The struggle for gender equality is far from over, but women are catching up to men in at least one way: alcoholism.
Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam recently warned that excessive alcohol use — particularly among women — is a serious public health issue, and one that we are by-and-large ignoring. Alcohol-related deaths among women increased by 26 per cent from 2001 to 2017, while men experienced a five per cent increase in that same time period.
Yes, more men are still dying from alcohol and becoming alcoholics, but there is evidence that women might soon overtake men. The Canadian Institute for Health Information reported in May that more girls aged 10-19 are hospitalized for alcohol-related ailments than boys.
Early feminists were involved in the temperance movement of 19th century America, when crowds of hatchet-bearing women stormed and demolished saloons. The movement gave women their first chance to participate in politics, and gave feminists like Susan B. Anthony their start. Temperance was a woman’s issue because women often suffered from abuse and poverty at the hands of their drunken husbands.
But these days, the celebration of women’s drinking is more likely to be seen as an affirmation of women’s equality. Comedian Amy Schumer has famously embraced this brand of feminism: the promotional poster for her 2015 film Trainwreck shows Schumer drinking from a bottle in paper bag, and the movie features a scene of Schumer chugging wine that was widely shared on social media.
These images were meant to be funny, but they also affirm a convoluted “right” for women: the right to behave stupidly. Drunken irresponsibility has long been celebrated among men — think the National Lampoon movies — but women are rarely portrayed as flawed human beings who make mistakes and, well, are bumbling jerks.
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Around 2014, a string of sexual assaults involving drunk and incapacitated women, particularly on campuses, made the news. Some commentators blamed women’s drinking for these assaults, and feminists responded by coming out in support of women’s right to act “drunk and stupid.”
Women deserve to be safe from sexual assault, no matter what their blood alcohol content. But somewhere between the temperance movement and today, the solution to men’s alcoholism became women’s alcoholism. This is not equality that we should strive for: physiologically, alcohol harms women more than men, and women often devolve into alcoholism much faster than men.
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