Another pint, please! Err…maybe not?

// 5 June 2008

Before reading this you may want to look at the excellent post by Helen here.

Now and again I like to unwind with a good drink. If I’m feeling sophisticated I’ll opt for a white wine, and if I’m feeling like…well, me…I’ll go for a vodka, lemonade and lime. Lovely. I don’t go out with the intention of drinking myself into the following Tuesday, but on occasion I have been known to drink to excess (partly because I get carried away and partly because I get tipsy by smelling a wine gum). I am not an exception.

But apparently we, ladies of the British Isles, are drinking too much. Fact. And to bolster this so-called fact the Drug and Alcohol Service have today initiated a new poster campaign on the London underground, designed to have the most success of any campaign that as ever been in the history of the world, ever. How? You ask, well, by appealing to the one facet of our personalities that apparently always has to be satisfied: our vanity!

Yes, today posters were placed on the underground of an elderly masculine man, his face covered in garish clown-like make-up, his head covered in a woman’s wig, with the warning “If you drink like a man you might end up looking like one!”

Despite the £10 million pound campaign initiated by the Government to warn young women of the link between excess alcohol consumption and breast cancer, research by the Drug and Alcohol Service has found that we are allegedly more concerned about the prospect of premature aging and weight gain through drinking than the long-term health ramifications. The report found that two-fifths of women felt that weight-gain would stop them from drinking, with just one-third claiming the prospect of heart disease would make them pour away the pints.

Excessive drinking is unhealthy. That cannot be disputed. And that the number of women dying from alcohol related illnesses has almost doubled over the last decade is something that cannot be ignored, but over-indulgence is not isolated to the female sex. While men have always drunk themselves to oblivion, there always seems to be disproportionate emphasis placed on the female drinker, as if having one-too-many makes us nothing more than transgressive beasts who have to be controlled.

The Daily Mail has been known to take an unhealthy interest in women’s drinking habits, and only recently published a number of articles discussing the alcohol intake of young women, using manipulated statistics to consolidate their arguments. But alcohol abuse is unhealthy for everybody, something this campaign ignores. However, perhaps the message this poster conveys is more damaging: the implication is that men are immune to these harmful effects. The message is not don’t drink too much because it’s unhealthy for a person to do so but rather women, don’t try and drink too much and emulate a man’s behaviour because obviously, as women, you cannot handle drink in the same way as men can. Men can drink to excess and still look beautiful, whereas you cannot, but, aww, don’t worry too much about it, at least you’ll still be pretty. Yeah, you’re a pretty girl. *At this point imagine someone tickling under your chin like you’re a fluffy poodle who’s just taken a biscuit treat.*

Is there not something inherently patronising about this? Not only the fact that a woman who drinks is instantly seen as a drunkard, but the assumption that we are so preoccupied with the superficial that we’ll listen to what we’re told. We can be beautiful non-drinkers, or gargoyle-looking bingers. Is this not just a more refined way of telling someone that if they pull an unhappy face it will stay that way if the wind changes? Is the essence of this argument not the same? Surely the Drugs and Alcohol Service realised the vast majority of beer-swigging women will be able to see through this argument?

Why is it that people are so preoccupied with the female drunk, girls who drink? Everyone has an opinion about how much we should consume, and what’s appropriate behaviour. It’s almost as if society’s saying, hey, it’s fine for all those guys to go out and get pissed, they’ve always done it, but you, you’re our responsibility if you’re going to get drunk and upset the normal order of things, and so we’re going to make you stop. Please, give us some credit for taking responsibility for our own welfare. Alcoholism is not something suffered by women alone.

Comments From You

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 5 June 2008 at 9:43 pm

I have been in direct contact with the Drug and Alcohol Service and have spoken to their Service Director. The DAS have received a number of comments concerning this poster campaign and some were criticising the implication that men can drink themselves to oblivion and it is acceptable but women cannot. DAS informed me they have taken on board not only my complaint and recommendations concerning a more measured and non-gendered stereotype but they will also be writing to individuals who have complained. DAS informed me it was not their intention to single out women whilst ignoring the problem of male heavy drinking. Whilst this is good news, unfortunately it is too late for the current campaign to be altered. Daily Male of course, seized this opportunity to blame women yet again!! I would suggest individuals emailing or writing to DAS and tell them why they are opposed to campaigns which stereotype women.

Lisa // Posted 5 June 2008 at 9:48 pm

Yes I like a drink too BUT a unit of alcohol does do more damage to a female human than a male because 1) the average woman has less muscle:fat/water etc ratio than the average man and muscle metabolises alcohol faster, more efficiently and more safely, 2) the average woman weighs 30% less than the average man and the larger the body mass the better it can metabolise the alcohol, 3) alcohol reduces the amount of calcium in bones and weakens the bone structure which is not so important for the average male drinker as men are less at risk from osteoporisis for various reasons too long to go into and 4) the average man is more likely to have played more sport as a child and to continue to play more sport as an adult, therefore having greater cardio-vascular capacity which also helps to metabolise alcohol. And so women have a lower weekly alcohol allowance than men (some women in high risk groups eg osteoporosis or with particularly small builds are recommended to avoid alcohol altogether – I take those Docs with a pinch of salt).

In some ways I wish the above facts were not true and that tomorrow night I could drink loads of pints no probs but unfortunately I may well have to limit myself to 2 and after a large meal (4 units if not more – so over half my weekly allowance of 7 gone in a friday-after- work gathering). I don’t actually care that men drink, drink more than women, think it’s more socially acceptable for men to drink etc etc as it’s not relevant to my health (leaving violence for another day!). I do support campaigns – including shock tactics – to raise consciousness, inform women and encourage them to really minimise alcohol intake. There’s no option but to limit it.

What is sad, is that for many, many women vanity IS the main motivator (research was carried out to find the most effective marketing tool to promote this campaign it wasn’t just doodled on the back of scrap paper during a tea break). In an ideal world this wouldn’t be the case but in an ideal world women would do 3 times (at least) as much sport as they do (remember the survey that revealed British women’s main reason for refusing to break out into a sweat – it was ‘unfeminine’ ?!?). So instead of alcohol to reduce stress or as a self-medication for depression, anxiety etc, sport ! (it can be unusual, creative alternatives like yoga, free running, martial arts, dance it doesn’t have to bring back nasty memories of school).

I’d like to think a more positive campaign would have been found to be more effective (e.g. happy, healthy woman running around/playing sport, with the line ‘she only drinks 7 units a week so she can live her life to the full’) but I fear it would have been deemed counter-productive and risk driving women to drink in despair at failing yet again. Anyone else think of a better campaign ? Hard-hitting footage of dying women with diseased livers in line with drink driving campaigns ?

Spicy // Posted 5 June 2008 at 11:48 pm

I realise that this is not going to be popular information but DASL did widely consult prior to deciding on their images. And guess what? For their target audience – women who regularly drink to excess – the images they went with were selected as most likely to be effective.

I think there is a debate to be had about a feminist analysis of the images use but let’s not forget that what DASL are trying to achieve is to get a message across to a specific audience who themselves selected the images used as most likely to have a positive impact.

Lindsey // Posted 6 June 2008 at 9:53 am

So they want to prevent breast cancer by making posters about unrelated vanity issues just because they both effect women? I am WAY more concerned about getting cancer than a few wrinkles. If the focus groups they used reacted more to the posters about their looks chances are it’s because they believe physical appearance is their most valuable commodity which is sad. To make posters showing how that commodity could be taken away reinforces that belief.

Dan // Posted 6 June 2008 at 10:41 am

Perhaps its a chicken and egg situation, you say vanity should not be the driving force behind women changing their drinking habits, that they should not be so self conscious about their appearance, but currently they are.

Until you can break that cycle, this remains the best way to tackle female binge drinking, according to the research and focus groups. (you say its a presumption later in your post but at the beginning point to surveys showing that this presumption is probably true)

It can be argued that by focusing on image, this campaign will merely re-enforce in women the idea that their appearance is the be all and end all, but DAS have a specific job to do with this campaign, cut alcohol related illnesses and abuses. This is the most effective way to do it, and until society changes and it becomes a less effective approach I would expect them to continue with it.

BTW I also don’t agree with the idea that male drinking to excess is treated more favourably in the media, the recent trouble at the UEFA cup final would be a case in point. Although I will say I find it strange that DAS have chosen to target this campaign at women without launching a concurrent run targeted at men. Perhaps one will follow on afterwards….

Lindsey // Posted 6 June 2008 at 12:37 pm

DAS targetted this campaign at women with the aim of reducing breast cancer and yet breast cancer wasn’t the focus of the posters, the admittedly easier target of appearance was. Breaking the cycle is tough, and not DAS responsibility, but they are contributing to its continuation nonetheless which makes me sad because who is going to start trying to reduce this image rather than perpetuate it just because everyone else is and it’s easier?

You are right though, there is an element of chicken and egg, as the media influences women and women (in this case) are influencing the media. The difference is that one media outlet taking a stand has far more influence than one woman.

If DAS had run this at the same time as a male campaign criticising beer bellies and male appearance maybe we’d feel differently about this but they haven’t.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 6 June 2008 at 2:13 pm

The equivalent campaign in Scotland has a picture of a pint of lager with a bulge in the middle and the slogan is something like- take two days off a week and you might see a difference round the middle. You could argue as it is lager that it’s aimed at men, but it makes a similar point, is relatively gender neutral, and can be read to mean good for health or appearance as you wish. It wasn’t that hard to get the message across effectively and without being offensive to women.

Cockney Hitcher // Posted 6 June 2008 at 2:23 pm

BTW I also don’t agree with the idea that male drinking to excess is treated more favourably in the media, the recent trouble at the UEFA cup final would be a case in point.

I disagree.

I have seen many debates on TV concerning women drinkers, in which people argue that equality has gone ‘too far’ and ‘oh for the good old days, when women weren’t allowed in pubs and were ladylike.’ I’ve never heard anyone arguing that binge-drinking men should be stripped of their basic rights, but when it comes to binge-drinking women it seems that lots of people believe that equality for women should be contingent on women’s behaviour (i.e. we’ll give you equality only if you behave like a good little girl).

aimee // Posted 6 June 2008 at 4:45 pm

It’s all very well to say that image IS a major motivator for women, but that is BECAUSE the idea of image being the be-all-and-end-all of a woman’s image is constantly re-enforced, even in something as unrelated as this. It’s ridiculous to sit there and say ‘oh well it’s what women respond to’, because people, as individuals respond to the culture in which they exist. This is not necessarily right.

With regards to the comments about the differences between women and men’s metabolic rates; this again is a contentious issue with it’s roots in female socialisation. I am not for a second saying that there are NO physical differences between men and women, but neither do I believe that there necessarily ARE differences; or at least differences as great as we are lead to believe. Women are told to eat 1/5 th less calories than men a day, completely disregarding the men who are physically smaller than a lot of women and the women who are physically larger than a lot of men, women are encouraged to do less sport, specifically the kind of sport which encourages the building of body mass etc. Socialisation plays an enormous part in our physiology. Most archaeologists will look at a skeleton and make assumptions of it’s gender based on size, such as might be applicable today, but are often proved wrong because women and men played different roles to today, back then and this is reflected in their physiology. We cannot use the argument that women have less capacity for alcohol NATURALLY because not only do we simply not know if that’s true or not, it also does not apply to every single man and woman. There are women with much greater capacity for alcohol consumption that most men and men with much less than most women. We do not fit into these moulds, and this should be recognised.

Cara // Posted 7 June 2008 at 6:11 pm

Hmmmm. While to be fair, this latest killjoy campaign has also included men, I agree that particular ad is sexist. I also agree that women who drink are vilified in a way men aren’t.

I like aimee’s point – it’s only an average. I had a male tutor at uni who was seriously about 5ft tall and skinny, I mean I’m petite myself but I could’ve kicked his ass (if I wanted to). Equally, there are strong and athletic women. Like so many things, alcohol tolerance is more down to the individual. It also increases with practice ;-)

Aimee // Posted 7 June 2008 at 10:13 pm

Exactly. I mean, you don’t see this kind of so-called academic authority imposed on people because of, for example, race. You don’t hear things like ‘Japanese people; if you want to drink like an American, you’ll look like an American’ because the Japanese are statistically smaller than your average american. It simply doesn’t happen. It seems that gender is one of the few remaining distinctions remaining that it’s acceptable to make generic assumtions upon; and ironic, I feel, that it is also the most widely varied distinctions… I believe men and women make up 48 and 52 percent of the population respectively… that’s a mightly large generalisation to make.

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