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Abdul-Jabbar writes: "The success of Wonder Woman may give the impression that this is the Summer of Female Empowerment, with Hollywood firmly leading the feminist charge. Not so fast. While Wonder Woman exhibits the admirable traits of courage, moral commitment and self-reliance, Hollywood has been, in general, less kind with how it portrays average American women, especially their relationship to alcohol."

Universal Pictures film Girls Trip. (photo: Universal Pictures)
Universal Pictures film Girls Trip. (photo: Universal Pictures)


Why Is Hollywood Glamorizing Binge-Drinking for Women?

By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, The Hollywood Reporter

15 July 17


From 'Girls Trip' to 'Bachelor in Paradise,' a sobering look at why women "keeping up with the guys" when it comes to boozing backfires by portraying female characters as "insecure and needy."

he success of Wonder Woman may give the impression that this is the Summer of Female Empowerment, with Hollywood firmly leading the feminist charge. Not so fast. While Wonder Woman exhibits the admirable traits of courage, moral commitment and self-reliance, Hollywood has been, in general, less kind with how it portrays average American women, especially their relationship to alcohol. Bad Moms, Rough Night, the women vs. shark film 47 Meters and the upcoming Girls Trip (July 21) all feature women for whom alcohol is the obligatory catalyst to fun. When Amy Schumer joked on Stephen Colbert's show in May that she would go home and drink herself into a blackout, the audience cheered. On Today, Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford call Tuesday "Boozeday" and Wednesday "Winesday." Watch any TV series or movie featuring women over 30, and their default response to stress or boredom often is hitting the bottle. Though these tipsy portrayals may seem all in good fun, there is a sinister consequence that affects all of us.

Relax. This isn't about booze-shaming or bringing back Tommy gun Prohibition. It's about how, in the guise of empowerment — "Look, everyone, girls can drink just as hard and act just as stupid as guys" — women are more consistently being portrayed as insecure and needy. It's about the negative effects of perpetuating gender stereotypes that promote destructive behavior.

One is death. Over the last 18 years, alcohol-related deaths among women 35 to 54 have more than doubled. The Washington Post reported on the proliferation of alcohol-related ads targeting women: "Harried mothers chugging wine to cope with everyday stress. Women embracing quart-sized bottles of whiskey and bellying up to bars to knock back vodka shots." Equating heavy drinking with women's lib has resulted, researchers claim, in women drinking more alcohol more often. In 2013, heavy drinking put more than a million women in emergency rooms.

Another negative effect is depicting women as too fragile to deal with stress or too uptight to have fun without alcohol. As women struggle to overcome a history of being portrayed as weak, bubbly but bubble-headed, dependent sidekicks, Hollywood has obliged by creating more positive role models. Tough, smart female characters fill our screens. But Hollywood also has undermined some of that progress by behaving like an enabling bartender sliding drinks down the bar. Cougar Town used the enormous size of Courteney Cox's wine glass as a continuing joke. Reality shows such as The Real Housewives, Real World and The Challenge often feature women drinking, and production on Bachelor in Paradise was briefly halted over an alcohol-fueled incident. Sales of Bandit boxed wine — aka "binge in a box" — jumped 22 percent after Schumer drank it in Trainwreck.

Perhaps this is the effect that Susan Faludi warned about in her 1991 book, Backlash, in which she claims that whenever women make social and political advances, there is a media-driven backlash. In this case, the mixed message from Hollywood is, "Sure, women can be just as smart and competent as men (but they also are fundamentally flawed and need booze to cope with their insecurities)." It's another version of the classic taunts thrown at successful women: "Yeah, but you're not married" (as used in Transformers: The Last Knight). You're welcome, feminism.

While characterizing women as drinking more could be defended as statistically accurate, it also can be considered glamorizing drinking to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hollywood already is under scrutiny for its product placement of alcohol (nearly doubling in 20 years). According to a 2017 medical study, more than 80 percent of movies depict alcohol use, including 72 percent of G-rated films. This does not mean censorship. A lot of comedy comes from people acting stupid and immature. It's actually refreshing to have movies like Rough Night and Girls Trip. The problem isn't in the occasional use of booze to create a comic scene; the problem comes when that becomes the dominant portrayal of women, and society starts to see women in general as jonesing for that merlot. One of the more insidious aspects of Hollywood's portrayal of the alcohol-fueled woman is that she acts crazy and does something colossally foolish — from accidentally killing someone (Rough Night) to having sex with a stranger — but that it all works out in the end for the better. If I owned a liquor company, these movies would be my best ads along with the catchphrase: "Get wasted. Don't worry."

It's not that we can't depict women drinking; it's that we shouldn't always associate their drinking with emergency stress relief or the sole gateway to being fun. This infantilizes them, implying they are incapable of dealing with life's challenges as rational adults. Yes, they should eat, drink and be merry — just don't have them drink because that's the only way they can be merry.

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+32 # Wise woman 2017-07-15 14:02
As usual, Kareem, you are right on target. Thanks for making this issue public. I sometimes wonder if it's something that women do because it so very stressful working in a still mysogenistic world. It has recently been raised again in lieu of complaints about the treatment of women at Uber and Fox News. That half of our population has to be on guard due to the behavior of the other half is disgraceful. Shame on those who condone and perpetuate this problem.
 
 
+10 # eddiestinson1 2017-07-15 20:03
I tended bar for a few years in my 20's. When I gave up the booze in my 40's I was devastated to learn what I had done to so many of my women customers.

I shudder to think how many women today try to drink with their much larger male friend not having a clue(having less blood) the effects will be much greater and can destroy their liver etc.
 
 
+11 # economagic 2017-07-15 20:16
Yes, Kareem is one of our most insightful cultural commentators. Who knew 40 years ago?!
 
 
+7 # Saberoff 2017-07-15 20:33
Thanks for this, Kareem. But I seriously think Hollywood can't find their asses with both hands anymore; or it's just a propaganda routine.

I'm actually embarrassed for them, and myself, as I try to sit through the tripe that is, supposedly, passing for film now-a-days. And it's not just drinking; take for example that horrendous portrayal of women in Bridesmaids (the comedy sensation of the summer?).

Appalling!
 
 
+7 # chemtex2611 2017-07-15 22:03
Thanks, for such a succinct description of what is happening.
For about 15 years, I have watched a significant increase in recipes for jello shots on the recipe pages. I have had a front row seat in a major university city watching the young women students believing they could act any way they wanted. Women drinking to blackout is endangering their own life and raises the question in some people's minds about who is responsible for rape. While the rational answer is "Certainly not the victim", one wonders why a young woman would not take care of herself. If she doesn't do it, who else will? These same questions should have been raised about the young men for decades. So do it now.
 
 
+4 # elkingo 2017-07-15 22:50
What a hell of an insight Kareeem. I'd never have realized this!
 
 
+9 # bubbiesue 2017-07-16 09:28
Thanks, Kareem, for your uncommon insight into a problem nobody thinks is a problem--but it has all the potential. And you're right, it's demeaning to women when I know a whole lot of women who can be very clever and have fun with no alcohol whatever.
 
 
+1 # generationcopy1@hotmail.com 2017-07-17 14:08
Thank you for such a great article. I knew young ladies that would binge drink. As they got older they realized the affect that it was have on their bodies. You don't hear about that many young ladies dying from liver disease due to heavy drinking when they are older. It's mostly men.
 

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