Written by Amy C. Willis
5 Reasons Why Alcohol Is a Feminist Issue
April is Alcohol Awareness Month so we thought we’d take this opportunity to bust some myths and share some accurate, evidence-based info on the risks and harms that go along with consuming alcohol.
We’re not here to tell everyone that they can’t or shouldn’t drink – that’s not the point. We honor and value the autonomy that we all have over our bodies and choices and with the plethora of misinformation that exists when it comes to alcohol (by design), it becomes really challenging to make an informed decision and mitigate risk which is why we are passionate about this issue.
The fact of the matter is alcohol is a feminist issue for many reasons. Let’s get into some of them below.
Big Alcohol Targets Women
Big Alcohol uses feminized marketing strategies that target women and mothers.
The history and social acceptability of women’s drinking has changed a lot over the years. In recent years, the alcohol industry has identified women as an untapped, emerging market when it comes to alcohol sales. In an effort to increase sales and expand women’s alcohol consumption, marketing departments of alcohol companies have created and mobilized numerous feminized marketing strategies that encourage not only alcohol sales but binge drinking and other excessive consumption. An important part of challenging these predatory marketing tactics is to understand and name them when we see them. Here are some examples of feminized marketing tactics:
🏴☠️ the “pinking” or pinkwashing of alcoholic products and imagery
🏴☠️ selling the idea that drinking promotes sisterhood/female friendships/connection/bonding (which are all human wants and needs)
🏴☠️ time related marketing (“On Wednesdays, we drink pink”), which encourages drinking at specific times or days
🏴☠️ brands inauthentically using feminist language to sell empowerment
🏴☠️ brands inauthentically using body liberation language and diverse images to sell empowerment and inclusion
Alcohol brands are intentional and spend a lot of money on developing marketing strategies that work. This is your invitation to get curious about what you’re seeing and consuming and notice the impact that it has on you as well as the emotional reactions that arise in response to these marketing efforts. If you’re interested in learning more on the topic of feminized marketing tactics, click here.
Mommy Wine Culture
An even more niched and targeted extension of Big Alcohol targeting women is Big Alcohol targeting mothers aka the phenomenon of Mommy Wine Culture. Mothers are encouraged to drink as a coping tool of motherhood and the ongoing, untenable demands that go along with that role. We know (and have known for years) that when it comes to childcare, housework, and care work, women and mothers generally shoulder way more than their share. What we are dealing with is inequitable, structural issues (the patriarchy, for example) and instead of tackling that head-on, we offer mothers a highly addictive, neurotoxic poison that numbs us out, waters us down and often keeps us stuck.
Mommy Wine Culture is especially insidious and pernicious. It’s sold to us as a joke, as a funny solution to the challenges of motherhood, and it’s everywhere. Instead of actually looking to address the real challenges and untenable circumstances of motherhood, moms are offered booze.
What does this tell us about the value of mothers and motherhood? And what message is this sending to children?
To be clear, there is zero judgment or shade for those who choose to drink; it’s ubiquitous, accessible and sold to us as a solution to all the woes of motherhood and it’s certainly a helluva lot easier than challenging the structural inequities we face. We understand. And Mommy Wine Culture is causing women and mothers great harm.
For more on Mommy Wine Culture and why it’s deeply damaging and problematic, click here.
Alcohol and Breast Cancer
Despite the consumption of alcoholic beverages being classified as carcinogenic in 1988 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, a branch of the World Health Organization), there is still a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding of the causal relationship between alcohol and various types of cancers. Alcohol is known to cause at least 7 different types of cancer and even within this knowing, levels of awareness vary significantly. For example, in a small study conducted in Minnesota in 2019, 92% of study participants were aware that alcohol causes liver cancer but only 38% were aware that alcohol causes breast cancer. An article posted in BMJ Open in 2019 stated that approximately 20% of the women attending breast clinics and screenings in the UK were aware of the causal link between alcohol and breast cancer, despite it being one of the controllable and preventable factors.
Compared to non-drinkers, even moderate alcohol consumption (1-2 standard drinks a day) can increase your risk of developing breast cancer by 30-50%.
This knowledge discrepancy is likely the result of many things including normative alcohol culture and a plethora of misinformation about the real harms and risks that are associated with consuming alcohol. Despite the fact that various health organizations have clearly stated that there are no health benefits and the healthiest amount of alcohol to consume is none, we continue to see misleading articles that boast about the health perks associated with consuming alcohol. Another confusing and counterintuitive factor that challenges our awareness around alcohol and breast cancer is the highly manipulative and unscrupulous act of alcohol companies sponsoring breast cancer awareness events and organizations. The conflict of interest is clear: when an alcohol company is financially contributing to an organization, they are invested in ensuring that research showcasing the link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer is not shared as it would be detrimental to their profit. There is a tremendous amount of money within the alcohol industry and with that, a tremendous amount of power is wielded to ensure that accurate information is silenced and the booze keeps flowing.
For more information on alcohol and breast cancer, click here. And if you’re interested in following a rad feminist channel doing fascinating research and advocacy work in this area, follow DrinkLessForYourBreasts.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders (FASD)
Women’s drinking (and drinking among pregnant people) has been on the rise for years, with the Covid-19 pandemic leading to even greater increases in consumption in response to heightened stress, isolation, easier access to alcohol and additional household responsibilities. With this, some experts have noted concern for an anticipated risk of increased FASD.
FASD is largely underdiagnosed with an estimated 1-5% of children in the US affected by it. The spectrum of symptoms associated with FASD is broad, with some being very apparent (facial abnormalities, intellectual disabilities, etc.) and others being more challenging to identify (poor judgment and impulsivity). As a result, according to this Smithsonian article, subtle symptoms of FASD can often show up as symptoms similar to those of ADHD, which can result in misdiagnosis.
While documented research on the effects of FASD only date back about 50 years, there is now a general understanding that pregnant folks should steer clear of consuming alcohol during their pregnancies. Despite this general understanding, we are still seeing alcohol consumption occur in the first trimester (likely before the pregnancy is discovered), by those who are struggled with alcohol addiction and by those who hold the misconception that smaller/limited amounts of certain types of alcohol (like red wine) are safe during pregnancy, again demonstrating the need for more accurate, evidence-based information to be readily available.
Because of the ever-present stigma associated with addiction and substance use and the additional judgment placed on pregnant folks who use substances, many are often reluctant to disclose this information to their doctor out of fear of judgment and in some cases, may face criminal consequences should their doctor report them; there is a long history of pregnant women (especially women of color) facing criminal charges related to their pregnancies, often related to the use of legal and illegal substances.
Another factor that complicates FASD is that many of the treatment and support options available fail to meet the unique needs of pregnant women and pregnant folks and are often focused on outcomes related to the infant and FASD without taking into account the well-being and experiences of the birther.
In addition, we need – with greater frequency – to name and address FASD as what it is: a by-product of the patriarchy. Addiction and substance use are often the result of unhealed trauma, abuse and neglect; for women, this is often at the hands of men.
FASD is complex and also 100% preventable but only when the right information, support, advocacy and environment are in place for the pregnant person.
For more information on FASD, check out Pr%f Alliance or on Instagram. And for a more in-depth feminist take on the issue, check out this article.
Alcohol and Sexual Assault
The relationship between alcohol and sexual assault is well-documented, well known and complex. Alcohol does not cause sexual assaults but it is one of the biggest, most important and preventable risk factors that contribute to sexual violence. Alcohol can often increase aggressive behaviors while simultaneously lowering inhibitions; alcohol negatively impacts the prefrontal cortex, which is where our decision making capacity resides.
Here are some staggering statistics on sexual assault with a notable caveat: the vast majority of sexual assaults are never reported thus the numbers that we’re working with are wildly inaccurate:
- Conservative estimates tell us that alcohol is involved in at least 50% of sexual assaults, being consumed by the perpetrator, the person being victimized or (usually) both
- Sexual assaults are more likely to occur in places where alcohol is consumed (bars, parties, etc.)
- Knowing that alcohol increases vulnerability for women, perpetrators seek out such settings in an effort to access to vulnerable women more easily
- The majority of sexual violence is perpetrated against those who identify as women and girls and the majority of those perpetrating sexual violence identify as boys and men
- Sexual violence in the LGBTQ+ community exists at higher rates when compared to straight counterparts as do rates of addiction and substance use therefore, we can assume that the rates of sexual violence involving alcohol are also significant in this community
- Alcohol is a notable contributing factor to campus sexual assaults and violence
Sociocultural factors are also at play here, further complicating the situation. When it comes to alcohol and gender, a stark double-standard exists for men and women. When men use alcohol as a tool to loosen themselves and their victims up and intentionally spend time in settings where the alcohol is flowing freely, these actions – which demonstrate pre-meditation and predatory behavior – are not typically judged as such. The consumption of alcohol – given how normalized it has become – dilutes the responsibility of the perpetrator and his actions, simply because he was drinking.
In the event that a sexual assault case is filed and if it involves alcohol, it often serves to muddy the waters of the case; men are not often held account or responsible for their actions while drinking as consent becomes challenging to prove. Conversely, for the women who are sexually violated, if she was drinking, the insinuation is that she is responsible for what happened and she was “asking for it” by consuming alcohol. Coupled with the negative impact alcohol has on us cognitively, the involvement of alcohol serves to jeopardize and bring into question the accuracy of the victims memories and recall. In addition, the bulk of prevention programs and studies on sexual assault often focus on all the actions that women can take to reduce sexual assault and violence and very rarely are prevention efforts focused on men, who are typically the perpetrators.
As we can see from these examples (and this is just scratching the surface), when alcohol is added to the equation – especially for those who identify as women – the harms and risks increase substantially. Normative alcohol culture has convinced us that alcohol is not only normal but essential in our lives and through manipulative marketing efforts, is sold to us as a solution to everything despite the very serious consequences that go along with consuming it. Again, we honor everyone’s autonomy and choices and know that it can be and feel challenging to disentangle ourselves from systems working against us, like Big Alcohol, the patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism and and and are.
Our hope with sharing this article is that you were introduced to some new information and ideas on how you can best navigate the role that alcohol plays in your life.
If you need support with this, please reach out. We are here and happy to support you.
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