Alcohol marketers are brilliant. They really are. They know exactly how to reel us in. They make drinking look so appealing: the sexy woman in a black mini sipping a rose-colored wine cooler…the gorgeous guy in a suit (tie undone) holding a glass of fine red wine…the rugged, outdoorsy-looking stud with a stein of some Oregonian micro brew in his hand…the feisty-looking gal with spikey red hair laughing with her group of friends as they toast with tequila shots…Of course, it’s not really the drink that draws us in; it’s the idea that we mere mortals can have what the “chosen ones” have.
The advertisements never worked on me in high school, even though I often felt desperate to be cool and desirable. I wasn’t a drinker back then; I was a “good girl,” and good girls chose soda and movies over keggers. My group of close friends weren’t really into it, either, which made it easy to keep my distance from the hard stuff. Of course, my disinterest in drinking baffled my younger brother: “You’re not even curious about it??” Nope. Honestly.
But, all of that changed my first night of undergrad. I was now a college kid- and college kids drank. Drinking felt like an equalizer; it leveled the playing field. Whereas, in high school, I often felt “behind” my more mature, quicker-to-develop peers, I now felt right on par with them. I, too, held a red party cup. I fit in.
Alcohol fueled my college adventures. Arriving at a party, I was eager and ready to roll: Pop the fuel cap…insert: Cheap rum and Coke…Jello shots…spody…Jager…Busch Light…fraternity punch laced with Everclear…
Those college days are on my mind today as university-bound students are gearing up to head back to campus, if they haven’t done so already. Those days are also on my mind because of all of the recent news coverage of college women being sexually assaulted while drunk. This scares me.
We are in an era where it’s considered cool- even admirable- for girls to mirror guys’ drinking, shot for shot. And we are seeing time and time again how dangerous this notion is. Slate.com ran an article back in 2013 entitled: College Women: Stop Getting Drunk. The piece, written by Emily Yoffee, focused on the connection between heavy drinking and sexual assault:
“Young women are getting a distorted message that their right to match men drink for drink is a feminist issue. The real feminist message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will attract the kinds of people who, shall we say, don’t have your best interest at heart. That’s not blaming the victim; that’s trying to prevent more victims.”
And prevent, we must do.
In her book ‘Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girl,’ author Koren Zailckas speaks to the issue of American society equating college students with heavy drinkers: “…in college, we can wear our alcohol abuse as proudly as our university sweatshirts; the two concepts are virtually synonymous.” I certainly found this to be true back when I was in school, and I think it’s even more accurate today.
I hope we can somehow show female undergrads that they don’t have to party hard in order to own their status as a college student. I hope we can convey to them that their health and safety are so much more important than that buzz or impressing that guy/gal. I hope we can show them that, just because they are undergrads doesn’t meant they are expected to drink like fish.
And, I hope we rally around these young women and help them feel that, above all, their well-being is of the utmost importance.
I’ll drink (lemonade) to that.