Bros Get Wasted; Girls Get Tipsy: Why Boozy Talk Matters, posted on NPR on July 10, 2013, discusses a recent publication in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, picks apart the ways in which men and women in college are described while intoxicated. I was unable to access the full text of the article, so I am relying on NPR’s analysis and Alcoholism’s abstract for my insights.
NPR’s article begins by discussing the problem of students’ perceptions of other students’ drinking habits. People tend to assume that everyone else is drinking more than they are – people tend to also assume the same about sex. The article opens up for a discussion of the way people perceive levels of intoxication for men and women separately. The study in Alcoholism, “Gender Differences in Natural Language Factors of Subjective Intoxication in College Students: An Experimental Vignette Study” had 145 participants and examined the terms they used to describe the drunkenness of students.
Participants in the study read scenarios in which the characters were described in varying levels of intoxication. The student participants were asked to describe the character. Students overwhelmingly underestimated moderate drinking, quite possibly because students assume their peers are drinking much more than they are. Students also were far more likely to use words such as “tipsy, buzzed, light-headed,” when describing even the most intoxicated woman. When describing men, on the other hand, students used, unsurprisingly, more harsh and strong words, such as “plastered” and “obliterated.”
The leader of the study, Ash Levitt, says that the “trashed and wasted” view of drinking men have leads to sometimes deadly consequences. When students assume everyone drinks more than them, and that men must drink significantly more than women, it creates a competition that inevitably ends badly.
The study concludes that college students are putting themselves at great risk, and highlights the threats to men. Studies such as these illustrate just one of many downsides to the singular view of masculinity we have. Men become much more likely to over-indulge if they feel their manhood, their sense of self, depends on them acting out and becoming belligerent. One commenter on NPR’s website mentioned the effect this has on consent for women – the commenter noted that if women are always described as “tipsy” than they can always be faulted for assault and rape.
I believe this is just another way that society perpetuates the dichotomy where men should not be held accountable for their actions but women are always in control. This viewpoint is an easy way to explain victim blaming and the “boys will be boys” attitude that gives men the freedom to avoid responsibility.
The type of behavior perpetuated by college drinking culture is a dangerous one for everyone. Students police each other to ensure their peers are in near-constant drinking contests, whether outright or implicitly. Creating this competition forces people to go far beyond their personal limits, and as the pressure is more intense for men to prove their masculinity, it makes them even more vulnerable to harm. I took a screenshot of the google image search, “bros drinking,” and the first row of pictures shows men hypermasculinizing themselves and each other while drinking copious amounts of alcohol.