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ladettes, liquor and being lady-like

Without spoiling, the film Crazy, Stupid Love has a scene or three in which guys and girls reach for the bottle in the name of courtship. Lads buy lasses drinks to get to know them, and ladies reach for liquid courage before making a move. Whatever your philosophy on alcohol, there’s an unspoken assumption that both men and women are capable of holding their liquor on the dating scene.

So, then, with yet more talk over the past few weeks of binge drinking ladies, how are we framing ladies who aren’t afraid to raise their glasses?

Research that’s been dissected over the past few weeks has claimed, once again, that women are drinking alcohol in increasing measures. If you were to compare reported consumptions with that of  twenty-five years ago, it seems that females go to licensed venues more, drink socially and binge drink at higher levels than before. It’s probably quite a logical finding given that over this time, women have moved forward with their careers, have arguably more social freedom, and have felt a lessening stigma associated with drinking culture across the west.

Still, some may say that studies pointing to huge jumps in liquor consumption are a worry. Nobody can deny the potential effects of binge drinking on both physical health and personal safety. Police across Australia have done and continue to speak on the importance of planning your nights out, of watching your mates, and not over-indulging simply to keep up with your friends. These are all great messages – some say that the Australian drinking scene encourages a competitive, ‘who can get the most smashed?’ mentality. Australian ads like the ‘Championship Moves’ campaign look to teach young people simple tactics to prevent their drunk friends from risky or violent consequences.

What is apparent when looking at these campaigns, though, is the gender split within them. ‘Championship Moves’ is mainly targeted at young men, for whom street violence is a real and pertinent issue. Young women, on the other hand, are targeted with messages that speak to ‘unwanted experiences’ – whether they be sexual, violent or otherwise. The ‘Don’t Turn a Night out into a Nightmare’ campaign of the 2000s featured, in particular, a TV spot in which a young woman is disgraced when a supposedly unwanted encounter is witnessed by others.

Drinking to excess clearly has potentially different consequences for each gender. But the question of how these are expressed has been a real point of contention. The idea of the drunk ‘ladette’ has sat proudly atop many an analysis of young ladies acting up with booze.

What is a ladette? Borrowed from the British concept of ‘lad’ culture and promoted on a variety of reality TV programs, the ladette is, some say, symbolic of the state of women and alcohol today. Brash, aggressive and firmly ‘unladylike’, the ladette subculture often represents less advantaged women, those who rebel with alcohol and reject traditional manners.

Ladette culture, it is said, is a concern because of the way it encourages women to act out, drink to excess and generally get themselves and others into problematic situations. Opinion pieces such as this one, suggest that we shouldn’t criticise others for warning ladies in particular against over the top drinking because of the vulnerabilities they inherently face while intoxicated.

This notion clashes with other philosophies about the emancipation of women. Should ladies, young or old, refrain from drinking like men simply because they pose a greater threat to themselves by doing so? The Slutwalk movement, Reclaim the Night Movement and Anti-Victim blaming causes would say no. Communication on issues such as intoxication and assault need to be directed at men and women, so that everyone can be kept safe.

This is a line that police and public figures find it understandably hard to balance upon. Statistics regarding the dangers of drunken behaviour have been a concern for the last decade at least. How can we put these across without telling women to censor their own behaviour, or worse, to just accept that going out on the town will always be worse for them? Messages about looking after mates are useful for both genders, so is it helpful to split that message into a list of things for boys to fear, and a separate one for girls?

Binge drinking is an issue that probably requires more than just adverts about nights out and their consequences. If there’s potential for more women to become dependent on alcohol, then society needs to address the factors that are feeding into this dependency, besides women being ‘freer to drink.’

Perhaps the most interesting part of the debate is the question: should a ladette have to become a lady? Obviously keeping safe is the number one priority. But the characterisation of drunken women in news media is not overly genial. The concept of a ladette is one of tackiness, of women who don’t listen to logic, who are out of control. Outside of debates about safety and health care, it might be worth looking at why we are concerned about ladies who are not dangerous but merely uncouth.

After all, some claim that there’s nothing newsworthy about a lady who likes a beverage or two. Such things are certainly applauded in the movies.

(Image credit: 1.)

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