Women's Binge Drinking 'Unfairly Stigmatised' By The Media

Illustrated by Anna Sudit
If you read the mainstream press, you'd be forgiven for thinking that women consume more alcohol than men and are more likely to binge drink. (Showing "scantily clad" women "falling" out of clubs and overindulging themselves is the tabloids' favourite sport, after all.)

However, new research has confirmed what we've all long known deep down – that the media's portrayal of female binge drinkers is sexist.

A study by Glasgow University and Glasgow Caledonian University found that not only is binge drinking among women exaggerated by the media – because men still drink more in reality – but that female binge drinkers are also more likely to be represented negatively than men who do the same thing.

Academics analysed more than 300 articles published over two years in seven national U.K. newspapers for the study, which was published in the journal BMJ Open.

The researchers compared the ways in which male and female binge drinking was presented and found significant differences, reported the BBC.

When female binge drinking was discussed, journalists typically linked it to the effects on personal appearance. Women who binge drink were presented as haggard, helpless, transgressive and a burden to their male drinking companions, who were sometimes cast as their carers.

The researchers said portraying women's drinking in this way could give the public a false impression of what binge drinking is and its impact, and how readers can reduce the risks to their own health.

"Media coverage of women's binge drinking isn't just about health or public disorder; it also performs a moralising, paternalistic role, reflecting broader social expectations about women's public behaviour," said Chris Patterson, from the public health sciences unit at the University of Glasgow.

"As well as unfairly stigmatising women, media coverage of binge drinking is problematic in terms of communicating information about a serious health issue to the public.

"Evidence suggests that the public view binge drinking as a masculine activity and statistics tell us that men do drink more than women in reality, but the media are depicting a different story."

He said the media should offer an accurate definition of binge drinking so that society can better address the problem, "Without promoting harmful stereotypes that get in the way of evidence-based facts."

Dr Carol Emslie, from the school of health and life sciences at Glasgow Caledonian University, pointed out that men in the U.K. still drink more than women and are more likely to die from alcohol-related causes.

"However, the media's disproportionate focus on women's drinking, including the headlines and images used, may lead the public to think that it is primarily young females who are the problem drinkers."

She added that since alcohol is more freely available, more affordable and more heavily marketed today than it has been for decades, excessive drinking affects all sections of the population.
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