Girls abusing alcohol? Blame feminism!

Some experts say the push for equality is behind the rise in girls' drinking and drug use.

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published February 12, 2008 1:15AM (EST)

Speaking of the paradox of modern girlhood, today's Washington Post looks at the recent rise in girls' drinking and drug use and makes an interesting observation about what's causing the troubling trend: feminism. Teen girls are now drinking, using drugs and smoking at or above the rate of teenage boys. They're also entering the juvenile justice system at rising rates and steadily closing the auto accident gender gap. Go, girl power!

But, seriously, a handful of experts argue that as girls are increasingly given the same opportunities as boys, they're also exposed to certain dangers; as the article puts it, "the message of equality might have a downside." James Garbarino, a professor of humanistic psychology at Chicago's Loyola University, told the Post, "When you take off the shackles, you release all kind of energy -- negative and positive. By letting girls loose to experience America more fully, it's not surprising that they would absorb some of its toxic environment." Deborah Prothrow-Stith, a professor of public health at Harvard University, put it another way: Girls are being exposed to an increasing array of opportunities and, naturally, with that come both bad and good.

Now, I'm not averse to acknowledging that the mantra of female empowerment could expose girls to greater harm (as well as greater good) -- but the article seems to confuse and oversimplify the cause. For instance, the piece goes on a cultural riff, mentioning how "Annette Funicello's wholesome beach blanket antics have given way to Britney Spears's latest meltdown" -- as though feminism has contributed to the a former sex symbol's mental breakdown, as well as the fervent coverage thereof. Seriously? If that's the definition of empowerment we're going by, then, why yes of course, it would seem a very believable cause.

If equality, by whatever definition, is catapulting girls toward boyish behavior, one might expect teens as a whole to be relatively in sync -- but, overall, teen drug use is actually on the decline. Of course, it is possible girls have simply overshot the mark. (So swings the pendulum.) Stress is also ever-so-briefly mentioned as a possible factor, but without any discussion of why teen girls might be either experiencing more stress than boys or dealing with it differently.

Forget the myriad possible causes, though -- it's simply much sexier to blame feminism.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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