If you Google "female binge-drinking", the results are unsurprising. A lonely "slapper" with her pants around her waist, necking a bottle of vodka; a group of "sluts" perusing the streets way past their bed time... It really is maddeningly uncreative that the large majority of photos illustrating female alcoholism are negative and damaging and portray women as disgusting, damp hoe-bags.
According to a new study, this phenomenon has been confirmed. A study by Glasgow University and Glasgow Caledonian University found that women are, indeed, represented 'unfairly' – similar stories about men aren't executed as negatively and there is less coverage of them, despite the higher numbers of male binge-drinkers.
Published in the journal BMJ Open, the analysis investigated over 300 articles published over two years in national British newspapers, revealing that girls' nights out are too often exaggerated by the media.
Significant differences between the reporting of male and female binge-drinking were vast – female drinkers often had their personal appearance discussed and were depicted as a 'burden to men', who are drunk women's 'carers'. They were also presented as haggard, vulnerable, and socially transgressive in the papers. Meanwhile, male drinkers weren't characterised with such negative connotations. Chris Patterson, from the University of Glasgow explained:
"Media coverage of women's binge-drinking isn't just about health or public disorder; it also performs a moralising, paternalistic role, reflecting broader social expectations about women's public behaviour.
"As well as unfairly stigmatising women, media coverage of binge-drinking is problematic in terms of communicating information about a serious health issue to the public.
"Evidence suggests that the public view binge-drinking as a masculine activity and statistics tell us that men do drink more than women in reality, but the media are depicting a different story."
The analyst said the media should offer a more accurate view of binge-drinking so we are able to properly address the problems without "promoting harmful stereotypes that get in the way of evidence-based facts."
Dr Carol Emslie of Glasgow Caledonian University also pointed out that the media's disproportionate focus on women's binge-drinking in newspaper headlines and images, "may lead the public to think that it is primarily young females who are the problem drinkers." But this concept is very harmful to both women and at risk of damaging their health from alcohol. While men are more likely to die of alcohol-related illness, readers need to know the real impact of drinking on their bodies. Because, let's face it, I can't really relate to the photos of women crying and pissing in the street with their bums out. Okay, maybe I can...
Nevertheless, this shoddy view of women in the media permits an everlasting demeaning view of women. In her 2001 essay book Meat Market charting capitalism's effects on female flesh, journalist Laurie Penny explains that this negative stereotype is associated with class. She details the case of the publicity storm of 20-year-old teaching assistant Sarah Lyons faced in 2010 after The Sun ran photos of her in Cardiff city centre with pants around her ankles. The feature failed to mention that they were a pair of joke David Hasselhoff pants she was given by her friend for a laugh and that she was "stone-cold sober at the time."
What ensued were not stories of a woman enjoying time out with her friends, but a hurricane of shame-inducing headlines that eventually lead to Lyons being suspended from her job.
"British girls have become fat-faced 'ladettes', goose pimples rising on the skin of their exposed thighs as they clack-clack-clack along the pavement en route to the weekend disco, destination bonk," wrote columnist Quentin Letts amidst the media charade against Lyon. "Older generations would call these women 'slappers' – and they would be right."
According to Penny, such sexualisation is usually a positive form of press for young women "when middle-class parents order in crates of champagne for their teenagers' 'sweet sixteen' parties." And yet it's "utterly deplorable when hip-hop-listening working class kids attempt to Get Their Freak On." She's right. When was Cara Delevingne ever branded a 'slapper' when she was caught drunk and dropping a bag of blow in the street? But when Tracey from the estate has a night out, she's branded gruesome and a burden to those around her.
Women may be worse off when it comes to binge-drinking headlines in the papers. But working-class women will always be the ones to become the faces of female reprobation.