The Myth of Everyone

It’s right up there with Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and true love–the Myth of Everyone.

The Myth of Everyone is invoked whenever someone attempts to justify their own or someone else’s shitty actions by saying, “Oh, come on, everyone does that.” For instance, my recent article against the Greek system generated arguments that all people and all groups of people do the sort of stuff I accused the Greek system of perpetuating, so it’s unfair to criticize the Greek system on those grounds. (I should’ve asked these people to find me examples of photography clubs paddling new members, or of a knitting circle forcing people to do keg stands, but I suppose that’s besides the point.)

At other times, the Myth of Everyone is invoked to explain even nastier, more specific examples of human behavior. For instance, a few months ago, a 17-year-old was gang-raped by a group of college men at a party. One of the lawyers representing the group of men stated, “This wasn’t anyone’s finest moment. It was 20-year-olds at a party behaving like 20-year-olds at a party.” Clearly, the lawyer wanted us to believe that gang-raping a teenage girl is what “everyone” would do in this situation.

Who is this mysterious Everyone? Why do they have such a hold over our collective imagination? Luckily, the field of psychology has an answer for that. It’s called the False Consensus Effect.

The false consensus effect is a cognitive bias that most people have that causes them to overestimate the degree to which their particular beliefs, values, goals, and opinions are shared by the majority of people–hence, a false consensus.

Psychologists believe that this effect occurs because people have a need to fit in and to believe that others share their mindsets. Feeling “normal” increases one’s self-esteem.

The effect is particularly prominent among members of a tight-knit group that rarely interacts with non-group members, and therefore is rarely forced to encounter divergent viewpoints. It becomes really easy for members of such a group to assume that their beliefs are shared by the larger population, even when they actually aren’t. An example of this would be, say, members of a sorority or fraternity.

This aspect of human psychology probably evolved to keep people happy and feeling accepted by society. In prehistoric times, it would’ve been adaptive to keep believing you’re pretty normal up until people convinced you otherwise–for instance, by excluding you from the tribe. But today, it’s become all too easy to convince yourself that “Everyone” shares your viewpoints, since our society is fragmented and we can choose people just like us to interact with.

Unfortunately, this is exactly how things like sexual assault, binge drinking, and all sorts of other problems get delegitimized and ignored. I’ve heard my fellow students making ridiculously overgeneralized statements like “Everyone hooks up” and “Everyone goes out and gets drunk” and even “All guys try to pressure girls into having sex with them.”

It would shock many of these students to know some statistics on these things. Namely, at least at my school, nearly 50% of the student body has not had sex in the past year. 23% percent of Northwestern students do not drink alcohol–AT ALL!–and 60% do not binge drink, meaning that they have four or less drinks each time they go out. (This includes the students who don’t drink at all, too.) This puts the percentage of students who do go crazy and get drunk at a little over one-third of the student body–a sizable minority, to be sure, but hardly the overwhelmingly dominant lifestyle people seem to think it is.

I can’t cite these statistics because I received them directly from Northwestern’s Department of Health Promotion and Wellness, which does official surveys on this sort of stuff. (The surveys are distributed to a representative random sample of the undergraduate student body.) If you’re curious, though, I have contacts in that department and I could probably obtain a report for you.

So, who is this mysterious “Everyone” who has tons of sex, drinks tons of alcohol, and pressures everyone into doing the same? It’s not the average Northwestern student, that’s for sure.

The problem of false consensus goes way beyond the college campus. It helps explain why some people think that cheating, shoplifting, accepting bribes, or using drugs isn’t a big deal (“Oh, come on, everyone does that!”), why right-wing politicians think Americans want to stop gay marriage (when, in fact, 53% of Americans believe in full marriage rights for the LGBT community), and why some people persist in telling racist/sexist jokes, believing that everyone’s still living in the 1950s.

Nowadays, when someone tries to tell me that “Everyone” is doing something, I take that with a grain of salt. Such statements probably tell you more about the person making them than about the majority of people, since most people don’t bother to actually go out and find statistics about things like I’ve just done.

Reason: it’s so inconvenient, isn’t it?

Advertisements

Mental Illness as a Spectator Sport

Step right up, ladies and gents, see the amazing inhuman hoarders here!

Our culture seems to have three ways of relating to people with mental illnesses–either they’re pathetic losers who need to “snap out of it”, or they’re crazies who need to be locked away (think schizophrenia in popular culture), or they’re here for our pleasure and entertainment. That last one is a relative newcomer, and that’s the one I want to write about here.

Just look at our celebrities–specifically, the ones with substance abuse problems. When it comes to them, it’s all fun and games till someone dies. While the late Amy Winehouse was still alive, blogs and magazines loved to publish photos of her visibly drunk, putting her up for public ridicule. Sure, everyone knew she could use some rehab–she sang about it herself–but there was never an ounce of compassion in how we, as a society, related to her.

And take Charlie Sheen, clearly a troubled individual. I don’t even remember how many days went by that articles making fun of him littered my Google Reader feed. With him, there isn’t even any ambiguity regarding the diagnosis, but he was still treated like a circus animal, and everyone sat back in their seats, made some popcorn, and watched.

Take TV shows like A&E’s Hoarders, Intervention, and Obsessed. These shows literally turn mental illness–and the treatment thereof–into entertainment. You can laugh as the poor OCD sufferer cries when forced to touch a gas pump nozzle with her bare hands, or gag as that creepy hoarder guy reveals his apartment full of old snack wrappers and rotting food.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to inform people about the lives of those with mental disorders. What I’m saying is that this informing should be done in a compassionate, humanizing way, and reality TV isn’t always the best format for that. For instance, the show In Treatment, which describes a (fictional) therapist and his clients, is a far cry from the carnival sideshow-like feel of the reality shows. I’m not exactly a big fan of reality TV in general, but as a medium for educating the public about mental illness, it’s even worse than usual, because it creates an environment in which people view their fellow human beings as freaks to be gawked at, not as peers to be sympathized with. (A counselor quoted on Everyday Health calls it “exploitanment.”) This happens on virtually every reality show–think how much the people on Jersey Shore and American Idol get made fun of. The difference is that the people on Jersey Shore and American Idol (arguably) do not have a serious mental illness.

Ultimately, all media companies want to provide stuff that sells, and in the case of magazines that publish photos of drunken celebrities (with witty commentary, of course) and TV networks that produce shows putting people with mental disorders up for display, the money’s definitely talking–people love it. But the quality of mental healthcare in the U.S. will never improve while our culture continues to treat people with mental disorders as amusing distractions and not as people.

An Indictment of Party Pop

Just when you thought I was finally done writing about alcohol and partying, here I go with yet another post about it!

Before I start talking about party pop, though, I need to clarify what exactly I’m talking about, because apparently some people still don’t get it. Every once in a while someone who doesn’t know me too well says something like “OMG I READ YOUR BLOG AND I GUESS YOU HATE FUN HAHA.” Um no.

So let me explain. I do not hate alcohol. I do not hate parties. I do not hate fun. I do not hate people who drink and party, except when they’re infringing on my personal space. What I hate is something I call “party culture,” which, by my definition, contains the following components:

  • the belief, prevalent among people of all ages, that partying is the one and only acceptable way for young people to spend their free time and socialize
  • the glorification and normalization of binge drinking (formally defined as drinking five or more drinks in a row, but I also use it generally to refer to drinking in a way that jeopardizes one’s health and safety)
  • the use of alcohol as a means to coerce women and excuse sexual assault
  • the idea that people who choose not to party are deficient in some way
  • pressuring people to drink and party (This is truly unique in college. I was never pressured to join clubs, go to football games, explore Chicago, attend dorm events, or do any other social activity quite like I was pressured to party.)
  • the belief that alcohol is something people “need” in order to relax, talk to people, hook up, have fun, etc.
So there’s party culture for you. As for party pop, I read a piece about it in this summer’s issue of Bitch magazine. The piece was actually a really interesting analysis of the changes that this sort of music has gone through; whereas drunk girls in pop culture used to exist basically as a spectacle for men’s benefit, more recently they seem to be partying for themselves (the article mentions Ke$ha and Katy Perry as examples). Anyway, you’d really have to read the whole article to see all of the points it makes, but that’s the gist of it, and the author sees this as a positive development–female empowerment and blahblah.
However, where the article falls short is that it still seems to present party pop as a symbol of rebellion:
Today’s party-girl pop continues down the avenue of non-explicitly politicized, pleasure-focused rebellion against gender norms carved out by flappers and disco divas.
And:
[Party-girl pop] is valuable in its large-scale reflection of changing the meaning of pleasure and autonomy among young women, both to create a culture for girls themselves and to give older people a peek into these changing mores.
Here’s the thing, though. Whereas the music from which party pop presumably draws inspiration, such as the Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!),” was actually made a time when partying was considered a subversive thing for people (especially women) to do, we’ve come quite a ways since then. Party culture has become normative. It’s not partying, rather than partying, that now draws judgment and scorn. Trust me, I’d know.

The truth is, even my socially conservative parents and their white middle-class friends think that partying is just what the kids do these days. For some reason, though, the party lifestyle continues to hold this impenetrable veneer of revolutionary coolness.

When I listen to music that glorifies party culture and hear people ranting about how rebellious and groundbreaking and cool it is, I imagine someone making music about how awesome it is not to live on a farm or to be able to live past age 50. Like, okay, cool, but I thought we were over that by now.

Maybe what we should be talking about instead is the fact that party pop contributes to a culture in which alcohol is viewed as the one and only means to having a worthwhile and enjoyable life, and partying is seen as something “everyone” does. And I’m not even making random unbased claims here: studies have shown that college students overestimate how much their peers drink, and that the more they think others drink, the more they drink themselves. That’s why, when I went through training to be an RA at Northwestern, we were told to provide our residents with the results of surveys done at NU that showed how much students actually drink. Because when you think that everybody is just constantly going out and knocking back six vodkas in a night, you’re more likely to try to do that, too.

Furthermore, I disagree with the Bitch article’s assertion that party pop is helping to redefine gender roles for women. The line of argument here is that because these women party for their own pleasure, they are paving the way for our culture to accept women as autonomous and equal to men. I don’t think it really works that way, though. I think that now, rather than having one function–pleasing men–women have two functions–pleasing men and getting shitfaced. I don’t see how this helps society recognize the right of women to hold positions of power, contribute to scientific research, control their own reproductive health, or generally do much of anything that doesn’t involve getting intimate with a toilet bowl at the end of the night. (As for the shitshow that consists of male-created party pop, I’m not even going to get into that now.)

The very artists that the author of the article considers pioneers in this regard have other songs (which the author conveniently ignored) that completely contradict the supposedly revolutionary message. For instance, here are some lyrics from a recent song by Katy Perry:

Kiss me, ki-ki-kiss me
Infect me with your love and
Fill me with your poison
Take me, ta-ta-take me
Wanna be a victim
Ready for abduction
That’s empowering, alright. As for Ke$ha:
I don’t care what people say
The rush is worth the price I pay
I get so high when you’re with me
But crash and crave you when you are away
Pardon my skepticism, but I really fail to see how this music is promoting women’s autonomy. What I do see, though, is that it promotes the dangerous party culture that has infected basically every college campus–and JUST A REMINDER, by “party culture” I mean the stuff listed with bullet points above. I’m not saying this music is inherently “bad” or that we shouldn’t listen to it (that would not only be a specious argument, but it would also be a hypocritical one since I listen to a lot of this stuff myself). I do think, though, that we should make a big-ass pause before we start painting it with Beastie Boys-esque shades of rebelliousness.
Pop music, and pop culture in general, is the pulse of our society and its values. I think that if we listen closely to it, we can discern the pressures and expectations that people face from the world around them. And right now, pop music is saying that partying is the epitome of what young people should do with their lives. I think that’s an unfortunately narrow-minded view.
So if you’re too school for cool,
And you’re treated like a fool,
You can choose to let it go
We can always, we can always
Party on our own
–P!nk, “Raise Your Glass”

What Does Drinking Have to do with Feminism?

Well, for most feminist bloggers, the answer seems to be absolutely nothing.

An article at the Frisky called Why Being Drunk is a Feminist Issue is causing quite a stir in the blogosphere. The article makes an argument that I have attempted to make numerous times–although rape is always the fault of the rapist and not the person who’s being raped, no matter what that person was wearing or doing or drinking at the time, the unfortunate reality is that we live in a world where rape still happens–and alcohol makes rape more likely. The Frisky article puts it like this:

In an ideal world, rape wouldn’t exist. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t matter how much a woman had to drink, what she was wearing, or what overtures she had given—no man would ever consider sex without explicit consent and would recognize that anyone who is deeply intoxicated is unable to give consent. But we don’t live in that world. Unfortunately, short of some Herculean sensitivity raising effort, we do not have control over what men, drunk or sober, will do when presented with our drunkeness. What we do have control over is our side of the equation—how much we drink.

Of course, this suggestion always has the effect of immediately infuriating virtually all feminists. How dare they suggest that there are things women can do to prevent themselves from getting raped? We should be able to walk alone down a street at 4 AM wearing nothing but stilettos!

Yes. Yes, you should. I absolutely agree. I will wholeheartedly support any initiative that aims to stop rapists from being rapists. And I absolutely agree that rapists should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law regardless of how the victim was acting, what she (or he) was wearing, or how much she (or he) had had to drink.

But the truth is that, as the Frisky article says, you can’t control what other people do. You can only control what you do.

However, I’ll set that entire argument aside for a moment, because I know I really can’t win this one. The feminist blogs have slapped it with the label “victim blaming,” from which there is no coming back. (Which, incidentally, really pisses me off, because the writer says numerous times throughout the post that she does not think it’s a woman’s fault if she’s drunk and gets raped, and that she fully blames the man and that he should be prosecuted. Yet all the responses to this I’ve read insist on claiming that the author blames the victim. People. You cannot respond intelligently to a blog post if you refuse to even take the original blogger at his/her word. That’s just intellectually dishonest. Respond to what’s written, not to what you feel should be written there based on other things the author says. There are nuances, for heaven’s sake.)

Anyway, there is another reason why drinking (by which I mean, drinking to the point that you’re intoxicated) might not be compatible with feminism, and it involves the concept of choice.

To me, feminism has always been all about choice. Feminism is a philosophy that empowers women to choose–choose what job to have, whether to date/marry/have kids, and what to wear, for instance. It follows that choosing who to sleep with is a power that women should also have.

But getting very drunk takes choice away from you. It can make you do things that you wouldn’t do while sober, and that you regret later. It makes you more agreeable, less likely to fight back, less likely to speak up. Sure, a drunk person legally can’t give consent, but who draws the line between can and can’t? Where is that line? What happens when you consent to something that you later realize you shouldn’t have consented to?

Furthermore, it’s a well-known fact that some men actively try to use alcohol as a weapon. Fraternities reserve the “good stuff” for the most attractive girls, and who hasn’t seen a man in a bar enthusiastically buying more and more drinks for a woman he wants to get with?

Not all of these men are rapists. But they know that being drunk can induce someone to think they want something that, deep down, they don’t really want. If alcohol makes you consent to sex that you wouldn’t consent to otherwise, that’s a problem. If being drunk takes the power of choice away from women, then yes, being drunk is absolutely a feminist issue.

Dillo Day: Not For Me

This just says it all, no?

[TMI Warning]

Today is Dillo Day, a Northwestern tradition that dates to 1972. It’s a music festival that happens each year on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. We get to see several musicians, including some very well-known ones (B.o.B. this year) for free.

Of course, because Northwestern is a college, it is only natural that Dillo Day is more known for being a drunken shitshow than a music festival. The drinking often starts before noon (or even on Friday night) and continues till everyone is semi-conscious in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Actually enjoying the music is nearly impossible, unless you also happen to enjoy being hit on and groped, pushed and stepped on, and presented with some great views of people making out or having sex in public.

And now I’ll make a confession. I find drunkenness, and drunk people, disgusting. It’s not that I merely find drunk people annoying and inconvenient. I find them, and their lifestyle choices, repulsive. I don’t understand why the hell you would want to end your night getting intimate with a toilet bowl, or why you would want to be too far gone to even remember some of the supposed “best” days of your life.

My issue isn’t so much with the alcohol itself, though my relationship with alcohol has always been sort of hard to explain. My parents are social drinkers; they can hold their alcohol well and rarely get drunk. When they do, they’re louder, more social, quicker to laugh. In other words, they’re more fun. I’ve never actually seen them get very drunk, although one summer my dad went to Israel without us to see his friends and apparently had quite a bit to drink one day. It happened to be the same day that our fridge broke down, and my mom, completely clueless in terms of household appliances, called my dad long-distance and hysterically explained the situation, her fears regarding the baby formula going bad, and so on. My dad’s response was, apparently, a hearty “I don’t give a fuck!” and a dial tone.

And that was the worst of it. I’ve never seen my parents stagger, throw up, or hand their car keys over. I’ve never seen them down multiple shots in a row. (In fact, the only time they drink vodka is at dinner parties with friends, when every shot taken comes with a toast of some sort of emotional significance. Meaningless drinking this is not.)

Consequently, my own experience with drinking has been quite different from that of most people my age. I enjoy wine, mixed drinks, flavored vodka, and champagne. I like to drink wine with my parents over dinner and I can’t imagine New Year’s Eve without champagne. I like to be a bit tipsy, enough to make things a bit cheerier, and myself a bit more bubbly. But I have never been drunk, and I don’t plan on it. (In fact, I was furious a few weeks ago when a friend of mine suggested, laughing, that my friends will “make” me get drunk on my 21st birthday. Excuse me? Nobody can “make” me put anything in my body that I don’t want to put there. Any friend who tries to force anything on my body, be it sex or drugs or alcohol or a piercing or what have you, is no friend of mine after that.)

Last night, thinking about the shitshow that today would inevitably be, I found myself wishing that I were normal, that I could have fun in the way that everyone else can. I wished I wanted to do what they do. But I’ve never been that person. I’ve always been serious and I’ve always preferred to be completely in control of myself at all times. My disdain for drinking to excess is as natural a part of me as my preference for Pepsi over Coke, or the fact that I like to sleep on my stomach and not on my back. How do you change these things?

There are no words to describe such a feeling of isolation, which is one of many reasons I don’t talk about it often. I never fails to shock me how easily I’ve accepted everything else “abnormal” about me–my diagnosis of depression, my bisexuality, my foreignness–but I cannot accept this.

And most of all, I just want to understand. I complain about these things and my friends tell me with a shrug, “That’s just how people are.” But why? Why take an opportunity like an all-day free music festival and turn it into a drunken mess you’ll barely remember afterwards? I even understand drinking and partying when you’re bored, but why on a day like this one? Why is this desire as natural for them as my aversion to it is for me? I want to understand this in a sociological and psychological sense. But I don’t.

I sound like a boring, prissy goody-goody with a stick up my ass. I know I do. But the funny thing is, I’m really not. When I’m in a genuinely good mood, which, thanks in part to my shitty environment, is not often, I’m always laughing and making jokes. I love dancing and trying to sing, exploring Chicago with friends, and frequently acting like an idiot. I’m known to occasionally skip class and go tanning on the beach, and to write my papers the night before they’re due because I was too busy hanging out with friends before. I love fun. But I hate partying. The two aren’t one and the same, you know.

So there you have it. Dillo Day is a disgusting boozefest, and it’s not for me. I guess that makes me an outsider as long as I’m at college (and possibly for quite a while longer). I don’t understand why, as a culture, we are fixated on the idea that people should be moronic and depraved until they turn 30.  I want to know why our society believes that being an idiot in your 20s is some sort of prerequisite to having a happy, successful, and meaningful life–and why everyone thinks I’ll “regret it” if I don’t follow this path. I want to know why college students are required as if by law to drink and party and smoke pot and have a lot of casual sex (another thing I really don’t enjoy), or else they’re boring and “lame.”

I’m fucking tired of being judged. It makes me really angry. Stop.