The vicar has warned us all of the perils of gluttony and lust – or, Dawn French has given an interview that slams young women who get drunk.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, French slammed reality TV shows that perpetuated today’s drinking culture and showed women it was acceptable to be ‘champions of the shag machine’ (yes, really).
“Is that what women threw themselves in front of horses for?,” she asks. “For this? For girls to be as low as those awful boys. What have we done? How did we go wrong?”
Shaming women for what they choose to do is not okay
There are several elements to her condescension that need to be pulled apart.
The first and most obvious problem with French’s diatribe was that it was focused upon policing the actions of young women. Drunk men are much less of a problem, apparently. It should clearly just be forgotten that during the European football tournament, France was on the verge of banning all English football fans – largely comprised of men – for hooliganism. Women were not to blame. By and large the damage done in society is by men, whether sober or drunk. What is the crime that women have committed then to draw such ire from French? They enjoy themselves.
The great moral faux pas that women are committing – apparently – is that they’re having a few drinks, and sometimes having sex. It’s dressed up as moral concern, of course. French isn’t attacking young women; she’s looking out for them because age and experience means that she knows best. It’s a tactic that older generations are hiding behind to attack young millennials, and especially those who are women. Gatekeeping of fun is hidden behind the excuse of concern. This paternalism is simply a way to control what women do.
I wonder what expertise French has to comment, beyond reading Daily Mail headlines? In the UK, it’s actually middle aged and middle class women who are at the highest risk of developing a dependency to alcohol and who are drinking the most. Yet how many articles are written about the middle class shaming their indulgences? The real story about drinking is being missed. The facts are being ignored because they simply don’t support attacking young women and that’s all that those with any position of influence seem intent upon doing. Seeing facts and evidence tossed aside to push a cynical ideology is nothing new though.
There’s nothing wrong with drinking alcohol
There’s nothing inherently wrong with drinking alcohol. It is legal after all.
I’m also a recovering alcoholic. I’ve not drank a drop of alcohol in six years. I wish I could say it was by choice but chronic pain stopped me from drinking. My body forced me to stop. Otherwise I’d start with one cocktail and within the hour would have lost count. It was like that most days. My hour’s break at college was spent on a twenty-minute trip to the nearest pub so I could fit in a few drinks before stumbling back to an A Level lesson on the Russian Revolution. Although, in retrospect, getting hammered was arguably appropriate given the context of the lesson.
My alcoholism didn’t make me immoral. My love of drinking may have made me a bit of a fool at times but not a bad person. My battles with alcoholism are why I know that young women having a few drinks is not a problem.
Sobriety doesn’t make us immune to misogyny
It also wasn’t my fault either when men would prey upon my drunken state. The problem wasn’t me, it was them. I think about wanting to drink every single day but if I am drunk or sober, I’m no less deserving of humanity or respect. When women are drunk, there’s nothing to fear and that’s inherently the issue. Society is afraid of women who are emboldened by alcohol, but at the same time, they long for women to feel vulnerable.
Arguments around alcohol and women are a mix of contradictions because these sexist notions are embedded in our consciousness. Society doesn’t want women empowered or enjoying themselves, it wants them to feel ashamed and when that narrative isn’t so easily spun because women are enjoying themselves, the story changes to how that fun is actually something insidious. Women are never free to live their own lives or tell their own stories. There’s always some moral arbiter, and in this case, it’s a respected older woman who gets a pass at judging young women because she isn’t a foolish millennial.
It’s why this fake concern over women being drunk is inherently misogynistic. Women should be allowed to do whatever they like without being sexually assaulted. It doesn’t matter how drunk women, there’s never an excuse for men to abuse women.
If women choose to have sex after a drink then that’s really nobody else’s business
Women are shamed when they want sex sober and shamed if they have it after a drink. As long as consent is at the heart of all our actions then that is all that matters. Some women find alcohol liberating from social anxiety. Should they be denied the right to do as they like?
French’s interview at least reveals the inherent inequalities in our debates around fun. Men are told that it’s okay because boys will be boys, but women are told to watch out for these boys and to never relax. Young women should feel safe and free to do what they like.
Stephanie Farnsworth is a freelance writer and journalist. Her writing focuses upon identity and intersectional feminism.
Dawn has released a statement that you can read here.