Do “Successful” Women Drink Too Much?
Are ladies taking out their frustrations — with work, with a not-yet-feminist world — on their livers?
In a scathing and insightful personal essay, Kristi Coulter describes how hard it is to dry out in a world that expects and encourages professional women to drink, in part to drown their many unmet needs.
I realize that everyone around me is tanked. But it also dawns on me that the women are super double tanked — that to be a modern, urbane woman means to be a serious drinker. This isn’t a new idea — just ask the Sex and the City girls (or the flappers). A woman with a single malt scotch is bold and discerning and might fire you from her life if you fuck with her. A woman with a PBR is a Cool Girl who will not be shamed for belching. A woman drinking MommyJuice wine is saying she’s more than the unpaid labor she gave birth to. The things women drink are signifiers for free time and self-care and conversation — you know, luxuries we can’t afford. How did you not see this before? I ask myself. You were too hammered, I answer back. That summer I see, though. I see that booze is the oil in our motors, the thing that keeps us purring when we should be making other kinds of noise.
She describes sitting on a panel at work and, as the one woman onstage, being asked by a female audience member what her gendered experiences at the office have been. She keeps her answer mostly positive, but that’s still not enough for the men around her, all of whom jump in to reassure the questioner that actually the women in the office are quite happy and everything is meritocratic and fair and great. (See: Men think sexism is over!) She glares at her coworkers but says nothing — until she hits the bar later with her female compatriots.
I round up some girlfriends and we spend hundreds of dollars in a hipster bar, drinking rye Manhattans and eating tapas and talking about the latest crappy, non-gender-blind things that have happened to us in meetings and on business trips and at performance review time. They toast me for taking one for the team. And when we are good and numb we Uber home, thinking Look at all we’ve earned! That bar with the twinkly lights. That miniature food. This chauffeured black car. We are tough enough to put up with being ignored and interrupted and underestimated every day and laugh it off together. We’ve made it. This is the good life. Nothing needs to change.
The job may be frustrating, but it provides enough money that she can overspend on cocktails and fancy snacks complaining about the job. That’s life in the 21st century for you. That’s what’s generally considered the good life, the best life you can expect: white collar stable even-maybe-on-some-level-fulfilling employment with benefits.
Everywhere she goes, someone’s trying to press a glass into her hand. Everything she does, someone’s suggesting that she numb the pain of having to be a 24-hour woman, rather than address it, or seek redress for it.
knives and booze, yoga and booze, 13 mile runs and booze? What’s next to be liquored up: CPR training? Puppy ballet class? (Not really a thing, but someone should get on it.) Is there nothing so inherently absorbing or high-stakes or pleasurable that we won’t try to alter our natural response to it? Maybe women are so busy faking it — to be more like a man at work, more like a porn star in bed, more like 30 at 50 — that we don’t trust our natural responses anymore. Maybe all that wine is an Instagram filter for our own lives, so we don’t see how sallow and cracked they’ve become.
Slate’s Nora Caplan-Brickner isn’t buying it.
She sums up Coulter’s argument as “women drink because patriarchy” whereas the truth is, she argues, many folks of all genders drink too much these days because stress.
many men also spend their free time floating away from their problems on a river of booze. They don’t strike me as participants in an unrelated phenomenon. In fact, I wonder if Coulter’s essay is so popular because she’s captured a basically gender-neutral sense of exhaustion — with the way we live, and with alcohol, a salve that usually further depletes us. …
as the most overworked and overstressed denizens of the developed world, trapped in a cycle of expectations that requires us to take less vacation with every passing year, Americans have resorted to making our free-time feel artificially longer and more liberating, and to pretending that Monday is farther away than we, sadly, know it to be. In lieu of a time-turner, we drink.
Well, I’m not going to argue with an essay with a line as good as that one. But Coulter is a persuasive and effective writer, and I’ve been mulling over her arguments since I first came across them a few days ago. Yes, men drink too much: alcohol has been used as a numbing agent for millennia, and even today, men are twice as likely to be alcoholics as women are. But women are catching up, to their detriment, since, per our health officials, “women are at greater risk than men for developing alcohol-related problems. … An estimated 5.3 million women in the United States drink in a way that threatens their health, safety, and general well-being.”
That’s not the message girls often hear, though. Instead they absorb the idea that drinking is modern. Drinking is freeing. Drinking is part of being an emancipated, independent, sexually liberated woman. And, in moderation, it totally can be. Sadly, America wouldn’t know moderation if it were standing at baggage claim holding a sign. That’s the issue. We do everything to excess here — work, play, brand-maintenance, YOLO — and that can make it hard to realize that what seemed like fun, like choice, has become a real, and often costly, problem.
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