Written by Dr. Kelly Harding
Women and Alcohol
As an FASD prevention and women’s health researcher, I have a particular interest in understanding women’s alcohol use. Since becoming involved in the field of FASD, I have been struck by the pervasiveness of alcohol in our society, from alcohol advertisements to television storylines and social media memes.
While engaged in my research, I often reflect on questions such as why do people feel that they need alcohol? What does alcohol mean to people in the context of their individual lives and circumstances? What fuels someone’s desire to drink? My own research, as well as popular culture writing such as Ann Dowsett Johnston’s book Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, has made me think long and hard about how alcohol use in society is normalized.
As a researcher, I am also constantly aware of the many reasons why women drink. Alcohol is one of the few legal psychoactive drugs that plays an important role in Canadian society. It is also the most common drug used by Canadians. As a society, we remain ambivalent to the harms associated with alcohol use, despite the growing evidence about the serious and rising health and social risks associated with its use. Alcohol is often portrayed as “good, harmless fun” or as a way to relax and unwind, so it not surprising that such use remains entrenched as part of our culture.
However, unlike women who may be experiencing compromised social determinants of health, including struggles with substance use, disadvantaged backgrounds, living in poverty, or experiencing intimate partner violence, I often wonder about the demographics that we miss in our discussions about women’s alcohol use – namely middle to upper class, educated, and ‘professional’ women. It is these women who are often portrayed in popular culture as ‘wine moms’.
Why Wine Moms?
I first became interested in researching the ‘wine mom’ after I read an article in Today’s Parent called ‘Why mommy drinks: the scary truth about #WineMom’. The terminology ‘wine mom’ became popularized in the mid-2010s, wherein mothers began to self-identify and joke online about drinking wine to cope with the stresses of motherhood.
Despite its seemingly widespread popularity in online forums, like online parenting magazines or personal blogs, the concept of the ‘wine mom’ has received little academic interest. Recently, other researchers have identified the important intersections between social media, cultural (and gendered) expectations, and alcohol use for mothers, while other researchers have called for systematic policy level changes that support women’s parenting equity. As both groups of researchers identified, social media has created a space where alcohol consumption is continually suggested to be the solution to the ongoing challenges associated with parenting (and more specifically, motherhood).
In collaboration with two colleagues, we recently undertook a research study to explore and analyze the wine mom persona on social media, specifically on Instagram. We selected a total of 40 Instagram posts associated with the #winemom hashtag to understand how women participated in this culture in terms of the understandings of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ motherhood behaviours. We identified that wine consumption was framed as a necessity to be a ‘modern mother’ in today’s society, with women emphasizing that alcohol use was critical for belonging to a larger community of mothers. Women also highlighted that wine was essential for socially acceptable self-care. Alcohol was presented as the saviour that allowed women to cope with their domestic duties. Problematically, these representations further normalized binge drinking and used humour to deflect from possible (serious) underlying mental health concerns.
Our findings demonstrated the ubiquity of wine mom culture and its contribution to normalized images and meanings of motherhood that have problematic sociocultural and health implications. The results of our study show that women’s Instagram posts reflect real issues that women experience in our society that deserve more attention than just jokes on social media.
Our foray into this field of research is new and exciting! We are interested in pursuing additional lines of research related to ‘wine mom’ culture including:
- Understanding how women’s participation in wine mom culture has changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in light of emerging research findings about the substantial impact of COVID-19 on women’s mental health and substance use.
- Talking to women who identify as wine moms about their relationships with alcohol, including the reasons why women drink, how they drink, and how they construct their own individual meanings about alcohol use in their everyday lives.
- Investigating how the ‘wine mom’ compares and/or contrasts with the socially constructed ‘beer dad’. For example, the #winemom hashtag on Instagram currently has 80.6k posts, whereas the #beerdad hashtag has 5000k posts by comparison.
For More Information
Please reach out to us if you would like more information about our work or if you are interested in chatting about wine mom culture! You can reach us by email or contact us on Twitter at @kd_coons, @lisawhittingham, and @FlockeKerry. We recently published an article on this topic in the Conversation Canada, an online article.