Wasted, hammered, blitzed, sloshed, tanked – whatever your term of art for binge drinking, more and more Americans are engaging in it, particularly women.

Kaiser Health News reports, “Heavy drinking among Americans rose 17.2 percent between 2005 and 2012, largely due to rising rates among women, according to the study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.”

Here’s the kicker: “Nationwide over the course of the decade, the rate of binge drinking among women increased more than seven times the rate among men.” (Binge drinking is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men on a single occasion at least once during the past month.)

This is a remarkable and underreported development. For centuries, heavy drinking has predominantly been a male vice. Across various cultures, there was nearly universal agreement that it was socially unbecoming of a lady to be drunk and disorderly. For women today to match or surpass men in binge drinking would be a cultural sea change. We already know the health risks of heavy drinking, but it’s even more dangerous for women when you take into account the harm alcohol can inflict on a pregnancy or the heightened risk of sexual assault.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports, “Conservative estimates of sexual assault prevalence suggest that 25 percent of American women have experienced sexual assault, including rape. Approximately one-half of those cases involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim, or both.”

Perhaps this is why the lead author of the study, Ali Mokdad, said about its findings, “It seems like women are trying to catch up to the men in binge drinking. It’s really, really scary.”

Let’s be clear. I don’t condone binge drinking for men or women, but we as a society should be particularly concerned about women. Society already suffers from too many missing fathers and derelict men, and we need to rectify that, but equally important, if not more, we can’t allow women to suffer the same fate. They are the mothers and nurturers of our progeny. They are the glue that holds civil society together.

This makes all the more worrisome a new report that, at the same time binge drinking is on the rise, millennial birthrates are reaching record lows.

Here’s Catherine Rampell writing for the Washington Post: “A report released last week by the Urban Institute found that millennial women are reproducing at the slowest pace of any generation in U.S. history. Childbearing fell steeply in the years immediately following the “Great Recession,” with birthrates among women in their 20s declining more than 15 percent between 2007 and 2012.”

Now, correlation does not equal causation and I’m not trying to link binge drinking to birthrates, however, it does present an overall worrisome picture of millennial life choices. Undoubtedly, there are deeper cultural and economic factors at play here, but no matter the underlying causes, it is not good to have millennials – especially women – drinking more and bearing fewer children. We also know that record numbers of millennials are not married and have never been married. These trends are a serious problem.

But, of course, this all begs the question: what would today’s feminists say about these trends? Is it permissible to discourage women from binge drinking and encourage them to get married and have children? Or would they interpret such views as “blaming the victim” and establishing patriarchal social constructs to suppress the liberty of women?

I’m afraid that many would agree with the latter.

Of course, the problem with that view is that gender roles are not totally and completely interchangeable. The consequences of certain actions and choices fall unequally on men and women. For example, when things break down in the family unit, who is most often left holding the child (literally and figuratively)? The woman. The large number of single mothers in this country today demonstrate this.

Gender equality is good in many senses, but not all senses, and not when it comes to binge drinking. We rightly celebrate equality when it lifts up men and women and encourages the better angels of their nature, like the tremendous strides women have made in the workplace. But we should not celebrate equality that encourages or permits women to compete to be equal of men’s worst qualities, especially binge drinking.

 

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