Sunday, June 1, 2008

Controlling What Girls Drink

The past few weeks have seen two contrasting stories relating to girls drinking. First, was the story of the Olsen twins' coffee being "spiked" with full-cream milk by a Starbucks barista. (Barista: perhaps we could invite a similarly important-sounding term for sandwich hands, or has Subway already done that with its "sandwich artist".) Regardless of the truth of the story or not, it sat in the top five most-viewed articles on The Age website for almost a week. And "story" is perhaps being a little generous, as the article was comprised of about five sentences. One of which was a denial from the Olsen's publicist. A web search reveals dozens of sites that also picked up the story, including Madison magazine who were "inclined to believe that [the publicist's denial] judging by the twins' still-slim frames."

Which is more astonishing? That thousands of Australian readers considered the Olsen twins unknowing consumption of full-cream milk to be among the five most important stories of the week or that a magazine promoted the idea that if Mary-Kate and Ashley had been sipping on the odd bit of regular milk in their coffees that they'd now be migrating from Antarctica with all the other whales. At the heart of both responses is a cruel fascination with the weight of young women. Of course, it's certainly not up to cafe staff to be determining their customers' caloric intake, but in any event the story is most likely a fabrication. The flimsy premise itself doesn't matter quite so much as the strong interest in monitoring the twins' weight. If they were to start downing a few thickshakes, what would the next crop of stories be headlined?

The second issue is related to so-called "alcopops". Whether it's a watermelon flavoured Bacardi Breezer or a Midori Illusion in a bottle, the recent tax hike on pre-mixed spirits imposed by the Australian federal government seemingly has its basis in controlling the drinking of young girls. The clear intent of the tax was to discourage youth drinking, but the alcohol consumption of "teenage girls" was particularly flagged by Prime Minister Rudd. Statistics quoted suggested that 78% of girls prefer them to any other drink, but so too did 74% of boys. Nevermind that it is predominantly young men who are drink driving and bashing one another about when drunk, we must get these fizzy, alcoholic confections away from our girls. They've "gone wild". Yes, there was a newspaper article called "Girls Gone Wild" about the subject of alcohol in the past month. Strangely, it also chose to discuss criminality and the greater population of women in prisons today. This is not to say that youth binge-drinking is not a problem. Nevertheless, the reasoning behind this targeting of girls' drinking seems grounded in a double-standard that does not wish to see girls' losing their faculties and assaulting their bodies. Why aren't the same concerns directed at the drinking of boys? And then the outcry too over "blokes" suffering because the price of their Jim Beam and Coke tinnies also rose. So the drinking of young women is out of control and must be curbed by a tax hike, but we must spare a thought for men who'll now have to pay more. Why are men more legitimately entitled to drink alcohol without monitoring than women? Aren't the health implications the same for all (of course taking into account women's lesser tolerance for alcohol and pregnancy concerns)?

What girls, and girls only, do or do not drink should not be a topic of national and international discussion.

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