At a party for Ms. magazine’s 40th birthday, the Canadian writer Ann Dowsett Johnston waited for an audience with Gloria Steinem, hoping to cull wisdom for her research on women and alcohol. “Alcohol?” Steinem said to Johnston, looking “dismissive.” “Alcohol is not a women’s issue.”
Steinem may have been hasty. We know that many women report drinking more often in recent decades, that they are drinking more when they do, and that the physiological impact and social meaning of it all is different for women than for men. Women are the engine of growth for the American wine market and are being arrested for drunken driving more often than before, as the numbers for men have remained stable or diminished. (According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report from 2011, four out of five drunken driving incidents still involve men.) But these are observations, not an agenda. And how much alarm should be invested in those observations is up for debate in both Johnston’s book, “Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol,” and “Her Best-Kept Secret: Why Women Drink — and How They Can Regain Control,” by the American journalist Gabrielle Glaser, the second of which makes the more pointed case.