On August 31, during a University of Iowa–Northern Illinois football game, 22-year-old Samantha Goudie was arrested at Kinnick Stadium for public intoxication. At the police station, it was recorded that she blew a .341 blood alcohol content, a level so high that it’s the equivalent of being in a medically induced coma. Experts (and concerned citizens) concurred that she was lucky just to be alive. Elsewhere, inspired in part by Goudie’s hilarious live tweeting of her arrest, her behavior was all but celebrated—after all, here was a chick who outdrank all the frat boys at the big game.
A confession: I attended a major football college, and Goudie’s “epic” party behavior isn’t all that surprising, even if her BAC is. Another confession: When Goudie’s story surfaced, I was sort of proud of her. I mean, certainly proud enough to comment on a friend’s post that she was “a role model for American women everywhere.” In hindsight, I may have been drunk when I wrote that (just kidding—I don’t drink anymore).
The sad thing is, it’s kind of obvious, especially to those of us who have survived a football school, that Goudie is basically a bourgeoning alcoholic. Sure, her tweets were nothing short of Apatow-movie glory—“Girl waiting for court with me goes ‘I wish I knew the girl who blew a .341’ I said hi” [sic]—but then her Vine clips surfaced on a college-party-themed website called Barstool U and they reveal a beautiful, elaborately eyelashed young woman pounding shots, hanging out on her futon alone with her dog and cradling a handle of Hawkeye vodka, and, in one clip, looking kind of frozen in terror. At least for me, all of my creepy, latent hero-worship for “Vodka Samm” was sucked out in an instant, eclipsed by the dense shadow that inevitably falls late at night over a day of drinking that begins at a 2:30 kickoff. I remember it all too well.
Goudie is part of what weekend newspapers would erroneously call a “growing cultural trend”—the female alcoholic. More specifically, the educated (“uh I get good grades sorry for being like every other college student”), careerist, upper-middle-class lady alcoholic. We know her in the pop culture forms of Lindsay Lohan and any other lady microcelebrity who gets busted for a DUI or sports a court-ordered ankle bracelet. In fact, statistics show that women’s likelihood of getting popped with a DUI have staggeringly increased since the 1980s, and they now make up one-quarter of the arrests for such an offense. And the Lohan-Goudie effect has another interesting statistical foundation: the consistent majority of female alcoholics are white ladies, just like me!
While there’s been attention drawn to the “mommy” alcoholics, more than likely fueled by the obsessively overshare-y “mommy blogging” confessional culture, there is far less energy focused on the single or childless high-functioning female alcoholics. Why? Probably because they aren’t responsible for small human beings, so they’re considered less of a social threat, which is, frankly, bullshit, because how else do these women become stressed-out mommy drinkers than from the faulty coping behaviors they learned earlier in life? Dr. Sharon Wilsnack, a longtime researcher and expert in women’s drinking habits claims that these unmarried, or unmarried and childless women, “tended to be heavier drinkers, actually, than the moms with kids.” And those women with DUIs? More than half were single, separated, or divorced. Yes, that’s right, the single ladies are dangerously out-partying you.
One explanation for the rise in female alcohol-abuse patterns, according Dr. Wilsnack, extends from an unintended side effect of the cultural liberation of young women since the 1960s. Particularly, Wilsnack says, “Growing up having seen this be male behavior, there’s something attractive about it that makes us want to do it, too. A marker of men’s higher status is that they had access to alcohol and could drink to excess and do all kinds of stupid things, while women couldn’t. It was a male prerogative and a part of the traditional masculine role. It wasn’t a part of women’s roles.” Men have always had the freedom to be idiots; now women have that freedom, too.
I, for one, experienced the longing for that sort of “freedom,” hanging out with older guy friends and attempting to keep up with them, drink for drink, in my college years, and, uh, beyond. It seems very stupid now, but in the moment, it did feel like a right.
These patterns later manifest themselves in the professional world, too, as Wilsnack describes. “In a lot of powerful careers, alcohol is part of doing business: wooing clients, making deals. That’s a whole other opportunity for the alcohol environment that these women are in to offer a lot more pressures to drink and chances to drink.” And, essentially, another competitive sphere in which a woman would feel the need to hold her own among the boys.
But there are other, even more alarming trends in female alcohol abuse, like what researchers call “intentional drinking.” Women are not necessarily consuming more alcohol than they were 30 years ago, but they’re getting drunker. “You talk to some of these young women,” says Wilsnack, “and they say, ‘Yeah, if we’re going to go out Saturday night, we really know how to do this. We’ll fast all day, so we’ll go to the party with an empty stomach, and we’ll toss down shots quickly and not mix anything with the alcohol. It’s like they have taken what they know about alcohol—always have food in your stomach, always alternate your alcoholic drinks with nonalcoholic drinks, and drink slowly—and flipped it on its head.”
So, where women’s lib (according to Wilsnack, anyway) has incidentally enabled the female drunk, alcohol awareness has fostered the utilitarian female drunk. Plus, as Wilsnack has observed, there are other reasons for such a strategy: “It makes sense that if they’re drinking in this more intentional way, deliberately, to enjoy the intoxicating effects, they might not be drinking more over all, but they’re drinking in a much more concentrated kind of way. Some young women will say, ‘You know, alcohol has calories, we don’t want to get fat.’ So they’re getting the most out of their alcohol.” How smart! That profile sounds an awful lot like Vodka Samm’s m.o., if I had to guess. I’d ask, but when I attempted to contact her, I was informed by Samantha’s mother, Patty, that she wasn’t doing any interviews. Too bad.
I’m completely against fear-mongering, and in hoary conservative-grandma discussions about women drinking there are always statistics thrown around about female drunkenness allowing for more “compromising” sexual situations, often resulting in unwanted pregnancies, sexual violence, or the spread of STDs. While there is some truth to that—and, ladies, it’s not your fault, it’s the patriarchal culture that we live in—Dr. Wilsnack confessed there is an overwhelming majority of women who drink, essentially, to feel sexy. “Some of these young women now say that there’s a lot of pressure to be sexually modern and comfortable and we’ve had all these sexual revolutions and everything, and tossing down a couple of shots before these parties is a way of loosening up and feeling more comfortable in terms of sexuality,” she says. Naturally, there’s nothing wrong with a little social lubrication, so long as it’s entirely serving your desires and not the other way around.
The reality is, according to the decades-spanning studies of experts like Wilsnack, there have only been slight increases in the amount of women drinking since the original post-WWII boom. We’re just now devoting more attention and research to it, and most likely because we live in a world where addictions and abusive behaviors are ignored less and less. Of course, as someone who no longer drinks, but believes that women reserve the right to make stupid decisions and be ridiculous in all of the ways that show they are in absolute control of their lives, I’d argue there’s still got to be a line for this kind of behavior when it becomes self-destructive. We sure as hell can’t shame the wild party ladies into seeking treatment—there’s enough shame already going around for everyone. Dr. Wilsnack suggests that, instead, we praise women who drink more responsibly than their male counterparts, rather than sloppily alongside them. As lame as this sounds, I’d like to agree. I spent my formative years worshipping men and wanting to emulate them, only to grow up and, to my horror, realize that most men are still emotionally unstable, psychopathic babies. It goes without saying I’d like women, on the whole, even reckless ones, to be superior to that. So, continue to be awesome. Party hard. Don’t embalm yourself.
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