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Women and Drinking: Two Book Reviews

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Women and Drinking: Two Book Reviews

Young Woman Bartender with Red Wine GlassesIn November I wrote about how women’ drinking and prescription pill abuse has reached epidemic proportions. I mentioned a book that was receiving a lot of attention titled DRINK The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnson.

Since then, I read a review of the book that pointed out a few important things. The reviewer says that Johnston’s using her own history actually detracts from the case she’s trying to make. She obviously doesn’t like the author blending memoir and reporting, such as when Johnston refers to the fact that her grandmother didn’t worry about being perfect like women are wont to do today, and thus females in that generation didn’t turn to drinking for relief like a number of today’s women do. It’s true that women of that generation might not have felt the pressure to do more, be perfect, and so forth, the reviewer says, but Johnston is comparing apples and oranges. It doesn’t mean earlier women weren’t “looking for a fix,” turning to drugs to escape from…whatever they thought they had to escape from. In fact, women used opiates more than men at the time.

The reviewer, Irin Carmon, points out, however, that “women are the engine of growth for the American wine market” (with brands named Skinny Girl and Happy Bitch, for example) and are arrested for drunken driving more often than before, as the numbers for men have remained stable or diminished.” But she again criticizes Johnston’s seeming to say that women’s higher rates of alcohol abuse is due to women’s liberation, as if the author doesn’t prove her case about gender differences when it comes to drinking.

Carmon reviews a second book in the article I read: “Her Best-Kept Secret Why Women Drink – and How They Can Regain Control” by Gabrielle Glaser, which the reviewer likes more, probably partly because it details “how the story of addiction and recovery was shaped for and by men.” In fact, the author says, AA is “structurally and functionally unsuited to many women. I laughed at this: [It] “was baked into the organization’s early history as a support group for middle-aged, white professional men, at a time when alcoholism was being identified as a disease but when women who drank were still seen as immoral….”

It does seem that in earlier years, drinking was seen more as a man’s problem that long-suffering wives had to deal with. Since so many treatment centers advocate AA for both sexes, I can only think that as women gained a voice and some power, things changed in AA. However, Glaser takes issue with surrendering to a higher power, saying that a large amount of hubris doesn’t seem to relate as much to women as to men. And she criticizes the fact that the organization doesn’t address women’s different reasons for drinking. Truth be told, I’m having trouble remembering more than one, which is the feeling that women “deserve” a drink after working hard all day. Glaser says that women are drinking more because they can (whatever that means—that women have more power and money today? That drinking is more socially acceptable than other drugs?). Carmon’s reviews give some food for thought, it’s true, but they left me with a headache. I wanted some more definitive answers, or more of …. something. Perhaps that just shows how far we have to go when it comes to women and drinking.


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