I'm sooo wasted off feminism

An article links the pursuit of equality to women's binge drinking and alcoholism.

Published December 9, 2008 6:45PM (EST)

It shouldn't come as any surprise that, sooner or later, someone would try to finger feminism for the dramatic rise in women's drinking. After all, the movement has already been blamed for young women's boob-flashing Spring Break antics, boozed-up hookups and "gray rape." Now, New York magazine has risen to the task with an article that attempts to place one foot in front of the other and walk a straight rhetorical line between those very points, but it ends up stumbling to and fro like one of its binge-drinking subjects on a field sobriety test.

It isn't that writer Alex Morris doesn't identify a real issue (researchers have found that more women are drinking, and those who drink are drinking far more) or that it's impossible to see certain strains of feminist thinking as having some part in women's boozing habits. (I am woman, hear me roar ... as I drink every guy under the table!) No, the wobbling begins with the article's deck, which sets up the issue at hand and then snipes: "This is the kind of equality nobody was fighting for." 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.

The second stumble comes when Morris characterizes the philosophy of Third Wave feminism like so: "[I]f 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." Again, this isn't a feminism that I'm familiar with. There is a difference between arguing that a woman shouldn't be blamed for being raped after drinking herself unconscious, and saying that women shouldn't be discouraged from passing out drunk. I recognize the former as a common feminist argument, but not that latter. Conflating the two, as Morris seems to, is a major distortion.

All that said, there is a worthwhile discussion to be had about young women's sometimes confused struggle for equality in their day-to-day lives -- and how, by default, that can result in their acting the part of stereotypical men, in ways that don't seem particularly healthy for either sex. This is only briefly touched upon when Morris quotes epidemiologist Dr. Richard Grucza: "As women 'immigrated' into the culture that was once unique to men, 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."

Then, on the second-to-last page of the piece, a thesis is introduced that muddles that discussion: "My point here is that the closing of the [drinking] 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." It's unclear to me whether the argument is that women have adopted men's coping methods, or that feminism has encouraged women to go after the things they want and they believe alcohol provides the appropriate avenue -- or some combination of the two.

Either way, both sexes are relying to some extent on alcohol for relaxation or as a social lubricant. Why is it concerning when women are dependent on booze, but not men? It's worth noting, as Morris does, that women's bodies metabolize alcohol much differently then men's, and that (note to self): Women should not keep pace with their male buddies at the bar. But, according to the belated thesis, the trend this article is concerned with is heavy drinking that is driven by a desire to achieve, and generally cope with the vicissitudes of life -- not women competitively drinking with men as part of some belligerent form of Third Wave feminism.

What irks me the most about the article is the sense that feminism is somehow responsible for all that it's still fighting against. "If men come into the picture at all [as a cause of women's binge-drinking], it’s only because what women sometimes want is sex, the final frontier of gender equality, and the socially sanctified follies of alcohol set the stage perfectly for the type of sex women may want but fear is unacceptable to seek." Sure, you can look at the fact that they sometimes drink so that they can get over their fear that it is culturally unacceptable for women to pursue casual sex, and conclude that feminism is to blame for encouraging their struggle toward gender equality. I much prefer to conclude that it isn't feminism, but the lack of gender equality young women are coming up against, that is to blame.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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