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November 5, 2021

Mommy Wine Culture: the Silent Killer on the Rise.

Perhaps you’ve seen the memes.

While, at first glance, “Mommy wine juice,” “Mommy’s Sippy Cup,” and “Surviving Motherhood One Bottle [of wine] at a Time” might seem funny, in reality, the issue underlying these jokes is deadly serious.

Women’s drinking has been on the rise for years, yet, seemingly, regardless of how loud the sirens have been sounded, the reality and urgency of the situation is largely overlooked.

In a decade-long epidemiological study conducted in the United States between 2002 and 2012, involving more than 36,000 representative participants, the results as they related to women were shocking.

The reported rates of alcohol addiction (classified in this study as alcohol use disorder or AUD) amongst women had increased by almost 84 percent. In other words, the rate of alcohol addiction over the course of 10 years has nearly doubled.

As of 2018, in Canada, despite drinking less than men (though this gap is quickly closing), women are dying of alcohol-related deaths at rates faster than men. Between 2003 and 2016, alcohol-related emergency department visits by women increased by 86 percent, and between 2001 and 2017, women who died from alcohol-related causes increased by 26 percent (for men during this same timeframe, the increase was around 5 percent).

If you’re anything like me, the next and perhaps most obvious question to this shocking revelation is “why?” Why are women drinking more now? What is causing an increase in consumption? Why is this happening?

Like any sociocultural phenomenon (which normative alcohol culture is), there is always a multitude of intersecting and overlapping causes that contribute to such dire outcomes.

While I can’t definitively speak to every possible contributing factor, I have a hunch about a few. Whether it’s drinking for faux feminist empowerment and gender equality (often in the workplace), drinking to cope with our lives in the context of the patriarchy, managing trauma, mental health and abuse, or the influence of mommy wine culture, what’s clear here is that there are gendered issues at play, contributing to rising levels of alcohol consumption, hospitalizations, and death for women.

Mommy wine culture is especially insidious and pernicious. It’s sold to us as a joke, as a funny solution to the challenges of motherhood, and it’s everywhere. Instead of actually looking to address the real challenges and untenable circumstances of motherhood, moms are offered booze.

Take a moment to think about this. In response to exhaustion, intense emotions, and the nonstop, 24/7 demands of motherhood, moms are offered a highly addictive, neurotoxic poison.

What does this tell us about the value of mothers and motherhood?

We know (and have known for years) that when it comes to childcare, housework, and care work, women and mothers generally shoulder way more than their share.

In other words, this work is rarely divided equitably between women and men.

In Canada, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, women were spending at least 1.5 hours more per day on care work than men (which frankly feels like a conservative estimate). If you’re feeling skeptical about this assertion, I invite you to check out the book All The Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership by Darcy Lockman for a boatload of studies and evidence on this very topic.

After Covid hit, in addition to full-time work, childcare, housework, and other care work, many women also took on the role of arranging supplemental childcare and organizing the logistics of homeschooling, effectively becoming full-time teachers overnight, in addition to their already overflowing list of responsibilities.

The triple burden shifted quickly into a quadruple burden for many mothers. And the impact for women has been catastrophic.

According to a recent US National Pandemic Emotional Impact report, women reported higher rates of pandemic-related changes in productivity, sleep, and health-related worries. Plus, women with kids under 18 years of age had higher rates of clinical anxiety than men and women with older kids or no kids.

The expectations placed on women and mothers are unreasonable, unrealistic, stressful, and unsustainable. Mothers don’t have the real support, community, care, love, resources that are needed to fulfill what’s socially and culturally expected of them. Instead of naming this and adjusting on a structural level, mothers are offered booze to cope.

In Canada, 12 times the number of women (compared to men) have left the workforce to tend to and support the family, children, and household during Covid, which was also likely a gendered decision based on which partner made more money.

Removing oneself from the workforce or pressing pause on career progress can be exceedingly detrimental to women’s career and economic progress, not to mention they have a negative impact on future savings and retirement plans.

As one might imagine, creating uncertainty in women’s present and future economic health is a stressful situation that only grows more stressful with time. We won’t truly see the impact of this for years to come, but I would guess it doesn’t end with women on top.

We know that stress is a major driving force/trigger to drink and women and mothers are marinating in stress almost constantly.

Covid brought additional stress, anxiety, and responsibilities to women and mothers at a time when women’s drinking was already on the rise.

Coupled with alcohol being made easier to get (in Ontario, for example, policy changes were made to enable alcohol to be added to delivery services from restaurants), alcohol was presented as the easiest way to cope with our lives. And in many ways, it is. Alcohol is everywhere, easier than ever to have delivered to our homes, socially encouraged, and expected through marketing messages and social media, and it doesn’t require the heavy emotional lifting of something like therapy.

Alcohol seems easy when everything else feels exceedingly hard.

When it comes to messaging around booze, it’s no accident that you see subtle (and not-so-subtle) encouragement to drink everywhere.

Over the years, marketing budgets of alcohol companies have skyrocketed. It’s projected that alcohol companies are expected to spend close to $6 billion annually by 2023 on marketing across platforms, including social media and influencer marketing (often partnering with women’s wellness influencers to get their messaging across to the female market), TV commercials, print ads, product placements, and more.

Women and moms are being targeted by alcohol companies more and more. What’s clear is that this kind of money is spent only when the ROI (return on investment) is strong. In other words, billions of dollars would not be spent on marketing efforts if those efforts were not tremendously successful in selling massive amounts of alcohol.

Again, instead of real support, relief, and having the needs of moms be met in sustainable ways, alcohol is offered. As if the situation wasn’t bad enough already for mothers, there is a real and often unspoken fear about the consequences of reaching out for support around mental health and addiction.

Having your children removed from your care is a real possibility, regardless of the fact that you’re seeking help to care for yourself and, subsequently, your kids and family.

This is even further complicated when the moms in question are Black, indigenous, or women of colour, have unstable or precarious housing, disabilities, or any previous interactions with the legal system.

Essentially, women who are struggling with mental health and/or issues with substance use (both of which have increased as a result of Covid) are painted into a corner where seeking support for these issues is not only stigmatized but also accompanied by potentially dire and lasting consequences when it comes to the custody of their kids. So, of course, drinking feels like the best way to cope. This is by design, and women and mothers are paying the ultimate price.

What’s clear is that the challenges and vulnerabilities that mothers face are being capitalized upon. Women and mothers are being used as pawns for profit in a patriarchal, white supremacist, capitalist, fuelled machine, known as Big Alcohol.

Outside of being dangerous and deadly, mommy wine culture is a massive distraction.

Our attention goes to the “funny” memes and the pink drinks while the alcohol numbs our minds, senses, and critical thinking skills so that we aren’t looking at the deeply entrenched, structural problems that keep women and mothers stuck in a situation that’s slowly destroying us, one sip at a time.

Women’s drinking has been on the rise for years and with the spotlight largely being on the global Covid pandemic for the last two years, the situation has silently been growing dire for women in the background.

Mothers deserve more and better than mommy wine culture. They deserve real support, care, rest, community, sustainable change, love, respect, compensation, and so much more.

Alcohol has never been and will never be the solution to motherhood or the answer for women.

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