and less likely to understand "No" as "NO".

  21. I first read this blog post as a freshman in college. I'm nearing the end of sophomore year now and recently joined a sorority, so i'm required to take this very same course before initiation. I just got to the "distract Ben" page and immediately realized I had seen it before. Hah. It's just as ridiculous a year and a half later.

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