December 12th, 2008
Lushes on the loose
Being a drinking woman, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by a pair of recent articles: New York Magazine’s “Gender Bender,” about the rise in heavy drinking among women and possible reasons for it; and Salon’s response, “I’m sooo wasted off feminism,” which takes the NYM article to task for its premise that feminism is worthy of blame for all those messes in dresses running around town. Wow, is there some, um, drink for thought here.
The NYM article says, “The number of women who identify as moderate-to-heavy drinkers has risen in the last ten years, while the number of women who say they are light drinkers has declined.”
The reasons, according to NYM?
- Feminism: “For the bulk of history, women have skewed toward the teetotaler end of the spectrum; not until the middle of the last century did a burgeoning relationship with alcohol coincide with Second Wave feminism and a general impulse to close the gender gap across the board.”
- Marketing: “Dr. David Jernigan, the executive director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, believes that the real onslaught — and its effect on the beverages women consume — didn’t reach critical mass until the turn of this century. New alcopop flavors proliferated, Jell-O shooters showed up in grocery-store aisles, and companies rolled out vodkas in increasingly exotic flavors … ‘There’s a clear effort by the industry to create products for female drinkers. And it has had an effect.'” (A whole new argument against flavored vodka!)
- Higher education: “The transition from high school to college marks the greatest increase in substance abuse among women, and the more educated a woman is, the more likely she will be to drink throughout her life.”
- Third-wave feminism (a.k.a. “Do me” feminism or “Girls Gone Wild” feminism): “And if you choose to drink yourself unconscious in some random guy’s bed, that’s also your prerogative. To say that you shouldn’t would be paternalistic hand-wringing, implying that a woman needs to be protected from herself.”
The Salon response’s major beef is with NYM’s sub-headline asserting that “this is the kind of equality nobody was fighting for.”
Salon retorts, “Wait, it isn’t? Since when was feminism supposed to bring about selective equality, where women get to enjoy the benefits of being a man, but none of the liabilities? If you claim only the good and none of the bad — it isn’t really equality.” Agreed. Women today have every right to avail themselves of the freedom to be both successful investment bankers and drunken dickheads. Oh, and the connection between higher ed and alcoholism? I guess that means we should be celebrating the fact that, as NYM reports, men are both attending college in fewer numbers and “reining in their drinking.”
The thing that gets me is the way in which only the extreme ends of certain behaviors are portrayed in the media. The NYM piece begins with an anecdote about a twenty-something investment banker who downs as many as 24 drinks in 24 hours, and it ends with the director of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University advising women to stick with the “federally recommended maximum of one drink a day.”
As I wondered in my own take on such matters, “Is there any way a girl can occupy some median point on the scale between ‘drinks a little Chardonnay on the weekends’ and ‘brings a flask to the office?'”