December 12th, 2008

Lushes on the loose

The Lady is a Lush - pulp novelBeing 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?'”

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5 Responses to “Lushes on the loose”

  1. p. gin

    about 10 years ago a couple said to k. and me, “we don’t have children, we have parties.” the bottom line is that there are a lot of choices for women (and men) these days that weren’t previously available – culturally or scientifically. let’s toast to that.

    p. gin

  2. leo

    There’s such a strong bias against drinking th the US that well meaning but mislead people (parents maybe?) tend to view things like daily drinking as “alcoholism.” I read a great comment once by a Washington Post columnist, GeneWeingarten, saying that if you’re not drinking sterno and waking up in the gutter you shouldn’t worry about being an alcoholic. I completely agree.

  3. ljclark

    I’ll toast to that, P. Gin. Wow, way to validate our drinking, Leo and Gene Weingarten!

  4. greyhound

    I wrote this directly after reading, but it took me until a new posting topped the blog to post:

    Boy, have I been through this! I read this piece and then the link in the Ale House News. I have noticed the rapid effects of my drinking on myself, of course with variations on it depending, usually, on food intake, meanwhile watching my ex-boyfriend most likely try to kill himself with alcohol and not only survive, but, not puke. This same ex-boyfriend thought that he “saved” me from a life that he obviously thought was decadent, slutty, and improper – going out every weekend with a fun bunch of guys, one of whom I was in love with, and drinking too much. I have been sick enough to not want to ever have a hangover again, and, I haven’t. But after a period of time where my life and its complexities were seriously diminished by complete sobriety, I chose to drink again. I also read the statistics–what constitutes one drink and what more than one drink can do. Somehow it seems that the happy drinking I do now should not cause breast cancer, should not cause fertility problems, should not line me up for liver cirrhosis, because it increases my connections with friends, fulfills my interest in new places to go and see, and generally enlarges my life. But the facts are there. I don’t know if anyone has ever studied if these good things about a life including alcohol mitigate them. As far as Slate’s point: “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?” not only is that plain common sense, but for anyone to lament women getting dead drunk and whatever behavior results is the same as applying some of the epithets that men usually apply to women when they show their anger. If women don’t want scorn, or an entire article, directed at them, they still have to watch their behavior, whereas men, what? It seems to me one of the most enviable things about being a man is not having to think about being yourself, fucked up or not.

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