Becoming a mother is a transitional period in a woman’s life involving a number of personal, social, and biological changes. However, researchers have found that our view of motherhood is influenced by our social and cultural norms. Motherhood is performative, meaning that women are expected to behave in ways that correspond to how we (as a society) think mothers should act. For example, “good” mothers must fulfill a number of requirements, including:
- Successfully juggling their personal and professional lives;
- Dedicating their lives to their child; and,
- Fulfilling all socially expected roles that make up what we think a woman and mother should be (e.g., a cook, a cleaner, a protector, a driver, etc.)
However, women do not all fit into these socially constructed boxes. Their identities are made up of so much more than those three elements listed above, and many women are turning to alcohol as a way to subvert those social norms. Alcohol is an important tool that women are using to re-create their own identities of what it means to be a mother and a woman.
Enter the Wine Mom.
The ‘wine mom’ is typically a middle-aged mother who enjoys drinking refined or “classy” wines. The wine mom culture is an intentionally comical portrayal. It uses alcohol to subvert the idea of constant perfection that is often associated with motherhood. Mothers will share photos of themselves drinking wine while performing typically “motherly” duties, like cooking, doing laundry, and watching their children. The wine mom culture involves jokes comparing wine to “mommy juice” and puns such as “when they whine, I wine.”
A number of articles and editorials written by self-proclaimed ‘wine moms’ have been published in online blogs and news outlets. From the information shared in these articles, it appears that mothers are using the wine mom culture as a way to talk about the challenges of motherhood in a supportive, judgement-free community.
The #WineMom culture has grown on social networking sites, where mothers are using this community to discuss their experiences of motherhood in a perceived safe space. However, its growth on social media has led to the commodification of this culture. Entrepreneurs, social media influencers, and the alcohol industry are targeting this growing demographic in order to sell alcohol and alcohol-related products.
The issue is also that the hashtag #WineMom is normalizing alcohol consumption in a big way. Canada’s low-risk drinking guidelines recommend no more than two standard drinks per day for women, and no more than 10 drinks per week. However, sayings like “save water, drink wine” and massive novelty wine glasses reading “Finally! A wine glass that fits my needs” tell moms that more is better when it comes to drinking.
Increasing alcohol consumption among women is problematic for a number of different reasons:
- Alcohol can lead to a number of different health issues, including cancer. Last year alone it is estimated that 10,700 Canadians were diagnosed with cancer that was linked to their alcohol consumption. Long term drinking can also cause illnesses such as diabetes, liver cirrhosis, hypertension, and stroke.
- 50% of pregnancies are unplanned, and 40 to 60% of women are unaware they are pregnant until several weeks into their pregnancy. Normalizing alcohol consumption in women of childbearing ages increases the risk of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
- Increasing alcohol consumption can increase dependency on alcohol. Women who previously participated in the “Wine Mom” culture found that they self-medicated with alcohol as a way of coping with daily stresses.
Some mothers are re-evaluating their relationships with alcohol after realizing the impact that excessive consumption had on their life. Hangovers during school-drop offs, empty bottles of wine after nights home alone with the kids, and vomiting from binge drinking after nights out with other moms have pushed some women to recognize how pervasive alcohol is in their lives and work towards sobriety.
With research showing that alcohol-related deaths in women rose by a shocking 85% from 1990 to 2017 in the United States, it is clear that alcohol is becoming a growing concern for women’s health. Despite promoting increased alcohol consumption, it is important to recognize some of the benefits that the ‘wine mom’ culture may bring to mothers. Anecdotal evidence suggests this culture provides women with a non-judgemental community where they can talk about the challenges of motherhood; it provides mothers with a coping mechanism to deal with the daily stresses they experience; and it provides them with the opportunity to re-create their identities as mothers.
Therein lies the advantage of “Wine Mom” culture: it addresses the needs of women and mothers that are not being met by society. The “benefits” that this culture provides are not necessarily healthy. However, until we address the root causes that drive the existence of wine moms, we will not be able successfully address the risks that this culture poses.
CanFASD researchers are doing some preliminary work in this area to better understand the “wine mom” culture about how it impacts the identities of women and mothers, but there is still a long way to go.
In the meantime, these anecdotal stories found all over the internet show us how important it is to meet the needs of women and mothers. We need to address social issues such as our societal misconceptions of motherhood, the lack of open and honest discussions about the true experiences of women and mothers, and the lack of healthy coping mechanisms for stress and mental health issues.
We need to provide safe and supportive spaces for women to share their challenges of motherhood without fear of their experiences being invalidated or judged. Professionals need to engage in open and honest discussion about drinking habits with women and girls and provide the support and resources to reduce consumption habits when warranted. Above all, society needs to have open conversations about alcohol, the risks associated with alcohol consumption, and why we choose to drink.