Feminism and the rise of binge drinking

SALT LAKE CITY (U-WIRE) – Syracuse University student Lisa Diebold downed two pitchers of beer, had an argument with her boyfriend and then put her fist through the rear window of her car. She likes drinking.

She likes it so much that she even has a handful of nights where she can’t recall what took place. And she has two goals for her senior year: Diebold wants to learn how to drive a stick shift and “drink a guy under the table.”

Diebold’s story is chronicled in the April 1 edition of Time magazine as part of a larger story about the rise in binge drinking by college women. Binge drinking is defined as downing four or more drinks in a row, at least three times in two weeks.

One of the most disappointing statements in the article comes from Diebold.

“You don’t want to be that dumb girly girl who looks wasted and can’t hold her liquor. I know it’s juvenile, but I’ve had boys comment how impressed they are at the amount of alcohol I’ve consumed,” she said. “To be able to drink like a guy is kind of a badge of honor. For me, it’s a feminism thing.”

First off, anyone who looks down on a woman who gets drunk easily is a moron. Second, any guy who is impressed by how much alcohol a woman can drink is a moron. Third, any woman who attempts to drink “like a guy” is a moron.

But it seems many women disagree, at least according to the statistics that show the number of women who binge drink has continued to climb during the 1990s. Time reports that at Georgetown, administrators have observed a 35 percent increase in alcohol violations by women over the past three years. The Journal of American College Health reports this week that all-women colleges have recorded a 125 percent increase in frequent binge drinking from 1993 to 2001.

These researchers suggest that girls who start drinking in junior high or high school do so to impress other girls, but by the time they make it to college, they do it to get the attention of men.

Diebold’s definition of feminism is haunting in this day and age. Feminism and the movement for equality between the genders needs to focus on respecting women for who they are, not for turning women into men.

By trying to “drink like a guy,” Diebold has bought into the notion that equality is doing whatever a man can do. But that argument ignores the medical differences between men and women. Alcohol is less diluted when it hits the bloodstream of women because they tend to have a higher fat to water ratio than men. This means a few drinks will hit a woman harder than it would a man of a similar body size.

Once the alcohol hits a woman’s system, it takes longer to break down, since women have a smaller amount of the enzyme that does just that. And those women who do drink, even if it is a small amount compared to their male counterparts, tend to get liver disease 10 to 15 years earlier.

When Diebold drinks like a man, she ignores these biological facts and leaves herself open to the possibility of getting more drunk than she intended, if not seriously threatening her own health.

For a good example of modern-day feminism, Diebold should look to Jennifer Cheney, a first-year cadet in the university’s Army ROTC program. Cheney decided to join the program because she knew that few women selected the Army; more often they join the Air Force.

Cheney doesn’t want to be “one of the guys.” She wants the male cadets to recognize that she can keep up with them, but more than that, she provides a new and desperately needed perspective into the male-dominated military branch. “It has to be diversified. Women obviously think differently than men. When you have both a man and a woman, you will come up with more ideas,” she said.

This is a healthy view of a woman in a predominately man’s world.

But with drinking, college women tend to think they have to keep up with their boyfriends.

Devon Jersild is a journalist who wrote a book titled “Happy Hours: Alcohol in a Woman’s Life.” In an interview with Time magazine, she said “They associate drinking with power, and they think that if they drink like a guy, they will be like a guy.”

Women shouldn’t want to be guys. That is a horrible way to gain power because the standard will always be set by a guy. Thus, women will never gain power; they will instead continue to chase the wrong goal while ignoring their uniqueness.

Instead of trying to be like the daring heroine, Marion, in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” as she sits at the barroom table and, shot for shot, beats the man sitting across from her, women should try to find what their personal limit is and stick somewhere closer to that.

Drinking, and life in general, for that matter, should not be a competition between the sexes. As women strive for equality, men must strive with them. Men must stop expecting women to be able to do everything they can do, especially in areas where it can cause physical damage such as drinking, and instead change their definition of equality.

As Diebold’s classmate Jodie Rosenbloom put it, “In drinking and everywhere else, women need to start setting their own standards.”

Matt Canham’s column originally appeared in the Daily Utah Chronicle on March 29. Send comments to
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