Women, Drinking and Demonisation

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One good thing to come out of the shit-storm that was 2017? The world seems finally set to readdress gender equality and gender stereotypes in society.

Well, most sectors of society anyway. ‘Cause it doesn’t seem like anyone told the big-brand drinks marketers. Check out the Instagram feed for Barefoot Wines, the UK’s number one drinks brand, and you’ll see A LOT of pink, blow-up flamingos and, principally, young women enjoying their social lubricant. The story’s even more overt over with Echo Falls – curated to look like the feed of a millennial lifestyle influencer.  It seems that for the drinks industry, whisky is still a man’s drink, and ladies like to glug pink sunshine wine.

To me it’s symptomatic of a society which still stereotypes and vilifies women who drink. It’s an attitude which seems to have slipped through the cracks of equal rights campaigns, but I think it’s just as harmful as accepting sexual harassment and abuse as part and parcel of your chosen industry. It all adds up to an ongoing narrative which seeks to reduce women’s power.

It doesn’t seem to matter that men are statistically more likely to drink – and to binge drink in the UK, it’s women who still get the bad rep in the media. In her brilliant new book, Mindful Drinking, journalist Rosamund Dean agrees that “women's drinking is scrutinised, whether that's being judged for getting too tipsy at a work event, or being considered smug or sanctimonious if you try and cut down or give up”. That’s not to mention this article from last year, where a former tabloid journalists recounts her commission to take pictures of drunk, scantily clad women to fit the narrative of New Year’s Eve her publication wished to promote.

The image of the woman drinking is pervasively associated with loneliness, desperation, depression and exhaustion. It’s a characterisation that’s at odds with the conflicting media portrayal of (fictional) powerful, ballsy women who drink as hard as they work and play.

The impact of this toxic characterisation? Women’s relationship with alcohol is becoming dangerously confused. In a world which values extremity over moderation, we’re being increasingly encouraged to slam women who drink. Movements which originally started as a means to unite women – mummies who enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the day, people who abstain entirely for health or lifestyle reasons – have become another means of pressuring women to behave in a certain way with alcohol.