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The equal right to drink.

  • Author(s): Schmidt, Laura A
  • et al.

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The starting place for this essay is Knupfer and Room's insight that more restrictive norms around drinking and intoxication tend to be selectively applied to the economically dependent segments of society, such as women. However, since these authors wrote in 1964, women in the US and many other societies around the globe have experienced rising economic independence. The essay considers how the moral categories of acceptable drinking and drunkenness may have shifted alongside women's rising economic independence, and looks at evidence on the potential consequences for women's health and wellbeing. I argue that, as women have gained economic independence, changes in drinking norms have produced two different kinds of negative unintended consequences for women at high and low extremes of economic spectrum. As liberated women of the middle and upper classes have become more economically equal to men, they have enjoyed the right to drink with less restraint. For them, alongside the equal right to drink has come greater equality in exposure to alcohol-attributable harms, abuse and dependence. I further suggest that, as societies become more liberated, the economic dependency of low-income women is brought into greater question. Under such conditions, women in poverty-particularly those economically dependent on the state, such as welfare mothers-have become subject to more restrictive norms around drinking and intoxication, and more punitive social controls.

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