You Do Not Know Why I Drink: A Response to “Why ‘Women’ Drink” by Kristi Coulter
Dear Kristi Coulter,
I found your recent article on qz.com, under the cumbersome title of “Giving up Alcohol Opened my Eyes to the Infuriating Reason Why Women Drink,” and in it you say the following: “I start to get angry at women…[f]or being so easily mollified by a bottle. For thinking that the right to get as trashed as a man means anything but the right to be as useless.” You say, “I see that booze is the oil in our motors, the thing that keeps us purring when we should be making other kinds of noise.”
And reading this article now many, many times, I’m left to wonder: where is that other kind of noise? Is it this essay in which you complain about how much women drink and look down on them for that while offering no productive solutions to the micro and macro aggressions that we face in our everyday lives? Where you paint women as a silent and battered bunch that do nothing to combat their experiences save for drowning themselves during cocktail hour?
You were moved to write a personal essay about your experience of giving up alcohol. That’s fine. But you posed it as a universal statement about the experiences of all women, about why women drink. And I’m here to tell you: you do not know me, you do not know my experiences, and you do not know why I drink.
Simply put, you blame women for drinking. You’re angry at women for drinking. You use the word anger freely in your essay. And yet you seem completely ignorant of the social context in which you are writing.
You know who else was blamed for drinking? The victim in the Stanford rape case. And countless other victims in countless other rape cases, victims of a two-fold trauma, once at the hands of their attackers and then again by a legal system that would seek to paint them as irresponsible and lascivious partiers.
And you know who also used alcohol as a scapegoat? The Stanford rapist, apologizing only for his over imbibing of alcohol, and not for the horrific act that he perpetrated on an unconscious woman.
And I cannot stay silent while you write an article claiming the voice of all women in this country and turn our recreational activity back on ourselves and point the finger. Because I, like you, have experienced a multitude of micro and macro aggressions. And I’m sick of the finger being pointed at me. And I will not excuse your behavior in doing this, just like I do not excuse the behavior of the misogynistic hordes that I am overwhelmed by each day. I will not be complicit in this blame game. Especially not at the hands of another woman, at the hands of a member of our sisterhood.
Alcohol is not the problem. Society is the problem. Where are your real-time suggestions for women who feel unfulfilled? Where are your alternative coping mechanisms? All you’ve done is fault women for their current societal status. Nothing you’ve written is revolutionary. In fact, it just reveals that you have deeply internalized the patriarchy.
No one is allowed — not men, not you, no one — to tell me how I do or can cope with my experiences. As a survivor of a myriad form of perpetrations, some of which involved substances, some of which I knowingly imbibed and some of which I did not, I adamantly refuse to let fear govern my behavior. I do not blame alcohol for anything that has happened to me. I blame aggressors. I blame the rape culture in our society that allows violence to occur. But I am not going to stop drinking in an effort to arm myself against future attackers. I’m not going to take the responsibility of that on myself. Alcohol did not hurt me. My choice to drink alcohol did not hurt me. I did not hurt me. Men did.
Not only am I not going to stop drinking, but I am going to dispel the myth right now that I drink to cope with these painful memories and painful experiences in my past. There are things that I do to cope. I speak out against injustice. I have dedicated my life to education. I write essays and sometimes polemics against harmful rhetoric that I see filtering around the Internet (see: this, what’s happening — right now). All suggestions, by the way, absent in your essay which purports to be about women speaking up, “making noise.”
Instead, as evidenced by your nauseating final scene at the pool, you pit one group of women, non-drinkers, against another group of women, drinkers, creating a problematic hierarchy, vilifying and mocking those of use who choose to imbibe, fostering divisiveness when we should be banding together in our universal and exhausting experience of being a woman in a man’s world. And I must adamantly reject, and encourage all other women to reject, any tome claiming to be in the voice of all women that would turn us on each other.
So why do I drink? I drink because I like it. I drink because I moved to New Orleans when I was 19 years old, and turned 21 in a city where drinking is a way of celebration, and celebration is a way of life. A city that has faced so many obstacles, yet remains steadfast in spirit. A city that innately links the words jazz and funeral. A city that has been hosting carnival since 1856. A city that has displayed a remarkable resilience, that, despite its traumatic history, refuses to lose its love for the party.
I drink because I can. I drink because I’m a responsible adult and I can make my own choices, and conduct myself appropriately even under the influence, and know when I am under the influence enough — though to drink beyond that point is not a crime. I drink not to cope but to salute myself and the other brave women with whom I surround myself in our constant victories, large and small, against a world that would try to take joy from us. And I reject the offensive picture you paint of this cocktail hour in which battered women cheers each other for their communal silence. I’m sorry, but fuck that. That is not who we are.
My life is not “sallow and cracked.” In spite of all that I have endured, my life is beautiful. It is beautiful because I recognize agency in myself, and revel in that power. I can do something. And I do. I put good energy back into the world for women. I have made this my life’s mission. And sometimes, after a long, hard day of sticking it to the man, I have a nice, frosty, bittersweet IPA to celebrate.
So next time you get upset about the daily abuses women face, don’t tell us to stop drinking. Don’t assume we are blind or ignorant to our situations because we drink, or for any other reason. Don’t assume my cocktail hour is as downtrodden as your own. Instead: DO SOMETHING.
As victims to constant micro and macro aggressions because of our sex, it is doubly exhausting to ask us to be responsible for the fight against this oppression. It is unfair to ask victims to be their own warriors, to put themselves again in a situation where there might by negative ramifications for their outcry, like at your work panel. But I would posit that it is not more unfair than to turn the blame back on those victims and tell them that if they would stop drinking so damn much their situation would somehow change.
If a male coworker says something misogynistic toward you in front of a group of people, calmly, politely (as possible), but directly, and firmly tell him that he cannot speak for your experience. And if you work in a place that fosters this unhealthy environment, do not be complicit in that company’s actions. Find a workspace that validates you. Know that you deserve that. And that that is not a privilege, but a right.
And trust me, I know this is far easier said than done. I absolutely know not everyone has the luxury of leaving their job. But I only point these solutions out to say that, while they are complicated, and put pressure on women to rectify our own situations, they are at least addressing the actual problem, and offer solutions directly related to that problem, instead of scapegoating alcohol.
So I raise a glass to every woman out there who takes an active stance against abuse, who helps other women to be strong, instead of blaming them for their weaknesses, who defines pleasure and celebration in her own way, who does not buckle in shame or fear, and abstain from practices she enjoys because she has internalized blame for her painful experiences when she should not. For all those women out there: here’s a toast to you.