By Kellie Scott.
Binge-drinking women are helpless, immoral and a burden to men — at least that is what the media tells us, new research has found.
A study from Glasgow University on UK media outlets’ representations of binge drinking has revealed there is a disproportionate focus on women’s relationship with alcohol, despite men’s alcohol-related health issues still greatly exceeding women’s.
“Notably it found women engaged in binge drinking were presented as “helpless, physically incapacitated and transgressive, and as burdens to male partners, who were sometimes cast as carers for drunken women,” the authors wrote.
And despite the study concluding those misrepresentations could lead the public to underestimate the health risks of binge drinking and produce harmful stereotypes about the vulnerability of drunken women, one expert in Australia says negative portrayals are important.
AMA president Dr Michael Gannon said it was appropriate to document “lousy drunken behaviour” across both genders, and he did not see it as “another gender battle ground” in Australia.
“I think it is important there is a negative spin on this kind of behaviour in the press, whether it’s [focusing on] males’ or females’ drinking or men and women drinking in groups together,” he said.
Dr Gannon said while alcohol-related illness and mortality was statistically higher in men, there were fears women were catching up.
ABS data shows in 2014-15, about one in four Australian men exceeded the lifetime risk guideline, which according to the National Health and Medical Research Council is “drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury”.
This was significantly less for women, at a rate of one in 10.
“It’s quite correct to say that most of the burden of alcohol consumption is in men … [but] we know that the amount women drink is increasing year on year,” he said.
“That’s one gender gap we expect to see decreasing.”
Recently the Australian media has come under fire for highlighting women’s “unladylike” behaviour at events like the Melbourne Cup.
“I don’t think anybody is worried about whether [men] are behaving like Mr Darcy from a Jane Austen novel,” Sydney author Kerri Sackville said at the time.
‘Moralistic tone’ attached to reports on women’s drinking.
The research published in BMJ Open analysed 308 articles about binge drinking between January 2012 and December 2013 in seven print publications and one website.
Articles typically depicted women as less able than men to maintain socially acceptable behaviour during single-episodic drinking, and just eight of the 46 articles that reported on “harms to appearance” mentioned men, and none did so exclusively.
Women’s outfits were also a focus of the articles, which often honed in on degrees of nudity and questioned the appropriateness of their chosen attire.
The study said a general “moralistic tone” was attached to descriptions of women’s binge drinking, but was absent from men’s.
Dr Gannon said there may be good reason to focus on the harms of female women’s drinking over men’s.
“This might seem unfair to focus on one gender to another, but one of the areas the AMA has done a lot of work on is FASD,” he said.
“Sadly we know half of pregnancies are unplanned and most of the damage occurs in the early stages of the embryos forming … when a lot of women don’t know they are pregnant,” he said.
“Safe alcohol messages are very important in men, but they are possibly more important in reproductive-age women.
University of Queensland lecturer of journalism Dr John Harrison said he would treat the UK study with caution, given that it only analysed print publications, not TV, radio or social media.
Additionally, he said in Australian media coverage of alcohol was often a celebration of sporting events commonly involving “blokes”, and that significant work had been done to highlight alcohol-related violence by men.
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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