I’m currently committed to a break from drinking. I was warned when I first arrived in Japan that it’s far too easy to become an alcoholic. Here you can buy alcohol in any convenient store, grocery store, as well as other stores entirely devoted to alcohol and restaurants as per usual. When you combine that with the infuriating pervasiveness of misogyny in this country, I was driven to drink. We make light of this with meme’s like “This is why I drink,” but the reality of it is that as femmes, we’re living in a world that hasn’t been made to make space for us, never mind accept us.
Kristi Coulter wrote an amazing piece titled “Giving up alcohol opened my eyes to the infuriating truth about why women drink”. She describes the daily bombardment of harassment and assault women receive and how this is often quelled by alcohol. From mansplaining, to sexual harassment, to mommy shaming, as she puts it so poignantly ‘there’s no acceptable way to be a woman’. Drinking is one of the many ways that women choose to assuage this guilt placed on us. She goes on to talk about how drinking is marketed as self care in many ways. If a woman works hard, she deserves a drink. Coulter wrote that her and her friends sat around tables clinking glasses and saying things like “we’ve earned this.”
She also talks about a more sinister side effect, though its not clear if the cause of this is living in a patriarchy or drinking. The realities we live in are so incredibly fake. We smile through the wage gap, the lack of emotional and domestic labour done by our partners, the realities of sexual assault and rape that women face every day. By doing all of this, accepting these unacceptable realities, we lose our ability to trust our own instincts.
While alcohol is heralded by many women and femme identifying people as a way to cope with the bitter realities, it also brings on a whole slew of nasty stereotypes that further complicate our lived experiences. The stereotypes that are paired with femmes who drink are almost always negative. The miserable housewife, the sex worker who drinks the pain away, the person dealing with abuse or other trauma through drinking or other substance use. All of these carry an aspect of victimisation, an air of pity and a continued removal of power and autonomy over their chosen coping mechanisms.
There is an article by Caty Simon titled ‘Here’s what real sex-workers say about that ‘hookers-using-drugs-to-numb-the-pain’ trope’. Simon opens with the fact that multiple studies and anecdotal testimonies from sex workers themselves refute this narrative time and time again. It seems to be impossible for people who don’t know the profession to believe that any sex worker could possibly have chosen the career for themselves.
Yes, some sex workers over use alcohol and other substances. More often than not these problems pre-date their careers in sex work. Others explain how they use less than they used to because of their jobs. One respondent in the article spoke about how, if she admits to using, people can forgive her for going into sex work, something they see as wholly unforgivable. Her choice of career, her choice to use what and in what quantities, is all erased by the victim narrative.
Many of the people in the article talked about how the flexibility of the career worked better for them than traditional jobs. Most of them chose sex work as a better alternative than the roles prescribed to femmes by society. They chose something ‘unacceptable’ and they are shamed for this. This is not to say that this is the reality for everyone in the field, but it does dismiss the trope as we know it.
We begin to see a pattern here. Society provides an inhospitable climate for femmes, femmes get fed up, femmes assuage their anger with drugs and alcohol, femmes have their autonomy erased with tropes.
The scariest part about this removal of autonomy, is that sometimes they transfer into reality. Alcohol is a friend of many, but it also can be used as a weapon against us. I’d like to use an anecdote to really prove this point.
I was at a bar with some friends the other night, eating pizza and having a few drinks. As we were getting our bills a guy at the bar turned to us and offered to buy us drinks. We declined, saying we had trains to catch and places to be. He couldn’t for the life of him take this as a final answer. We split up the bill and got out our cash, a few stayed behind finishing the last of our drinks. Him badgering us this entire time, spotted with comments of ‘that’s cold hearted’ and other nasty remarks with each decline we offered. One of the girls finally cracked and said ‘sure, I’ll take a half pint.’ His response to that (the important part here) was to the bartender “I’ll get two double mojito’s” and then to us “With me its double or nothing.”
This, while creepy, is a very tame example. He had the decency to tell us it was a double so we could simply leave it on the table, untouched. There are all to many examples like this one. Maybe they buy doubles all night and don’t tell you, maybe they slip more alcohol into your drink while you aren’t looking, maybe they slip something much more sinister in your drink instead. Alcohol is the substance used most frequently in sexual assault.
There’s much more that could be said about alcohol being used to lubricate the friction between the polar opposite gender roles. Either trying to navigate our personal fit, or a relationship within or outside of these binaries.
Alcohol is our confidant, it is our medicine, it is our poison and it is a weapon. I’m not sure I’m going to give it up entirely, and I’m not necessarily advocating anyone else do it either (unless you believe you are an alcoholic but that’s a whole different story there.) However, I do think its incredibly important to think critically about the many aspects of our alcohol use and why we are driven to it.