Gender expectations around alcohol are far from equal. Alcohol safety suggestions and even how alcohol is marketed are very much dependent on gendered usage and expectations.
Even the perception of the “appropriateness” of alcohol consumption is often viewed through a gendered lens. This was demonstrated recently by the reactions to social consumption by two Prime Ministers: Finland’s Sanna Marin and Australia’s Anthony Albanese.
Read more: Women’s drinking is catching up with men’s: why it matters
The story of two prime ministers
Marin has been lambasted both in Finland and abroad after a video of her partying with friends was posted online earlier this month. Critics slammed her behavior as ‘unsuitable for a Prime Minister’ and she was accused of acting like a ‘ladette”. She then had to take a drug test in what she said was “for his own legal protection” amid calls for her to step down.
In Australia a few days later, Albanese was spotted at a Gang of Youths gig in Sydney having a beer.
Albanese’s drinking reaction also went viral – for completely different reasons. He was cheered on by the crowd and the harder he drank the beer, the louder the cheers.
To date, there has been no outcry. No call for Albanese to take a drug test or quit.
Why would similar behavior by two world leaders be treated so differently?
Double standards of gender
The wildly disparate reactions sparked a conversation about gender double standards.
In Australia, alcohol consumption itself has long been a gendered activity. Women weren’t allowed in pubs in Australia until the 1960s.
Alcoholic beverages are even marketed to men and women differently. Advertisements for beer drinking emphasize masculinity, while wine drinking is associated with femininity. Studies have shown that middle-aged men and women drink during different reasonswith men more likely to view alcohol consumption as a reward for hard work and women more likely to drink in response to stress or for relaxation.
Read more: ‘Well, wine time’: What middle-aged women have told us about drinking — and why it’s so hard to quit
When it comes to young adults and public intoxication, men’s drinking tends to be associated with public disorder, while women’s drinking is often associated with promiscuity and sexual vulnerability.
Alcohol and “acceptable” behavior
But one of the clearest ways to implicate gender in alcohol consumption is through notions of ‘acceptable behaviour’.
We know that men’s drinking tends to be considered more acceptable than women’s. This includes greater acceptability of excessive drinking and public drunkenness among men.
The women are also facing more criticism for drunken footage of them on social media. Women drinkers are criticized even more harshly if they are mothers of young children – a double standard that does not seem to apply to fathers.
In fact, gender expectations can mean that men are judged more harshly if they Choose not to drink. In other words, men are supposed to drink.
Although alcohol consumption is common among both men and women in Australia, men are more likely to drink, and drink more than women. However, the acceptability of male alcohol consumption and its association with traditional forms of masculinity create double standards.
Terms of debate
Hegemonic masculinity refers to patterns of behavior that allow male dominance over women to continue. Appropriate femininities refer to traits that are traditionally considered feminine, such as passivity, benevolence, nurturing, and self-control.
These terms are important because differences in how women and men are portrayed when consuming alcohol reflect broader gendered societal norms.
Read more: Aussies are embracing ‘mindful drinking’ – and the alcohol industry is also getting sober and curious
In our recent research Based on interviews with young people aged 16-19 in Australia, the UK, Denmark and Sweden, we reported how drinkers and drunkenness were portrayed in terms of gender. Examples for men included ‘predatory’, ‘violent’ and ‘turbulent’, while for women the terms used were ‘childish’, ‘bitchy’ and ‘hysterical’. Clearly, even among young people, some gender stereotypes around alcohol persist.
The future of drinking
Perhaps a bright side to our research is that youth in our studies expressed dissatisfaction with displays of alcohol use that relied on the gender norms described above. They talked about drinking less than previous generations and objected to intoxication being linked to “toxic masculinities” or emotional and vulnerable femininities.
They also spoke about non-drinking or moderate drinking as a way to reshape and challenge gendered normative drinking practices. Swedish research has shown that young men have new ways of “do masculinity(for example, through sports or games), putting less pressure on them to drink heavily to fit in.
Although young people question some of the double standards and gendered expectations that come with alcohol, mainstream media often punishes women’s drinking more so than men, as evidenced by the disparate treatment of Marin and Alanese’s boozy escapades.
While their off-hours consumption practices have no bearing on their professional abilities, the past few weeks have shown that gender stereotypes of consumption persist and have a significant impact.