Women are scrutinised more than men—this hampers efforts to solve the problemby Jessica Abrahams / January 6, 2017 / Leave a comment
A few days after Christmas, a study was published in BMJ Open, the open-access version of the British Medical Journal, which highlighted the problematic coverage of binge-drinking in the media. The report noted that although men are more likely to binge-drink and to suffer from drink-related health problems, the media focuses overwhelmingly on the drinking behaviour of women. This attention is more likely to be negative, to moralise their appearance and dress, and to focus on a departure from feminine ideals with language such as “haggard,” “scantily clad” and “loutish” used to describe women who are drunk in public.
This is dangerous, the authors suggest, not only because of the blatant double standard but because it distracts attention from the real issues—the health and social problems suffered by those who drink too much too often. For example, it may reinforce ideas that heavy drinking is less problematic or harmful for men, although statistically they are at greater risk. And although among both sexes it is the middle-aged who report drinking the most each week, they may fail to recognise their drinking habits as a health hazard because they differ from the “unseemly” public behaviours of the young and female.
Less than a week later, Sarah Vine at The Daily Mail launched a furious attack on binge-drinking women, in a tirade that so perfectly matches the harmful stereotypes identified by the authors of the report that I can only imagine she was inspired by them. In an article laden with images of women in short skirts and stilettos stumbling in the street during New Year’s celebrations, she chastises them for being “indecent,” “semi-naked” and trying to behave like men. The worst of it, she suggests, is that they are not even ashamed of their behaviour: “When they regain consciousness the next day… they won’t be filled with remorse or self-loathing.”
There is nothing new about this kind of moralising when it comes to women and drink. Consciously or not, Vine is echoing prejudices that go back 300 years.
Heavy drinking has been a feature of British culture for centuries, from nobles to paupers and men of the cloth to labourers. The discovery of Stone Age beer jugs suggests we had our priorities set as far back as 12,000 years. Later, the Romans…