There’s a lot of dissatisfaction in women’s lives today: the kids, the career, the marriage, the aging parents, the worries about their own aging – ‘I’m old, I’m not going to look like I did when I was 35, so I might just as well have another glass of wine.’ The reward for that resignation is this endorphin rush from the wine. There are so many jokes about it: ‘Wine o’clock.’ ‘Don’t bother me, I had book club last night.’ It’s in the culture as a trope for a reason.
Women are biologically more vulnerable to alcohol’s toxic effects than men. What is a “controlled sipping point” for them?
The guidelines are stricter in Anglo Saxon countries and it has to do with our cultural binge patterns. Anglo Saxon countries drink differently than Mediterranean countries where wine is consumed with the meal. France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, all the wine producing countries recommend at least double what the Americans do. The Canadian guidelines for women are among the most sensible: no more than two glasses on any day and you should take two days off, which helps break the habit-forming potential. Is it absolutely necessary that you do this for your lifelong health? The science is pretty new on that. But the worldwide mortality bell curve shows mortality for women starts to decline between two and three glasses a day, lifelong consumption. Above three for women is definitely getting into danger territory.
Are you getting resistance about your cry for caution from women who see drinking as their reward?
The number of women who have called me a killjoy and said, “I enjoy my wine,” “I deserve this” – that’s something people say a lot. A lot of women feel entitled to it. It seems a small pleasure like a manicure but it becomes much more routine.
Women drink more now because they can, and yet a woman drinking alone at the bar still unsettles some people.
A double standard still exists. Look at the celebrity culture we have around drunken starlets. Cory Monteith? Poor guy, he was addicted to heroin and alcohol. Lindsay Lohan? Whitney Houston? Amy Winehouse? They’re train wrecks.
At the end of the book, you question whether we’ll see an Old Girls Club rising from women’s increasingly boozy years in college.
[Facebook COO] Sheryl Sandberg is urging women to do that but is it happening yet? Are women helping each other in that way, and is it a result of bacchanals? I don’t know. I missed the Girls Gone Wild beerfests by 20 years, but I have a hard time imagining it is such a form of liberation for women it could cement future professional mentoring roles.
You point out that while women drink more now than at any time in recent history, colonial women drank modern ones under the table.
Throughout the 1820s and 1830s, Americans were pretty blotto. There’s a fantastic book called The Alcoholic Republic based on tavern records that tracked who drank what, and they were co-ed. The other clue are the diaries of what women made in their own homes: hard cider, beer and fermented beverages out of almost every fruit imaginable. These products were 4 or 5 per cent alcohol. It was the safest thing to drink, and life was pretty miserable. Martha Washington lost a husband and all of her kids died. What was that like, to bury all your children? I’m sure it was wrenching. I can’t imagine that they weren’t drinking to medicate their own grief and anxiety. I also scoured the diaries of women on the Westward Trail. They were anxious, depressed as hell and out of their minds with fear that their children were going to die of cholera. Some couldn’t wait to get to the whisky at the end of the day.
What are women drinking today, other than wine?
Wine became the go-to beverage for women of the Baby Boomer generation. It marked something very different from their parents’ old-fashioned cocktails. The liquor industry is now taking a page out of the wine industry’s playbook, marketing extremely aggressively to young women. The trend is that young women are drinking sweet hard alcohol, not wine. In the United States, they’re marketing by zip code depending on the ethnicity of the girls. If they’re Caribbean girls, they’ll market coconut and pineapple [coolers], which are sweet malt beverages, basically Jolly Ranchers or popsicles in a bottle. If they are white girls, they market raspberry and grape. Smirnoff Sorbet? What is that? That’s absolutely trying to reach women in their 30s and younger. At a liquor store in New Jersey, I couldn’t believe all the pink marketing. It looked like the Kardashians had gotten control of half the store.