This was some interesting research featured in the May edition of The International Journal of Drug Policy looking at ‘Transformation and time-out: The role of alcohol in identity construction among Scottish women in early midlife’.
- We used focus groups to explore the social context of drinking in mid-life women.
- Drinking alcohol is inextricably linked to gendered identity.
- Women’s narratives suggest alcohol facilitates ‘time-out’ from responsibilities.
- Excessive drinking re-connected some mothers with their younger, carefree selves.
- These connections have been noted and exploited by the alcohol industry.
Despite the increase in drinking by women in early midlife, little alcohol research has focused on this group. We explore how alcohol is associated with the construction of gender identities among women aged 30–50 years in the west of Scotland, United Kingdom. We draw on qualitative data from 11 focus groups (five all-female, six mixed-sex) with pre-existing groups of friends and work colleagues in which women and men discuss their drinking behaviours. Analysis demonstrated how alcohol represented a time and space away from paid and unpaid work for women in a range of domestic circumstances, allowing them to relax and unwind. While women used alcohol to construct a range of identities, traditional notions of femininity remained salient (e.g. attention to appearance, drinking ‘girly’ drinks). Drinking enabled women to assert their identity beyond the roles and responsibilities often associated with being a woman in early midlife. For example, some respondents with young children described the transformative effects of excessive drinking which allowed them to return temporarily to a younger, carefree version of themselves. Thus, our data suggest that women’s drinking in early midlife revolves around notions of ‘idealised’ femininity but simultaneously represents a way of achieving ‘time out’ from traditional female responsibilities such as caring for others. We consider these findings within a broader social and cultural context including alcohol marketing, domestic roles and motherhood and their implications for health promotion.
Their introduction opens with this, and I couldn’t agree more:
Although men remain more likely than women to drink heavily and experience problems related to alcohol Emslie and Mitchell, 2009, Plant, 2008), there is growing concern about how women’s drinking is changing. A recent systematic review (Smith & Foxcroft, 2009) concluded that an increase in drinking among women is one of the most important trends in alcohol consumption in the United Kingdom over the last 30 years.
And in the discussions the bits that leapt out at me were:
Women have less ‘free’ time than men; they retain responsibility for caring and domestic work as well as ensuring there are smooth transitions between the worlds of home and paid work, and are expected be constantly ‘on call’ for children in a way that fathers are not (Connell, 2005, Deem, 1996, Paradis, 2011). For women in our study, alcohol represented a quick and achievable way to create time away from obligations, often without leaving the house. This liminal period was constructed as a restorative process …. drinking alcohol – whether to create civilised ‘space’ with partners or riotous, hedonistic excess with friends – functioned as a way for women to carve out ‘me time’ and, more specifically, as a way for mothers of young children to reconnect with earlier more ‘carefree’ selves.
To read the full research go here
I would say that their findings mirrored my own drinking reasons and self-justifications both to myself and as promoted by the drinks industry. This would be a benign activity if the substance involved wasn’t an addictive, albeit legal, drug. One where our drinking behaviour is at risk of moving from this perceived ‘civilised space’ into a more dark and destructive place as suggested in their study limitations:
Our study has some limitations. Although we advertised for people who drank ‘regularly’, almost half the sample reported drinking over the recommended weekly limit for women of 14 units.