A Woman’s Choice

In Response to “Wine. Immediately.”

A few days ago a Medium post by Kristi Coulter (“Wine. Immediately.” The depressing reason so many women today drink”) appeared in my Facebook feed. I happened to fall victim to the clickbait title because, I thought, perhaps there’s a depressing reason I drink and I should know about it. Soon after, many self-proclaimed feminist friends were sharing the post on Facebook, applauding the author for producing a relatable(?) patriarch-bashing “life is hard[er] for women” narrative. I was confused — maybe I was missing something. While it seemed to have some good points, it mainly appeared to be a thinly concealed judgmental rant targeted at females who drink alcohol. I shrugged it off until the next day when a friend brought it to my attention once again. “Love this” he commented when linking the article. “Ew,” I replied. “I have a legitimate problem with it.”

To be clear — I don’t believe that opinion pieces should attempt to please all audiences, by nature they are not intended to, and understanding that the author was coming from a place of new sobriety was a solid perspective to keep in mind. Those points aside, there are number of things about the piece that are extremely unsettling. The author peddled blatant hypocrisy within her own piece of work (which she appeared to be blind to), pushing a pro-female, self-empowered narrative while denigrating women in the same breath. I have a problem with that. Writing directly at and about a specific audience and framing your essay as a series of sociological truths based on personal anecdotes in order to prove your view of “why women drink” — I have a problem with that too.

I actually agree with much of Coulter’s narrative about sexism . I agree with the struggles of the “24-hour woman” and the fact that women are seen as having to do it all in order to have it all; that in many cases women work twice as hard to earn half as much as men. I agree that it is sickening how men stare at, holler at or belittle women in personal and professional environments as if it is their free right to do so, and I find it even more appalling that there are men in power who believe it is their duty to decide what we do with our bodies. Coulter’s personal anecdote about being overpowered by men on a panel question explicitly about a woman’s experience was ugly, honest and relatable. As a fellow woman I understand all that, I agree with that, and I’m happy someone is speaking out about that.

But then Coulter attempted to connect these female-specific adversities with female alcohol consumption and dependence, and that is a story-line I do not agree with. Fine to discuss sexism and its effects on females. Fine to discuss the enormous pressures stemming from ad campaigns, male-dominant industries and perpetuated misogyny. But the author shamelessly takes a stance against women who drink, making them seem weaker for choosing to drink, and that is not okay. Being newly sober, while highly praiseworthy, does not give you a free pass to put other women down. Let me repeat that: It is not okay to make women feel guilty for drinking alcohol. As for women who don’t drink? Since they are naturally affected by the same societal burdens they must just be stronger women because they don’t drink, right? 
To recap: strong women don’t need alcohol, whereas weak women do.

Which leads me to one of the most recurring themes in Coulter’s article: shaming females who drink alcohol. Her tone conveys a belief that women who drink are weak for not realizing why they drink and weak also for not changing their lives — remaining oblivious to the “real reason” they drink. Through a number of arbitrary anecdotes where she witnesses women drinking, Coulter writes as though these women, unlike herself, are not yet enlightened, they are on “the other side of the pool,” as she smugly asserts at the end of her piece.

One of the most shocking revelations of Coulter’s piece is that she bases her entire essay on how women are inherently inferior and disadvantaged based on “thousands of years of patriarchy” and then goes on to recount multiple anecdotes where she purposefully made other women feel inferior for drinking. It’s ironic at the least, not to mention surfaces a glaring barrier to female empowerment. Woman on woman shaming is highly prevalent in today’s culture and has, arguably, one of the most regressive impacts on gender equality. Coulter’s post never suggests that women might elevate other women in response to the societal pressures they face together, and fails to offer a solution at all. If there is a way to rise above sexism and shift the narrative, it is by uniting women and raising each other, not belittling one another for the choices they make. Criticizing women who choose to drink sounds almost like the “men on TV” criticizing women who choose to terminate a pregnancy. “A woman’s choice” should apply to every part of her life, right? Hypocrisy always makes its way full circle.

It feels remiss to fail to point out that men and women both drink to dilute reality, or to be “mollified by a bottle” as the author puts it. Being pacified by alcohol is not a gender-specific notion as the author so callously places on women: “And then I start to get angry at women, too. Not for being born wrong, or for failing to dismantle a thousand years of patriarchy on my personal timetable. But for 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.” I keep reading this quote and thinking what if the tables were turned here — what if a man were to say “I’m so angry at men who are homemakers, as if being as domestic as a woman means anything but the right to be as domesticated.” It’s jarring — the author not only links alcohol consumption as a predominantly male characteristic, but is then repulsed by women who choose to engage in the same activity. How skillful really, being able to swiftly put down men and women in the same breath.

Without getting too much into the male side of this , men do have unfair societal expectations placed on them just the same — in many cases they are expected to be the “breadwinner” and provide for their families, to be the protector, to conceal their sensitivity, ironically also a result of the perpetuation of a patriarchal society. Just as women crave “girl time” men equally are free to desire “guy time” — both could be viewed as “earned,” or time that requires being carved out from ordinary life and responsibilities. In sneering at women at the movies or nail salons who claim to have “earned” their girl time, Coulter neglects to consider the husbands out at tailgates telling their friends the same thing, as if a man’s “earned” time with the guys is any less valuable.

Coulter asserts that industries and media have turned wine into an incentive for women to engage in regular tasks, or as a dependence in order to cope with life. I, like many women and men I know, drink wine when I feel like drinking wine. When I want the taste of it. When I prefer it with my meal. When it’s offered to me and I feel like it would be a nice treat. I don’t drink wine because I need wine. I certainly don’t drink wine because I am a woman, and I definitely don’t drink wine because I’m a woman who feels downtrodden by a patriarchal society.

It’s fine and fair to allege that some women use wine as a coping mechanism, even to allege that it might be because of societal pressures — but taking this HUGE THING, this colossal weight of sexism and patriarchy, and dumping it on top of a woman enjoying a mimosa at brunch — that’s not right. It’s mean and it’s harmful to women, reducing them to a place where it makes it okay to shame women for drinking, but not men.

While Coulter’s piece stands to illuminate highly important issues like the female role in society, perpetuated sexism and the burdensome expectations placed on women, her narrative linking alcohol dependence or therapy is misplaced, judgmental and weak. She counteracts her position that women’s choices be free from patriarchal impositions by blatantly undermining women’s choices [to drink] throughout her post. While the author’s journey to sobriety is highly praiseworthy and not a situation I pretend to understand, to me, the alcohol story-line felt more like the author trying to teach a lesson — that she had seen the light, but had pity for other women who are supposedly compelled by society to drink.

I went to a Broadway show last night and had two martinis at dinner before the performance. I didn’t drink because I needed to blunt my reality (though looking back on the musical I really should have drank more) nor did I drink to numb myself from patriarchal expectations I experience in daily micro-level situations. I drank simply because I was enjoying dinner at a restaurant I love, that happens to make the second-best martinis I’ve found in NYC. I don’t pretend to know anyone else’s reason for drinking, but on this particular evening this was my reason. To Kristi: I respect your side of the pool and I respect what it took for you to get there, but just respect my side too. Respect women who choose to drink as much as you respect women who choose not to drink. It’s a woman’s choice and to be a woman is to understand that fighting to have a choice is hard enough as it is.