When you think of some of the most popular and empowering female actresses, you almost can’t imagine them without a glass of something in their hand. For Carrie Bradshaw, the cosmopolitan was her drink of choice. Olivia Pope’s days rarely ended without a generously poured glass of red wine and an overflowing bowl of popcorn. Jessica Jones finishes off every epic battle with a few chugs of whiskey, often straight from the bottle. Why is it that to be a strong, liberated, and independent woman in today’s world, alcohol has to be the sidekick?
We asked Sarah Hepola, author of Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget. Here’s what she said.
On Drinking as Female Empowerment
I think drinking was historically a male pastime. A lot of times when you’re looking at who gets to drink especially in places like bars or cocktail parties you’re looking at who has the power and the free time to do things like that. And historically women did not have that ability.
And I think that whether we’re talking about drinking or sports or math and science there’s a whole bundle of activities that a certain collection of women are told are men’s only. And so you grow up kind of thinking like don’t do that like girls don’t do that.
On Why She Drank
I think there are a lot of things that drew me to drinking. First of all, I just love the taste of it from a very young age. What I learned very early that I could do it really well and what I mean by that is I could quote Hold My Liquor. The thing that a lot of women struggle to do as they go through college and they might throw up easily like I could drink really fast and I drank for a long time and the guys were kind of like Whoa how did you do that. And I really got a great jolt of meaning out of it in me such a sense of power to be able to compete on that pole.
It made you feel powerful but it was also like hot and fun. And the guys liked it so you could like cater to the male gaze but you could feel super independent and I think you never really had to ask which one of those things you were doing or choose sides you could do both.
One thing you should know about me is I’m five foot two and I’m not terribly athletic. So in terms of being able to stand toe to toe with men other than drinking it was only going to be in the intellectual sphere which I also did. I mean I also wanted to go toe to toe with men and you know who can be funnier and who can be grosser but like if you’re going to talk about throwing a shot put. I’m not going to win that competition. Not even close. But drinking made me feel like I could. And I think there were a lot of women that felt that way.
On Powerful Female Figures in Media
The news is sort of like guess what? Women love to drink and they love to drink just as men just as much as men! And so you get these shows these kinds of first generation shows like Sex And The City where it’s actually newsworthy that these women get together and drink together. That’s become such a cliche 20 years later but it’s really hard for us to believe that that was once unusual.
More recently what I’ve seen is the strong, powerful, complicated female who is drinking to kind of numb the stress of her life. The lead character on Scandal or the lead character on The Good Wife or in House of Cards [come to mind]. Jessica Jones was an interesting character phenomenon on Netflix. Drinking becomes kind of a signifier of their complication. They have dark pasts they’re dealing with a lot of stuff and this is one of the ways that they negotiate it.
Links and References
Buy Sarah’s book Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
You can also reach Sarah via her website at sarahhepola.com.