Welcome to the latest installment of Ms. Opinionated, in which readers have questions about the pesky day-to-day choices we all face, and I give advice about how to make ones that (hopefully) best reflect our shared commitment to feminist values—as well as advice on what to do when they don't.
Dear Ms. Opinionated,I've been going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for some time now but recently something happened at one that I'd never encountered before: a man admitted to hitting his partner earlier that day.
Stories of self-censorship in the media are sadly common; here's one that's relevant to what I tried to do with this series. Years ago, Barry Lopez addressed an environmental philosophy class at my alma mater and I cornered him later to ask him some questions about journalism. He said it can be a constant fight to get good, varied content published, and as an example told me that a writer friend had had an essay pulled from a mainstream magazine that's well-respected for its reporting and commentary, and which has a pretty highbrow, progressive slant. The essay talked about alcoholism from a personal perspective; it was yanked because one of the magazine's major sponsors, a vodka distiller, was none too thrilled with the writer's discussion of the dark side of drinking. Bitch's commitment to providing a forum for non-mainstream voices and perspectives meant that I was allowed to talk about alcohol from whatever perspective I chose – good, bad, indifferent or amused – and I am enormously grateful for that.
The same way that evolutionary psychology (or at least, bad reporting on evolutionary research) often conveniently reinforces sexist stereotypes about the role of men and women in the 21st society, genetic explanations for alcoholism tend to reinforce preexisting stereotypes about certain ethnic groups and races
At least half – if not two-thirds – of the essays in Drinking Diaries (a newly published book spawned by the blog of the same name) are downers. That stands to reason: alcohol is a depressant, and as I've written before in this series, historically women have borne its consequences more severely than men.
If the book sometimes feels like a long self-help meeting—with one story after another about hitting bottom, living with the consequences of a parent's or friend's drinking or simply realizing it's time to slow down—there are also moments of complexity and nuance. Rita Williams's lyric essay, "The Root Cellar," is hardly about drinking at all: it's actually about class and racial identity, and how her failure to deliver a bottle of homemade dandelion wine on time bore disastrous consequences for a coworker. Jane Friedman's “Drinking as a Genuine Vocation” made me want to be her friend for life, and Samantha Dunn's “Slake,” about her mother's death due to alcoholism (that is, but due to an untreated infection from falling on broken glass) resists easy answers about the causes of her mother's thirst for booze.
Some animals with behavior issues really respond to SSRIs, and while that's a whole other can of, uh, worms (worms with rudimentary pleasure centers!) – it turns out some animals really like to trip. West African elephants regularly eat the bark of the iboga tree, which has been used by people in the region as a sacred drug: “It's not a fun, pleasant, trippy high. It's inward turning.” Siberian reindeer have also been observed to eat psychedelic mushrooms(http://www.metro.co.uk/weird/851202-reindeer-regularly-eat-magic-mushrooms-in-the-wild-research-finds) (leading to some almost certainly incorrect, but interesting speculation that these reindeer are the origin of the Santa Claus myth (http://www.geog.ucsb.edu/events/department-news/968/is-santa-the-personification-of-a-psychedelic-mushroom/)). In both cases, animals behave oddly when they eat the drugs, separating themselves from the herd, twitching, making strange noises – but they do use them again. “There seems to be some drive in us and in critters to alter our perception,” Linden said.
Fascinating as that is, how is it relevant to social justice? First, Linden argues, observing animal behavior – and how basic the drive for pleasure can be – can give us a better understanding of the science of addiction. He noted that while just 25 percent of people who try heroin become addicted, 80 percent of people who try cigarettes become addicted – and the reason for that difference is that the drugs activate the pleasure centers in different ways. A single dose of heroin provides an enormous flood of dopamine, where cigarettes provide tiny, rationed neural rewards to the user. “It's like if you were training a dog, and wanted to reward him with a big steak, versus if you cut the steak up into bits and treat him throughout the day,” Linden said. Most of us respond better to the tiny doses, and that's why cigarettes are actually harder to quit.
The research also tells us that addiction is highly varied in the way it manifests: that's why, with, say, alcohol, some people can take it or leave it, and some people struggle with it their whole lives. “We are, all of us, subject to various subconscious drives and motivations. The kinds of cravings one person experiences aren't like what another person experiences,” Linden said. “If you understand the biology and medicine that makes sense is a disease model, and the only attitude that makes sense is one of compassion.”
When a Man Loves a Woman opens with one of the oddest (and, frankly, creepiest) meet-cutes I have ever seen in a movie: Alice (Meg Ryan), sitting at a bar in broad daylight (it looks like she's just finished lunch), already wincing at unwanted attention from the guy sitting to her left at the counter, is approached by Michael (Andy Garcia), who asks her to pick up his laundry for him, bring it to his hotel room later that night. “I'll pay you,” he says. “Thirty bucks. That oughta cover it.” At first, she's irritated, and then she's amused, flirting back.
Then – right after my boyfriend shouted, “Oh, come on, Meg!” and I scribbled something in my notebook about how women alone in bars are always assumed to be prostitutes – the scene takes a cutesy, unexpected turn.
There's a script for women in commercial country music that doesn't necessarily coincide with more mainstream stereotypes and assumptions about women. If you've ever heard Carrie Underwood's ubiquitous 2007 single, "Before He Cheats" (lyrics), you'll recognize the tropes.
Of course there are exceptions, but the ideal country woman is often blond (and white), feisty, world-wise, and hot. She is deeply possessive of her man, and aims to squelch competitors for his affection. She gives the appearance of working-class roots even if she didn't grow up working class, and she's equally comfortable talking about guns (Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder and Lead"), Jesus (Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel"), and heterosexual romantic relationships (Dixie Chicks' "Cowboy Take Me Away").
One of the newer variations on these themes is the girl group Pistol Annies (Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley). Check out the first single of their August LP, Hell on Heels (lyrics):
So, can I ask what the obsession with Ke$ha is? I only ask, because I too am completely enamored with her while simultaneously holding back the urge to be violently ill. The ‘party girl’ aesthetic and persona is certainly nothing new. From Paris to Lindsay to every other brand of this celebrity girl whose name is synonymous with blackouts and so-called ‘bad behavior" – we’ve seen/heard/and stomached it all. Yet is there something special about this Nashville-bred DIY artist (I, too, wear cowboy boots and rock gaudy gold when the mood strikes me)? The simple answer is ..