Friday 30 December 2016

Women drinkers: tut tutting and titillation

Civilised young drinkers:
clearly not newsworthy.
There's been quite a bit of coverage about the recent report from two Glasgow universities that drinking by women is depicted more negatively than that by men, despite the fact that, overall, men still drink more alcohol. The BBC's report is here; I don't intend to rehash it.

I tend to feel the depiction of women's drinking in our male-dominated media is determined by prescriptive attitudes to how women should behave, wrapped up as concern for their vulnerability. It's often implied that female drunkenness can lead to sexual promiscuity and, even worse, bolster the offensive old insinuation that a drunken woman, especially if revealingly dressed, is "asking for" sexual assault. Interestingly, I can't recall seeing much concern about young males becoming sexually promiscuous after a skinful, or too much concern about their being attacked, even though statistically they belong to the group in society most likely to be assaulted on the streets.

I looked at Google images for 'drunken women' and 'drunken men', and found many pictures for both genders of drinkers in similar poses - huge grins, raising glasses in the air, swigging from bottles, and so on - as well as some showing people throwing up or lying unconscious in the street. The one big difference was that those depicting unconscious young women often showed them with their clothes in disarray revealing their underwear and bodies; one or two were nearly naked. I found no comparable pictures for men.

I have no doubt that many pictures in the media of young people out binge drinking are posed, but that doesn't explain why drunken women are photographed differently to men. One reason must be that most editors and journalists are male, but another is an outdated morality about the behaviour of young women in society, combined with a gloomy sentiment that society is going to pot.

The latter view is usually expressed by those middle aged or older people who hold that things were better in the old days. Curiously, some young people of the 1950s and 1960s who had been described in 'shock horror' terms at the time are now saying similar things about today's younger generations. Nothing new there: in the 1920s, young women who flouted conventional manners and expectations were often disapprovingly referred to as 'flappers'; 40 years later, some of them probably took a dim view of the 'flower power' generation.

A combination of disapproving morality and barely-disguised titillation drives the media's reporting of female drinking, which makes its contribution to informing us about this subject largely worthless. Perhaps our 'free' press needs to grow up.

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