Representations of Drinking Women

Photo: Edwin Land. Republished under a Creative Commons licence.
Photo: Edwin Land. Republished under a Creative Commons licence.

The subject of women’s drinking is often high on the political and media agenda. The majority of mainstream discourse appears to be highly moralistic in tone. Press articles are accompanied by photographs of women, scantily dressed and either slumped with sickness or in aggressive poses. Their situation is often remarked upon as an indicator of the decline in New Zealand’s values and social norms.

Sarah Wright, a Lecturer at VUW’s Institute of Criminology, has regularly examined the relationship between the media and understandings of crime (or, rather, misunderstandings about crime) and the policy implications of these misunderstandings. In this article, recently published in the journal ‘Continuum’, she examines how the NZ media represents women’s drinking and considers the impact of these discursive trends.

Her research explores media discourses of women’s alcohol use at two intervals (2000-2002; 2010-2012) over a 13-year period. She uncovers three principal discursive formations. First, escalation. Here, it is decreed that the ‘problem’ of feminism is that women increasingly drink like males. Conversely, their gentle femininities make them ‘easy prey’ for cunning marketeers of alcohol. The end-result is increased alcohol consumption. Second, bad girls. Drinking women are derided, seen as feral, they are ‘heading for the gutter’ in their alcohol use. Third, vulnerable bodies. It is pronounced that womens’ bodies cannot cope with the ravages of alcohol, and their drinking creates multiple risks, including unplanned pregnancies, STDs or sexual assaults. Women can be increasingly prone to physical injuries, such as ankle breaks from stilettos!

Taken together, these discourses, and the subjective positions that women are seen to occupy, have worrying implications. This media reporting emphasises anxieties about women’s drinking that way surpasses the attention given to male drinkers, who continue to drink to intoxication far more than their female friends. And, these dominant discourses bring many risks. For example, they engender fear among women going out and they support a victim blaming response to women who suffer harms or injuries while intoxicated. These titillating accounts present moralistic myths about women drinkers that have real world implications.

Read the full article here

Reference for Citation

Wright, S. (2016). ‘Serious public mischief’: Young women, alcohol and the New Zealand Press. Continuum, 30(6), 636-645.

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