This article has inspired me to add a new Feministe category: Blame Feminism.
The article, titled “Should Gender Equality Extend to Drinking?,” basically argues that drinking is bad for us ladies, and that increased alcohol consumption among women is the fault of feminism and college. The author, Alex Morris, points out that “more women are drinking” — as evidenced by the fact that 48 percent of women acknowledge having had at least one drink in the past month, and an increasing number of women admit to being moderate to heavy drinkers. Part of the problem, apparently, is feminism. Morris writes:
FEMINIST ONE: You would be proud of me. I drank alone last night!
FEMINIST TWO: I am proud! I should have called you. I was too drunk.
FEMINIST ONE: I opened a bottle of wine—a good bottle that I had been saving—poured some into a juice glass, and watched The Age of Love. My dad called, and he was like, “You know that drinking doesn’t solve things long-term?” And I was like, um, that’s a lie.
FEMINIST TWO: Hahahaha!
FEMINIST ONE: I know. I was so serious too.
FEMINIST TWO: Yeah, it solves things long-term, as long as you commit to drinking.
FEMINIST ONE: I told him booze was no different from Klonopin and it’s cheaper!
This conversation is from a posted IM exchange (with tidied punctuation) between two editors at Jezebel.com, a Website that is an avatar of a certain of-the-moment brand of feminism appealing to women too young to remember the heyday of Ms. magazine. Jezebel is very pro-alcohol. Last summer, the site stirred up controversy when a well-respected media personality invited two of its writers onto her Internet show “Thinking and Drinking”—typically a classy, semi-Socratic affair—and the younger women got so visibly shitfaced and the conversation so disturbing that some critics referred to it as “The Night Feminism Died.” (When asked why she didn’t prosecute her date-rapist, one of the young women, woozily clutching her can of beer, answered, “Because it was a load of trouble and I had better things to do, like drinking more.”)
The onslaught of criticism that followed, however warranted, failed to take into account the fact that, for better or worse, drinking has become entwined with progressive feminism. “I don’t think that the drinking in and of itself is feminist, but I do think that it comes from a feminist place, that it can bolster one’s sense of herself as liberated,” says Jezebel editor Jessica Grose. “You know, the whole point of Third Wave feminism is that individual choice should not be judged. If you choose to opt out and be a stay-at-home mom, then that’s your choice.” 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.
So two women went on a talk show, got drunk, and then said some idiotic things (which they later apologized for). Then a Jezebel editor makes a pretty simplistic comment about third-wave feminism and “choice,” which I suspect was taken out of context, because Jessica Grose is a smart woman and this quote doesn’t make her sound it. (FYI, Alex Morris: Third-wave feminism did not spring out of a desire for a feminism that never judged and that embraced the “choice” to do whatever the hell you want). Plus, you know, chicks drink! So that’s Morris’s evidence that somehow binge drinking is tied to feminism.
But who knows, maybe it is — I do enjoy a good glass of red wine probably more often than I should, and I’ve always suspected that that was Gloria Steinem’s fault. Oh, and college:
The more educated a woman is, the more likely she is to drink. “College,” says Morgenstern, “is really a training ground for becoming an alcoholic.”
For those of us who went to college (and sometimes grad school!) and managed not to destroy our livers or become alcohol-addicts in the process, never fear: There is hand-wringing reserved for you, too.
The bottom line, unfortunately, is don’t start drinking for your health—especially, it turns out, if you’re a woman. “There are huge differences in the way our bodies metabolize alcohol,” says Foster. “Women have less body water and more body fat than men. The water dilutes the alcohol in the bloodstream. The fat retains it. So with equal amounts of consumption, a woman will have more alcohol in her bloodstream, and it will stay in her body longer, even if she is the same size as the guy. Height and weight matter, but these effects transcend.”
The trouble with this is not that women get drunk off less alcohol—which we already knew; it’s that women get addicted with lower levels of consumption and they get addicted faster. One study found that teenage girls whose mothers drank during pregnancy were six times more likely to drink, though there seemed to be no such effect on boys; in another, girls with a family history of alcoholism produced more saliva when exposed to alcohol, indicating increased craving. This matters, since women develop alcohol-related diseases more quickly than men. In July, a study released by the American Heart Association reported that men who drink four or more alcoholic beverages a day may in fact lower their risk of dying from heart disease, but that women who drink the same amount quadruple their risk. Heavy drinkers of both genders raise their risk of death by stroke, but women raise theirs almost twice as much (92 percent versus 48 percent).
For most health concerns, though, there is happily no conclusive evidence that moderate drinking, defined as one or fewer drinks a day (two or fewer for men), poses a serious threat. The only two known areas where that is not the case, however, are both squarely in female terrain. Most women of childbearing years know that alcohol tends to undermine fertility and can damage a fetus before a woman finds out she’s pregnant. But few women are aware of the direct link to breast cancer—the one disease where the risk goes up with any amount of alcohol consumption. Some researchers believe that a woman who has four drinks a day would increase her nongenetic chance of developing breast cancer by 32 percent.
I don’t object to informing women about the health risks of drinking. But I do object to basing that information on what “some researchers believe” without much actual evidence to back up your contentions. I also object to presenting that information in the context of a finger-wagging article about how women are acting so unladylike.
Certainly binge drinking is a problem. But I’m getting mighty annoyed at journalists who are outraged when women start engaging in the same “bad behaviors” that men have always engaged in with little comment, whether that’s drinking or cheating or sleeping around (I put “bad behavior” in quotes because, at least for the first and last examples, I don’t necessary think the behavior is always bad). The fact is that most women aren’t binge drinkers, and men still binge drink more than women. Men are also more likely to commit acts of violence and to have acts of violence committed on them while drinking.
The one thing Morris does almost get right is the role that sex plays in all of this. This will come as a shock to pearl-clutching journalists, but most women like sex. But despite all the other panicky articles about “hook-up culture” and how slutty chicks are these days, women are still judged more harshly than men for having multiple partners or short-term sexual affairs. So I suspect there are, in fact, a decent number of women who drink specifically to lower their inhibitions, and let themselves enjoy sex with a non-boyfriend.
Honestly, I feel like something of an outsider looking in when I read articles like this, because it just doesn’t reflect my own experience or what I see any of my friends doing. Do we all drink? Yep. Do we occasionally drink to much? Absolutely. I drank too much on Saturday night, and I paid for it yesterday. But I react the same way reading this article that I do when I read about how “Modern Women Are Wildly Slutty” or “Women Strive to Be as Shallow as the Characters on Sex & the City” or “Careers Make Women Unhappy” — with a big, Huh?
The fact is that women’s presence in public has long been tied to sexual availability — it’s why for a long time, unaccompanied women in public were assumed to be prostitutes. That long-standing cultural tome — that a “public woman” means a sexually available or at least sexually vulnerable one — infects our collective treatment of women in public. And it allows commentators to write articles like this one, which cover general disdain for women with a veneer of concern.
So no, third-wave feminism did not encourage women to become alcoholics (neither did second-wave feminism; and since some have tied first-wave feminism to prohibition, I suppose we can blame feminists for all alcohol-related ills, including yesterday’s hang-over). You want to write about binge drinking? Fine. Want to write about the increase in female binge-drinking? Fine with me. But there’s a way to do it that isn’t paternalistic and hand-wringing. That’s where this article thoroughly fails.