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Thinking about Drinking

8.December 2008

It’s always a bit puzzling to me that I have such a hard time defining something that I so clearly identify as, but an article on New York Magazine .com and a response on Jezebel made me stop and think about what constitutes a Feminist in a pretty remarkable way today. I’m by no means close to an answer myself, but the following really bothered me. A few choice quotes from “Should Gender Equality Extend to Drinking.”

“My point here is that the closing of the gender gap isn’t about men—needing to compete with men or wanting to feel like men. It’s about women going after the things they want and feeling that alcohol, variously, can help them. If men come into the picture at all, it’s only because what women sometimes want is sex, the final frontier of gender equality…”

This quote sounds a little unrealistic when read side-by-side with the next one, about the author’s friend Kate, who works in the hyper-masculine investment banking fast-track:

Going out with them meant drinking, usually heavy drinking, which suited Kate’s mind-set at the time. “I felt like I deserved it,” she says. “I realized I can work crazy hours, I can work just like anyone else, so I can party just like anyone else.” Soon she had an agenda: If she could finish her work by 2 a.m., she would grab a guy from the office—“I had no girlfriends, it’s such a male- dominated industry”—and they’d hurry to a bar, order a few rounds of shots, and try to catch up with the people who were already drunk. “I drank almost every day,” she says. “But I thought it was normal because I was always going out, and when you’re out, everyone else is drinking.”

The part of this that bothers me is the “I had no girlfriends” and the fact that she felt like she had to go out [drinking] with “the guys” to be accepted and get ahead in her career of choice. No, none of that is explicitly stated in the article, but yes, that is the (not very hidden) subtext of this particular drinking anecdote. I think PilgrimSoul put it best in her response (on Jezebel.com) to this passage:

Also maybe ambitious young women drink more because the frontiers for ambitious young women are pretty depressing. You all know me as a bit hardcore now, but before I ended up in the “high-end” job I’m in now I thought workplace sexism was something of a myth. I thought, hey, I will never find myself in discussions where superiors are joking about prostitutes or making awkward and ill-timed remarks about what I’m wearing or people at my same level are telling me to answer the fucking phone for them because clearly by virtue of my possession of ovaries I want nothing more than to be their assistant. I never though that I would be convinced, as I am now, that, “I will always be the bitch in the corner who doesn’t find your hall-soccer-playing, chest-beating masculinity impressive or something to emulate.” I thought, I will never see an acquaintance hired and fired by a person who claims to care about gender equality while simultaneously justifying said firing by way of the phrase, “I tried to tame a mustang.” About all of this I was, however, wrong.

So I’m not really going to fault ambitious young women for drinking, nosiree, I am not.

And then there’s this one:

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. “As women ‘immigrated’ into the culture that was once unique to men,” says Grucza, “they picked up a lot of the same mores and attitudes and behaviors and ideas about what is socially acceptable that men had previously held. We call this acculturation—people adopt the drinking attitude and behaviors of the dominant culture.” Which explains why researchers have found that women in the demographic closest to being dominant (young, white, middle-class, educated) are leading the charge in terms of increased alcohol consumption. The trend is so pronounced that in Britain, home to the Bridget Joneses of the world, public-health officials launched an ad campaign picturing a grizzled man in drag (or a very mannish woman) with the caption: “If you drink like a man, you might end up looking like one.” But no public-service announcement is likely to turn back this tide, especially among the very young.

This, too, seems to undercut the notion that the increase in women’s drinking is not about men. The quote about acculturation also underlines the assumption (apparently un-challenged) that male culture is still the dominant culture. The other thing that bothers me about this article in general is the comparison of women drinking more (as much as men) to any of the other feminist-driven gender-gap-closing projects of the past. i.e. “I want the right to vote” is roughly equivalent to “Another scotch, please.” If we are meant to worry as much as this article tells us to about the negative repercussions of drinking, is it also telling us that our other progressive leanings are subtly dangerous as well? (This reminds me of a much-beloved teacher I had in high school who said the fall of all great empires was foreshadowed/caused by the merging of roles between men and women in a given society. In other words, the narrowing of the gender gap in our country must presage the great Fall of our Civilization. In other words, stay down and stop wearing pants, ladies!)

Also, about the ad mentioned in the quote above [see horrific image, above], why does Britain (home of famed “Effed Feminism” find it so deplorable that England’s fair roses are drinking more now? Why is there a public service announcement-style campaign targeting women drinking and not one about men drinking? Even if you say that yes, Britain does have plenty of anti-drinking-in-general ads, the fact that they think women need their own, personal (beauty-standard-motivated) ad campaign (not health-related, mind you, because women — and society in general — only care about their looks and not the state of their livers) excludes them from mainstream society. It’s just a new stripe of separate but equal, in my opinion.

And finally, this article takes a pretty heavy-handed swing at my favorite website out there:

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.

Jezebel is not pro-alcohol. The Jezzies talk a lot about alcohol. But they also talk a lot about health concerns, sex, careers, Feminism, and the economy, entertainment and politics, politics as entertainment, etc etc etc. What Jezebel provides, (beyond a non-judgmental (in most cases, but notably not in the case of this article’s comments), supportive, progressive, feminist community at a time when I feel a good feminist is hard to find) is a forum for women to discuss what happens in women’s lives. For all their immodest disclosure about bodily fluids and sexual encounters as well as bad credit and shitty jobs, why should they not talk about the cocktails they enjoy and the hangovers they suffer? It is a full disclosure website and I, for one, find it refreshing in a time when post-feminism seems to have ushered back into style some more traditional feminine (anti-feminIST) values.

To take a part of Jezebel Jessica Grose’s quote out of context “You know, the whole point of Third Wave feminism is that individual choice should not be judged.” While I don’t know if that’s the whole point of 3rd wave feminism (I’ve yet to find a definition of the Third Wave that doesn’t grate on me), I do applaud the sentiment that we are not here to judge other people’s actions or choices. At the same time, though, when a woman tells me that she’s choosing to be a stay-at-home mom, my inner Second Waver gags a little, which the Third Waver in me wouldn’t be allowed to do. (I also thought it was a tragedy when Charlotte quit her job to get pregnant.) I guess what bothered me most about this discussion was some of the comments on Jezebel… so many of the women there were saying some really retro/misogynistic things about women drinking being sluts and using standard conservative scare tactics about getting trashed/getting STDs. It was just so negative and unproductive, not like Jezebel usually. All of these women, the ones saying “Yes, drink!” and the ones saying, “A feminist models herself on the Virgin Mary” were all flying the flag of feminism. So what is a feminist these days? Is it someone who feels she has the choice to do whatever she pleases or someone who bristles at other women choosing more traditional roles because their very progressive feminist values tell them it’s okay to not want to be CEO? Does considering myself a feminist give me the right to question other people’s decisions? Or is it specifically anti-feminist to judge, no matter what your motivation is?

In the interest of clearing up any confusion, I drink, not heavily, but regularly (I am getting a Ph.D., as you know, and the article drives home the point – mentioning it twice – that the more educated a woman is, the more she drinks — ergo, less education = better for women in general, since drinking is so bad?), I do not think that drinking is feminist, but I think that women feeling like they have the choice to and that it’s not specifically forbidden them is a sign of progress. (Also, many of the more inflammatory comments on the Jezebel post have since been deleted based on the rules of Jezebel posting etiquette.)

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