On Friday night I watched a drunk man hit on a woman. This woman was young, in her twenties. She was very drunk. She was stumbling. She was leaning on her friends, just to be able to stand. She was mumbling. She was unable to keep her eyes open. She was kissing a man.
And I was standing there, powerless.
I was standing there as another woman, as a sober woman, watching an interaction between this drunk man and very intoxicated woman. I was watching as he touched her inappropriately in public. I was watching as he snickered to his buddies about ‘getting some.’ I was watching as he kissed her, and she melted into him like butter.
I was watching as this drunk man kissed this drunk woman with every intention to take advantage of her.
And this scene made me think about my little sister, a freshman in college. No doubt encountering men who’ve had three too many beers, men who speak without thinking, men who touch what they’re not supposed to, men who take advantage.
What do I tell my little sister? How do I tell her?
How do I tell her to be her beautiful, bright self in a world that will go after that beauty, sometimes in dangerous ways? How do I tell her to wear the clothes that make her feel confident—modest or sexy, low-cut or high-waisted—but caution her about the attention, wanted or unwanted, that she may receive as a result? How do I tell her that she will find love and that there are so many good men, but she must also be on guard for the bad ones?
How do I tell her to have fun, but be safe? To trust people, but not always? To never hate men, but still keep her distance?
How do I tell her about alcohol and the way it clouds decisions? How do I tell her that sometimes people say something but don’t mean it? How do I tell her that sometimes truth and promises are broken with every sip? Or that sometimes people think alcohol makes sexual advances – wanted or unwanted or unintentionally wanted – okay.
It doesn’t make it okay.
What do I tell my little sister if she finds herself in this situation? A friend in this situation? Does she stop it? Can she? Should she call for help? Or let her friend, stubborn and angry and controlled by liquor make her own decisions?
Can she make any decisions?
What do I tell her if she’s watching this situation unfold with a stranger and she feels powerless? What do I tell her – that this girl’s behavior is justified because she has been drinking, that someone will take care of this girl, that this girl is okay and my sister shouldn’t worry?
As I watched the situation on Friday night unfold, I decided to say something. I stepped forward to the couple. Towards the drunk man, much older than this drunk girl. Towards the drunk man, more sober than this drunk girl. To the drunk man, ready to take advantage of this drunk girl.
And I said to the girl’s friend, standing off to the side, “Please take care of her. She needs you.”
From a stranger to a stranger, from a woman to a woman, I hoped that was enough.
But what do I tell my sister about drunk men? About men she will encounter? Men who will try to spin their liquor-soaked words around her heart? Men who will tell her she’s beautiful or that they love her, just to bring her home?
What do I say when I know all men are not like this, and so many men are good—but there are some she must always watch out for? How can I teach her the difference between the two kinds of men? And what do I say, when I cannot step in and she must use her own voice?
I will tell her this:
I will tell her that she must not fear the world, fear men, fear alcohol, fear herself. I will tell her that she can laugh, that she can dance, that she can take tequila shots under the light of the moon, but that she must always be careful.
I will tell her to watch her drinks and watch her friends. To never accept shots from strangers or put her glass down and walk away. I will tell her to be polite, but firm. To be sensitive, but strong. I will tell her to always be around people who she can trust, and people who can be her guide if she ever has one too many rum and cokes.
I will tell her to always be her bright and beautiful self, but take good care of her body and heart.
I will tell her that she’s precious, and that she must always think of the people who love her when she’s out drinking. That she must always think of what would happen if she drank too much – how if we lost her, we wouldn’t survive.
I will tell her that she must always care for her friends, and even in their most stubborn moments, guide them to safety. Because they will thank her later, even if they fight her now.
I will tell her that she must never lose her sense of self completely when around a man. Not to be sexist and not because all men are bad, but because she must always know who she is and what she wants.
And she must never allow someone else to make those decisions for her.
I will tell her that she can and should learn to trust the opposite sex, but not put herself in situations that could cause her harm.
I will tell her that we all make mistakes and that she should never blame herself for something that happens outside of her control.
I will tell her that no matter where she is or what she does, I will always love her and defend her.
I will tell her that I have not always been perfect, that I have had too many shots, that I have made decisions that left me powerless, but I have also been taken care of and loved and saved by others—and that she should do that for the ones she loves, too.
I will tell her that the world is not a bad place, but she must, as a woman, be careful. She must, as a woman, be smart. And she must, as a woman, have fun. But she must always love herself first.
I will tell her to let loose, but be safe.
I will tell her that she is strong.
I will tell her I love her, and I am here.