Chicks Drink. Blame Feminism.

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.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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31 Responses to Chicks Drink. Blame Feminism.

  1. preying mantis says:

    “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”

    What’s there to comment on? Everybody knows it’s totally cool when dudes drink themselves into the ICU trying to impress their frat brothers or get so hammered that they hurt themselves in ways that are just one over-used America’s Funniest Home Videos sound-effect away from hilarity. Penises are like magic wands–one wave of the dick and everything’s back to normal, right?

  2. missdk says:

    What a ridiculous article.

    Take two people. Both have the equal opportunity to drink as little or as much as they want. In the end, they both come out to drink about the same.

    Nothing strange there, right? But one happens to be male, and the other female and suddenly it becomes an issue.

    Feminism is the root of women drinking like men, because we are people and finally able to act like it.

  3. Cactus Wren says:

    From the article: “For the bulk of history, women have skewed toward the teetotaler end of the spectrum”.

    Man, would I like a cite for that. But Morris has included quite a number of unsourced assertions and pure anecdotes, as if “I heard once” or “A friend of mine said” could be counted as evidence.

  4. Here’s another conversation between two feminists about drinking:

    Feminist Friend: You taught me to think differently about drinking. I’m more conscious of my alcohol intake when I’m drinking now.

    Feminist Me: How did I do that?

    Feminist Friend: When you told me about the effects of alcohol on the brain. When you told me the order in which the different parts of the brain start to fail during a night of drinking. How the faster you drink, the quicker the different parts of your brain fail, and how blacking out is your brain’s way of keeping you from drinking yourself to death. And if you drink too fast, you can get alcohol poisoning before your brain gets a chance to black out. So now I can pace myself and be more aware of the effect the alcohol is having on my brain.

    Feminist Me: Oh yeah.

    When is someone going to write an article about that?

  5. miwome says:

    The other thing that kept getting a big ol’ “ha-WHAAA?” from me was when the author got into the statistics–the increased chances of getting oogedy or boogedy from drinking–and just tosses off “four drinks a day will blah blah blah” and I’m sitting here thinking, “four drinks a DAY?” I mean, Christ, I’m a college student and I drink more than a lot of my peers but there is no chance that would ever happen. Four drinks IN A DAY, sure, but on the regular?

    I mean, who the hell is he or she talking about?

  6. Isabel says:

    Jill, you are so patient in areas where I would be just like, hey SHUT UP AND STOP BEING AN IDIOT, and for that, I both thank and applaud you.

  7. preying mantis says:

    “From the article: “For the bulk of history, women have skewed toward the teetotaler end of the spectrum”.

    Man, would I like a cite for that.”

    Well, you just have to assume that everything written about women re: drinking before the 18th century was scribbled down on Opposite Day, and that moralists who railed against women’s insatiable gluttony and animalistic natures–which men had to be constantly on guard against in order to restrain and remain uncorrupted by–were really griping about how their wives refused to have even the smallest sip of wine with them.

  8. We can take Alex Morris’s argument to it’s logical conclusion.

    Lost is a shitty show: blame feminism.

    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.

    I’m betting people are drinking more during the recession. Being evicted has a way of doing that to people.

  9. FashionablyEvil says:

    From the article: “For the bulk of history, women have skewed toward the teetotaler end of the spectrum”.

    Man, would I like a cite for that.

    “Um, so I seem to remember something about this Carrie Nation chick…so all women must be teetotalers!”

    That said, I think he’s confusing women’s prominence in the temperance movement with an overall tendency towards abstaining from alcohol.

  10. I was amazingly upset to discover that choosing to have responsible, protected sex outside of the “he’s your boyfriend of x amount of time” paradigm somehow tossed me into the drunken slut category. Had I a penis, what I was doing would be applauded.

    Instead women and men both regarded me as less. I know that it will take a long time (if it happens at all) for a Starbuck a la Battlestar Galactica to emerge (drinking and snogging like a guy, but still respected for her skills/credentials, etc.) and have it be an acceptable theory, but it still frustrates me that special rules apply.

  11. Instead women and men both regarded me as less. I know that it will take a long time (if it happens at all) for a Starbuck a la Battlestar Galactica to emerge (drinking and snogging like a guy, but still respected for her skills/credentials, etc.) and have it be an acceptable theory, but it still frustrates me that special rules apply.

    Lina, I love BSG, but Starbuck is also crazy. I mean kill people crazy.

  12. Peter says:

    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.

    I blame those ridiculous “Girls Gone Wild” videos.

    *sarcasm

  13. lt says:

    The best part was that the whole beginning of the article was about a woman who drank to fit in *in her male-dominated workplace.* Guess feminism created the culture of banking, too. Or, more likely, it’s her fault for going where she didn’t belong.

    Blegh.

  14. Alice says:

    That whole article is really the stupidest thing… I am now stupider having read it.

  15. RacyT says:

    I love how they mention Bridget Jones on the first page — the Drinking Story answer to the usually-obligatory Sex and the City reference in scaremongering articles.

    Fifty-five percent of college students who meet the clinical criteria for alcohol abuse are female.

    I’m going to go out on a crazy limb and guess that maybe, just maybe, the fact that about fifty-five percent of college students overall are female might have some effect on this figure.

    Good grief.

  16. RacyT says:

    BTW Jill, you’ve been so ON lately. When are you getting a book deal? (I guess maybe that should read, when do you think you’ll have time to write one?)

  17. Standtall says:

    It baffles me why anything a woman does need be use against her and her belief system especially in feminism.

  18. Bagelsan says:

    That whole article is really the stupidest thing… I am now stupider having read it.

    I blame my incipient drinking problem on this article.

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  20. Dreamweasel says:

    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.

    I don’t know, I’ve always found that the vast majority of commentary on the subject of “binge drinking” could easily be described as paternalistic and hand-wringing, regardless of the gender of the subjects involved. Rather, any analysis of drinking habits on college campuses is forced into the false dichotomy of “binge drinking” vs. “alcohol-free”. The 18 to 20-year-olds who are capable of drinking in moderation (like most adults) barely merit a mention in such diatribes, presumably because It’s Illegal and It’s Wrong and We Must Never Implicitly Condone Such a Thing.

    I think everything else you said was right on the money.

  21. ElleBeMe says:

    LOL….yes, dem feminists. Must be why I love this site:

    http://www.mommyneedsacocktail.com

    Such flagrant alcohol abuse among women is a result of letting us into college. Women never drank before that. Betty ford was a victim of the women’s movement.

    Any possibility women drink for fun – or because of the men in their lives???? Nope – must be because of feminism. And hey – why not global warming too? *rolls eyes*

  22. DAS says:

    Feminism is to be blamed for women drinking because we all know that back in the good old days of the 1950s women didn’t drink?

  23. alphabitch says:

    ” … back in the good old days of the 1950s women didn’t drink?”

    ha!!!

    sorry, that made my lunch-time martini spray right out my nose.

  24. llewelly says:

    This article has inspired me to add a new Feministe category: Blame Feminism.


    Now wait a minute here – you’ve had this blog for how many years, and you just now adding a Blame Feminism category?
    talk about rose-coloured glasses.

  25. What percentage of men have had a drink in the past month?

    Fashionably Evil, the temperance movement in this country was associated with women because it was a moral crusade (and because the women who drank weren’t rich WASPs and no one cared). Men abandoned their families when they drank, they forced their wives and children into poverty when they drank, they raped their wives when they drank (at a time when that was legal in every sense of the word); if eliminating alcohol from society really would stop all those things I might start thinking about it.

  26. William says:

    Fifty-five percent of college students who meet the clinical criteria for alcohol abuse are female.

    Quoting this number, on it’s own, is utterly useless. As one poster has already pointed out this number is meaningless is 55% of college students or more is female. I know that at my undergraduate institution the ratio of men to women was about 2:1, at my graduate institution its closer to 8:1. Without the context of the gender break down of college students these kinds of numbers are at best irrelevant and at worst misleading.

    A second problem with citing a statistic like this is that it gives us little information as to the actual prevalence of alcohol abuse on college campuses by members of any gender. If rates are low then a gender breakdown number like that is essentially useless because it is highly susceptible to idiosyncratic factors within the relatively small sample size being examined. This is a particular concern given the fact that most studies of this sort are not broad population studies but studies of smaller sample groups that are assumed to represent the population as a whole. If you have 10,000 students on campus, and 500 of them participate in the study (an extraordinary feat), you have a pretty good sample size. If you’re only considering the people who meet a given clinical criteria within that 500 people, however, you run into a problem. If, say, 10% of the college population fits the criteria for alcohol abuse (a generous estimate) then your real sample is only 50 individuals for a population of 10,000.

    Now that we have the stats out of the way, what is this “clinical criteria for alcohol abuse?” The DSM-IV-TR definition is as follows:

    * A. A maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by one (or more) of the following, occurring within a 12-month period:

    1. Recurrent substance use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home (e.g., repeated absences or poor work performance related to substance use; substance-related absences, suspensions or expulsions from school; neglect of children or household)
    2. Recurrent substance use in situations in which it is physically hazardous (e.g., driving an automobile or operating a machine when impaired by substance use)
    3. Recurrent substance-related legal problems (e.g., arrests for substance-related disorderly conduct)
    4. Continued substance use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the substance (e.g., arguments with spouse about consequences of intoxication, physical fights)

    * B. The symptoms have never met the criteria for Substance Dependence for this class of substance.

    Thats the actual clinical criteria for alcohol abuse that would go in your chart, but that doesn’t mean its an objective criteria. Depending on the questions, cut-off levels, and definitions you can game the statistic to fit any hypothesis. What working definitions were used, how was data collected, and what effect did patient privacy have on restricting the collection of this data? Who was making the call as to whether or not students fit the criteria? How did gender factor into perceptions about things like “failure to fulfill social obligations” or “social or interpersonal problems?”

    Why doesn’t the author just save us all the time in the future and say what he means: drinking is for the menfolk?

  27. Nicole says:

    That’s by far the weirdest article I’ve ever read.

    It’s kinda like

    “Slavery happened: Blame the Civil Rights Movement”

    …wtf

  28. jane says:

    i know this is off-topic, but gender is not the same is sex. my sex is female, my gender is feminine. i have a friend whose sex is female, but whose gender is masculine. it seems nit-picky, but incorrect usage is a subtle reinforcement of sex/gender roles, and it’s actually confusing for me to read: “how did gender factor into perceptions…” means something totally different than intended, when one assumes the actual meaning of the word “gender”.

    thanks!

  29. Funny, because my appreciation of beer was inspired by my husband, not my Women’s Studies degree ;)

  30. matttbastard says:

    Feminism is to be blamed for women drinking because we all know that back in the good old days of the 1950s women didn’t drink?

    Duh.

    They popped Valium back then. A far more lady-like substance to abuse, natch.

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