Thursday, August 12, 2010

Enter Madam Buzzkill

(cross-posted from Feministe)

**Trigger warning for description of violence**

It's a Friday night after a long work week. A group of friends, four men and two women, sits down for drinks at someone's house to unwind. All seems well. There is banter all around the table. Someone turns on a radio and music mixes with the sharp notes of quick laughter. A few hours later, a number of drinks have been had and everyone is feeling good, especially one young man who is singing an out of tune version of a once-popular song to the young woman sitting next to him. This young man picks up his drink and his voice soars ever louder and off key as his male friends laugh and cheer him on, finding his antics quite amusing. The young man eventually sits down next to the woman he had been serenading. She is texting someone. The young man next to her does not like this and tries to take her phone. She resists. He tightens his grip on her hand and arm and is eventually joined by another man who grips the woman's other arm. As the three other people at the table watch and laugh at the developing struggle, the woman still does not let go. For several long moments the Singer persists until he bites the woman's arm, gives one last yank at her phone, and finally he and his accomplice give up. The young woman is in shock. She does not register the pain in her arms yet. Instead, she feels betrayed by the others sitting at the same table who watched this behavior, which is already beginning to leave a bruise on her arm, and did nothing but laugh. In effect, they encouraged it.

This woman sits in silence while the others at the table continue to laugh and drink. She gets up to pour herself a glass of water. When she returns, the young man who had serenaded her and tried to take her phone from her is standing behind his seat, drink still in hand, swaying on his feet, clearly very intoxicated. His male friends are laughing at him. Every slurred word, every stumbling footstep seems to produce a new wave of hilarity. As the drunk young man spills his drink and is greeted by even more laughter, the woman stands up. She has had enough.

Enter Madam Buzzkill.

The above story is my own. A drunk young man who I considered my friend tried to take my phone and in the process, bit my arm while another, less-intoxicated man had me by my other arm. The young man was clearly very intoxicated, but none of the other people sitting with us stepped in to stop his behavior from escalating to physical violence. I finally had enough of everyone's inaction and even encouragement of this man's behavior, so I pulled this young man aside to have a talk with him about how his behavior was unacceptable and could potentially get him into a lot of trouble if he wasn't careful when he was out in public. When I explained that he had bitten me he looked shocked. He said he didn't remember it and that he was sorry. I told him that his inability to remember was a cause for concern and he agreed. As I got him to drink some water he explained how he didn't want to look weak to his friends

Before I could address this with him, the other woman in our party came over to where we were talking, listened for a few moments, then essentially began apologizing for my behavior. I would say something and this woman would suggest an alternative and say something about me along the lines of, "I'm sorry. This lady over here, she's kind of uptight about these things." In fact, this woman explained to me later that she basically reinforced that message when she got the young man alone. In essence, she was explaining how I tend to be a buzzkill.

Therein lies the problem. At least in American society, the one I am familiar with, people are socialized to stand by and let things just happen when the situation involves alcohol. Calling people out for unacceptable behavior while drinking is deeply frowned upon because, hey, everyone is just trying to have a good time, right? Who wants to be the downer who warns that maybe Billy shouldn't drink another beer when everyone else is having a good time laughing at how he's wearing his pants on his head? No one wants to be ostracized for not going along with the feel good vibes that come with a few drinks.

Truth is, alcohol does not promote good decision making, and a good sense of community responsibility is important.

A feeling of responsibility to those you drink with would make it easier to step in when a situation appears problematic. Is someone acting sloppy? Say something. Is someone too drunk to be going off alone with someone else? Say something. Being able to speak up in these situations requires a deeper sense of community than what may be accomplished by merely sharing a few drinks with some people you may or may not want to see again.

This is a complicated idea to develop in the minds of most people who drink to relax or perhaps even escape. Most people don't want to add any responsibility to the mix because it's extra work. When I first started drinking, I did so with a carefully selected group of women. We were all good friends and without any prompting we felt comfortable discussing our limits with each other. With that knowledge established before we started drinking, we had no problem looking out for each other. Once I felt comfortable doing this with my friends, it was an easy step toward doing the same thing with people I was less familiar with when I felt that the situation called for intervention.

Simple awareness and a sense of responsibility in bystanders can help prevent people from embarassing themselves and can even help prevent more serious issues such as sexual assault. However, speaking up when socialization demands our silent compliance is not easy. It will take practice to get used to this idea of action, and it may be met with hostility or resistance. But I have hope that in the future, instead of being viewed as a buzzkill, an individual who steps in could be viewed as acting out of love.

1 comment:

Sleepydumpling said...

It's even worse here in Australia, which has a shocking binge drinking culture.

I've been labelled a killjoy (our version of buzzkill) too, for speaking up when I feel things are getting out of hand, getting too rough or intimidating, too stupid or dangerous.

I came to the point that I'd rather live with the killjoy label than live knowing I could have stood up and didn't.