Recently, international reactions to Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s social drinking sparked a conversation around gender double standards.
Marin was publicly shamed for videos that showed her acting like a ‘ladette’. Her capability to do her job appropriately was questioned. Albanese on the other hand, skolling a beer at the football, was likened to an Aussie larrikin. His display of drinking did not hurt his public appeal, it might very well have helped it.
What does the alcohol literature show about gender and drinking?
Alcohol researchers have long noticed the presence of gendered moralities surrounding men and women’s drinking. For example, men’s drinking, which is more common and accepted, has most often been associated with public spaces and public disorder. Women’s drinking has either been associated with sexual risk and promiscuity when drinking in public, or neglect of their domestic duties when drinking at home – a double standard not faced by men.
In the alcohol research literature men’s drinking is often described in terms of ‘hegemonic masculinities’ which refers to patterns of practice that allow men’s dominance over women to continue. Women’s drinking is often subject to the concept of ‘appropriate femininities’, where their drinking challenges or endorses behaviours that are traditionally conceived of as feminine such as nurturing, control and discipline.
What about young adults?
The differences in the way young women and men are described when drinking reflects broader societal gendered norms. In our recent research drawing on interviews with young people aged 16-19 in Australia, the UK, Denmark, and Sweden, we reported how drinkers and states of intoxication were described in gendered terms. Examples for men included ‘predatory’, ‘violent’ and ‘rowdy’, and for women terms used were ‘childish’, ‘bitchy’ and ‘hysterical’.
These terms positioned intoxicated men as strong and aggressive and intoxicated women as weak and vulnerable. When men drink they are described as boisterous and fool-hardy – as in the larrikin reference, or violent and predatory – as was often the case in our research. When women drink they are often described as inappropriately crude – as in the ladette reference, or weak and vulnerable – as was often the case in our research.
What is perhaps a silver lining to our research is that the young adults in our study expressed displeasure at displays of drinking masculinities and femininities that drew on these gendered norms. They talked about drinking less than the generations before them and objecting to states of intoxication that enabled displays of ‘toxic masculinities’ and emotional and vulnerable femininities. They talked about not drinking or moderate drinking offering up opportunities for reshaping normative gendered drinking practices.
However, the fact that our participants consistently drew on gendered terms speaks to the persistence of gendered ways of viewing behaviour. And that is reflected in the broader disparity between Albanese’s drinking potentially positioning him as an even more likeable politician and Marin’s drinking positioning her as a questionable leader. We all know that their drinking practices outside of working hours have no bearing on their professional capabilities.
The use of drinking stereotypes matter, because they infiltrate other domains, as is evidenced in Marin and Albanese’s unequal treatment.
Written by Dr Amy Pennay, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, La Trobe University, Australia.
All IAS Blogposts are published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Alcohol Studies.