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Monday, March 15, 2004

Binge drinking

Maybe I am missing something but when I picked up the Western Mail this morning and read the headline ''Shameless' young Welsh women shun drink advice' I was expecting there to be a story of some kind. Instead we have a report of a TV documentary that alleges that programmes like 'Sex and the City' and 'Bridget Jones' are encouraging young women to drink heavily two or more nights a week. There are unparliamentary terms that describe a programme like this but we will not go there. So what is my problem?

Well, firstly binge drinking is not a new phenomena. In my experience it is ingrained into our culture. It is a huge problem and I agree that it is not helped by happy hours, 'drink as much as you can' offers and other promotional gimmicks put up by bars and night clubs. It is a problem that we need to worry about and that we need to counter, especially when you think that there are six times as many people dependent on alcohol as on drugs and that alcohol use is estimated to cost the NHS £3 billion a year and plays a role in 40,000 deaths annually. Approximately 80% of violent crime is alcohol related.

Secondly, the supposition is that television programmes form a major influence in our lifestyles and our life choices as if we do not have free will. This is just an excuse for censorship. The fact is that peer pressure and culture is far more influential in these decisions as it is with smoking and drugs. All alcohol advertising and glamorous programmes do is to reinforce existing attitudes.

Finally, my biggest problem with the programme, but more so with the newspaper article, is that it is just blatantly sexist. Why are they singling out women? Is it because those who are spinning this yarn find this to be a good hook to hang the piece on? Are they are playing on some stereotypical view of women as demure housewives, whose lives revolve around their husband, casting off the shackles of oppression and going out and having a good time after falling under the influence of evil TV programmes and marketing men? In the 1950s maybe but this is the twenty-first century and women are able to think for themselves.

The key passage in the story that undermines its whole rationale is this:-

'Pressure at work and more disposable income, combined with increased independence, all contribute to a society where women are out on the town just as much as men.'

'Just as much as men' - this is misogynistic after all. Why should women not be out on the town as much as men? They have the right to a life as well. They earn money, they support their family, they work hard like any man. They deserve to play hard too. Yes, there is an increase in the amount of alcohol drunk by women and especially young women and children in the past decade or so, and yes that is worrying. But that is an equalising process. Women should not be singled out for that.

By all means highlight growing alcoholism, binge drinking and other issues around alcohol and argue for action to combat it. I will back you all the way. But please, don't make this an issue about women. It is not. Rant over!

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