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Study finds double standard for women's drinking

Study finds double standard in attitude to women’s drinking

AUCKLAND – New research has confirmed the so-called “feminisation of binge drinking” – a trend that has seen increasing numbers of women drinking large quantities of alcohol in social situations in line with their modern status as independent with income-earning ability equal to or greater than their male counterparts.

And the research, by psychologist Dr Antonia Lyons, has also revealed that while men and women have a growing acceptance of such behaviour among their friends, they have completely different and contradictory attitudes towards excessive drinking by strangers, depending on whether it is a man or a woman they see getting drunk.

The double standards lead both men and women to label other drinkers with terms like “disgusting”, “embarassing”, and “slutty” if they are women, while publicly drunken men who are strangers are more likely to be regarded by both sexes as amusing or “a joke”.

Among their own circles of friends, men and women do not display the same prejudices, regarding heavy drinking as a pleasant and enjoyable leisure activity, with the only negative consequences things like hangovers, reckless behaviour and the financial cost, with little apparent regard for any health consequences.

Going out and getting pissed: Young adults, drinking and gender identity will be presented by Dr Lyons, from the School of Psychology, at the New Zealand Psychological Society and Australian Psychological Society joint annual conference in Auckland this month.

“It was a qualitative study aiming to explore young adults’ understandings of drinking and the meanings they give to it,” Dr Lyons says.

It involved 20 to 30 year olds from a range of occupations who were middle class and about half were university-educated. There were 32 participants, 16 men and 16 women split into groups of friends ranging in size from three to five. One group of friends was all women; the other groups were mixed.

“I was interested in exploring gender relations and gender identities and in how women particularly create their identities around this relatively new public drinking behaviour.

“In a way I was reassured that within their groups both women and men saw women going out and drinking with friends positively, as something that developed friendships and socialising, which is a real shift in terms of our culture.

“But I was totally surprised by the negative stereotypes of other women’s drinking out in public, which reinforces more traditional views on women as always being in control and caring for themselves and others.

“The study findings suggest that excessive drinking among young adults contributes to the continual creation of identities, and gender identities particularly. The finding that unknown women’s drinking is seen as deviant and breaking moral codes reinforces traditional versions of femininity.”

Dr Lyons, whose study was funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fast-Start Fund, believes the findings may have implications for public health efforts to reduce young adults’ drinking behaviour.

The full report can be found at: http://masseynews.massey.ac.nz/2006/Massey_News/
issue-16/stories/women-drinking.pdf

ENDS

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