These are the next four items on my cultural to-do list:
*Watch Lena Dunham's Girls (yes, I admit I'm way behind on this one, but I'm dying to see it and I've read a lot about it.)
*Read Caitlin Moran's hit memoir, How To Be A Woman, exported from the UK.
*Read Sheila Heti's hipster-chick "reality-style" novel, How Should A Person Be?
*Watch badass goalie Hope Solo lead the U.S. Soccer Team to victory (I hope!) in the 2012 Olympics.
I'm as enamored of these media darlings as everyone else. Why? Because they seem like women I'd want to hang out with: Fun women, honest women, loose women (and by loose, I mean not uptight), quirkily gorgeous women; women who have their pulse on what's cool. They are women who (as Peggy Orenstein describes Caitlin Moran in her profile on Slate.com) have a "let's all be feminists at the pub" charm. They've been called outrageous, funny and fearless.
If the way the media portrays them (and the way they portray themselves) is accurate, they are also women who love to drink.
We seem to be in a cultural moment where we're in love with women who love to drink. I'm not talking about women who drink to excess who are subject to public shaming and ridicule (think Lindsay Lohan and cocktail moms gone wild); I'm talking about a certain type of woman drinker. I'll call her the laid-back drinker; the one who drinks and then goes on with her daily life, (seemingly). This may be a media construct, but it's a powerful one.
A recent Daily Beast profile of star soccer goalie Hope Solo humanizes her by portraying her in her hotel room as she's being interviewed, drinking a mimosa (or two). Solo herself admitted to being drunk when she appeared on the Today show in 2008 and can be quite the partier.
The headline for Peggy Orenstein's profile of Caitlin Moran on Slate reads, in part: "The drunken, furious, delightful life of Caitlin Moran..."
Drunken. Furious. Delightful.
What modern-day feminista wouldn't thrill at the combination of the words "furious" and "delightful"? And then there's that little frisson you get from the "drunken" part, because in our culture, it's still considered transgressive to get drunk.
But is getting drunk really that transgressive, when drinking is more the norm (in America and the UK, at least) than not drinking?
If you read Orenstein's profile, you'll see that Moran is actually the responsible mother of two teenage daughters (she had them when she was 28), so to call her life "drunken" isn't exactly accurate, since it's kind of hard to raise really happy, really great girls (which Moran says she has) if you're constantly sloshed.
Orenstein quotes Moran as saying: "It's always seen as this binary thing with women... You're either going to be rock 'n' roll or you're going to be a housewife. It's either cupcakes or crack. I wanted both. And I got it." (She was joking about the crack part, but you get the picture, the free-wheeling drinker, I'll call her, the woman who can drink as she pleases, and then switch gears at the drop of a hat, ditch the hangover and nurture her daughters.).
So -- big reveal -- Moran is a mom who drinks. A cocktail mom!
As I read Orenstein's piece, I felt a growing unease. Moran tends to describe her memoir as "an update of Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch written from a bar stool." How is sitting on a bar stool transgressive, I wondered? How is that new?
And what about Lena Dunham, who has been called "agonizingly funny" and "fearless" in Rolling Stone magazine, no less. A piece on Dunham on Gothamist ran with a map, complete with wine glasses marking the spots where Dunham loves to drink with her pals. The piece was titled, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun: Lena Dunham Tells Us Where She And Her Girls Hang."
Because that's what cool, fearless girls do when they hang out. They drink. Or so it seems.
Is this really what's new and different about Lena Dunham?
Despite the fact that Sheila Heti's fictional doppelganger, Sheila, and her friends engage in "prolific drinking and drugging" in How Should A Person Be, they are, according to the LA Review of Books, "at bottom, quite wholesome: they hold most of their conversations during walks, they ride their bikes to each other's houses." Again with the wholesome, laid-back drinker thing.
I'm not trying to be a buzzkill here, and I'm not saying I wouldn't like to hang out with these women. What I'm doing is questioning the pairing of fearless girl/feminist with drinker.
And again: Orenstein quotes Moran: "Drunk women love me... I have cornered the market in wasted chicks who talk about their vag!" It's easy to talk about your "vag" when you're drunk, but what about when you're sober? Do you dare to talk frankly then? That's even more transgressive, in my mind.
Of course they drink, you say, shaking your head. They're part of our culture, and everyone drinks. You drink. Your husband drinks. Get over it.
(Except alcoholics. Poor them.)
Well yes. Yes.
But I guess I was hoping for some sort of paradigm shift, not the same old "feminists can drink men under the table" thing.
These women, at least as they're being portrayed and portraying themselves, aren't being outrageous, fearless and pathbreaking when they drink. They're simply participating in what the dominant culture does.
Call them recorders of life. Call them absorbers or mirrors. But don't call them renegades.
In her Slate interview, Moran names some of the women she idolizes:
I just want Tina Fey to be my best friend... And Lena Dunham. And Oprah, too. I just want those three chicks to read it and say, 'You did good.' Just those three... And Roseanne Barr. Four. I only really want to sell four copies in America. If I can sell it to those four chicks ... and Hillary. OK five. And Michelle Obama. OK six. If I could get those six women to read it ...
Tina Fey. Oprah. Michelle Obama. These three women are not, to my knowledge, big drinkers, and are certainly not portrayed as such. (And on a side note: Look at how much Hillary's cool factor rose when she was photographed having a beer. Yes, she parties! But just a little. And not enough to interfere with her high-powered gig).
The real issue is this: perhaps the media is obscuring how radical these women really are, or could be, by focusing on the drinking. The drinking is the least special, least fearless thing about them, so why not highlight something else?
Maybe Moran nailed it by naming Tina, Oprah and Michelle as her mentors. I think the non-hipsters are the outrageous ones, the true renegades, after all -- the ones who dare to deflect parts of the dominant culture that they reject -- the ones who dare to be uncool.
Leah Odze Epstein is a writer and co-founder of the Drinking Diaries. She is currently working on a young adult novel about a character who is the daughter of an alcoholic. She has reviewed books for BookPage and Publisher's Weekly, among other publications. She also writes poetry, and her poems can be found on the website Literary Mama.
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