Binge-drinking. It’s as Kiwi as pav, and as common as a gusty day in Wellington. Last week, it was announced that NZ Police are cracking down on ‘pre-loading’ – a phenomenon that’s supposed to have shocked the nation, but isn’t really a shocker to anyone who has ever socialised in this country, ever. Whether it’s a box of beer, some sugary vodka concoction, or those ‘I want an awful hangover’ shots you can buy at the counter of any liquor store – pre-loading is a tradition that’s unlikely to end anytime soon. In particular, police are pointing the finger at middle-aged women. Women over 40, they reckon, are showing up at Dunedin concerts a bit bloody fried.
They might have a point. Though not yet middle-aged, I’ve been known to get on the vodka cranberries with my girlfriends. I also know more than a few middle-aged women whose favourite time of day is ‘wine o’clock.’ But something about this ‘crack down’ doesn’t seem right to me, really – and I think it’s a case of not being able to see the forest for the glaring male drinking problem.
I’ll be the first admit that New Zealand has a drinking problem, and I’ve written about in the past. Alcoholism has certainly affected my whanau – but it has always been the men who have inflicted the most alcohol-enhanced harm.
Statistically speaking, that’s hardly an anomaly.
According to the Alcohol Health Watch, “there’s a strong link between alcohol and violent crime”, and “men appear more likely than women to engage in violent behaviour after the consumption of alcohol.” Aviva Family Violence Services state that “84% of those arrested for family violence are men; 16% are women.” And Alcohol Health Watch goes on to say that “25-50% of men who commit acts of violence also have substance abuse problems.”
Much of this goes without saying, which might explain why we’re focussing on women’s problem drinking. Men’s problem drinking is so common it blends into the scenery. It becomes invisible.
But we really need to look.
When my girlfriends and I get on the wines we tend to shake ourselves silly to Beyoncé’s back-catalogue, form best-friendships with strange girls in public bathrooms, and (if we keep going into the wee hours) have a bit of a cry. Men generally have a different experience.
A lot of this (if not all of it) comes down to how we’ve been socialised as people under patriarchy.
Patriarchy is a punishing system to live under, and while it certainly doesn’t encourage women to cry, it at least lets us get away with it. Men (and boys), by contrast, are conditioned out of showing ‘weak’ emotions – an act associated with so-called ‘femininity’. Instead, the natural emotions that come with living a life are suppressed for as long as they can be. Then, when their emotions burst the dam, they tend to present as anger; the only emotion men are encouraged to express.
Anger is ‘okay’ for men to express because it means they still hold all the power in the room.
Anyone who’s had to live with an angry person knows how it takes over your life. It involves listening for the way they slam the car door when they pull into the driveway. Reading their face for clues on how to speak. Retreating when they show their particular tell-tale signs. Anyone who’s had to grow up navigating a person’s anger will spend the rest of their life unlearning that trauma.
Of course, men aren’t the only people to inflict this kind of pain on their whanau. Women can very easily emotionally (and physically) abuse their loved ones. But, statistically (and anecdotally) speaking, abusive men are a much bigger danger to our society – and they’re a lot more prevalent.
I have no doubt that ‘boozy older women’ are causing a few problems with their copious pre-loading. I’ve been known to (occasionally) be a menace when I’ve had a few. But calling out women for getting lippy with security guards, while men’s problem drinking is behind some of the worst domestic violence statistics in the OECD? Come on.
We need to sort out our binge drinking culture, that’s for sure. But we also need to get our priorities straight.Support Villainesse