On the projector screen of a classroom at the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba sits the image of a large wineglass and the phrase “Keep Calm, Mother On.”
The relatable meme has been shared by thousands, if not millions of smiling parents over the years, but on this morning in February the class of health care professionals and social workers is asked to consider how its message could be contributing to a rise in alcohol use among women.
“There is a real community for women to engage on social media and talk about drinking, and often not drinking in a healthy way,” AFM Education and Research Specialist, Kathleen Keating-Toews said.
She has no shortage of examples. There’s the Facebook page ‘Mommy needs vodka’, with 3.6 million likes, or ‘Moms who drink and swear’, with one million likes. While those pages, and the various blogs and videos like them are typically used to share parenting advice and articles, more often than not they also include alcohol related memes:
“Historically men have drunk more alcohol than women have, but that gap has really been closing,” Keating-Toews said. “Women haven’t only been drinking more — but they’re drinking more than men.”
While more men are still dying from alcohol related illnesses compared to women, numbers released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information in 2018 noted a worrisome trend.
Between 2001 and 2016 the rate of women who died from causes linked to alcohol climbed 26 per cent for women, compared to just five per cent for men.
While it’s not clear what’s behind the rise in women drinking there’s a growing theory that alcohol jokingly packaged as ‘mummy juice’ could be playing a role.
Keating-Toews and her colleague Kate Evans have taught a course on Women and Substance Abuse at AFM for nearly a decade, but in recent years have had to expand it to include a conversation on ‘Wine Moms’.
“Some of the ‘Wine Moms’ that we see are typically women who are parents and they are stressed, they’re overwhelmed…and they are using wine as a means of enhancing a social experience, or as a means of numbing out from the stresses of being a parent,” Keating-Toews said.
The idea is that women ‘deserve it’, and Keating-Toews isn’t disputing how that’s any different than a man choosing to end a hard day by pouring his own drink.
But what she wants this class to consider is how alcohol has being treated as an equalizer when it impacts women and men differently.
“We aren’t saying women should never be drinking…We’re just asking for people to take a look at why alcohol should be considered as a gender equalizer when the reality is it does cause a lot of harm, and it causes a lot of harm particularly for women.”
“It’s not sexist…it’s science.”
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