DOUBLE STANDARDS

Posted in Rants on August 26th, 2009 by Ed

Perhaps, especially if you live in the northeast, you've been exposed to the story of Diane Schuler, the New York housewife who killed eight people in a traffic accident and became the target-of-the-day for pundit windbaggery and righteous indignation when she was found to be blind drunk at the time. She drove the wrong way up an exit ramp and collided head-on with a Suburban. All three occupants in the other vehicle died as did Schuler, her daughter, and her three young nieces.

Harpyness has an interesting commentary, albeit one with which I am not in 100% agreement, on the gender aspect of the waves of how-dare-shes raining down on the "Monster Mom." Some commentary has taken to blaming feminism for an alleged increase in alcohol abuse among women (although to be fair, it does not state that explicitly; nonetheless I tend to agree that it can be inferred). I can add nothing to the stupidity of that statement that I did not volunteer when K-Lo blamed feminism for domestic violence. It seems like a patently ridiculous claim, no? The alcoholic / pill-popping 1950s housewife is a stock character in American culture – not to mention, if you feel like going way back, the laudanum- and brandy-swilling 19th Century frontier wife. These pre-Women's Liberation movement examples seem to nod in recognition of widespread social problems throughout our history with women drinking and drugging to escape the desperate unhappiness of strict gender roles.

Beyond that, there are two things that interest me about the story and the commentary linked in the previous paragraph. First, I think the most interesting gender aspect of this issue is the idea of male denial that women in the wife/mother roles could have "that problem." Her husband has made numerous public statements to the effect of "My wife was not a habitual or heavy drinker." Now, count me lucky in that I have no alcoholics in my nuclear family. Neither parent so much as drank a glass of wine let alone got loaded. So it is perhaps because of this non-experience that I find the husband's statements fantastic. Schuler's autopsy showed that in addition to marijuana, her BAC at the time of autopsy was 0.19%. That isn't drunk; that is John Bonham drunk. That is fucking plastered. A person of Schuler's size would need ten shots of hard liquor in an hour to reach that – and considerably more if she was in fact a habitual drinker with a high tolerance. I find it simply unbelievable, although not impossible, that this is something that flew under the radar. Sure, maybe no one saw her drinking. But when someone is that drunk – so drunk that eight year-olds are on cell phones noting something clearly aberrant about the person's behavior – how can one ignore that?

Perhaps this was a one-time bender by Schuler and there was no prior behavior to cause raised eyebrows. But assuming that is not the case, this could only fly under the radar if A) Schuler was the world's highest functioning drunk and an amazing actress or B) David Schuler either willfully ignored his wife's alcoholism or was psychologically incapable of accepting it. Women with alcoholic husbands can sometimes ignore the obvious and convince themselves that things are OK as long as Hubby keeps bringing home a paycheck; on the flip side, perhaps we need to spend some time asking to what extent men are deluding themselves about spousal alcoholism with the belief that if Wifey is unhappy and drinking "shuts her up" then it is OK.

Second, Harpyness comments on Ray LaHood's statement ("Sadly, the number of arrests of women driving under the influence is on the rise. This is clearly a very disturbing trend.”) about female DUIs. The author states, "No, what’s “sad” and “disturbing” is not that more women are being arrested, but that that DUI arrests are going up, period." I think there is an obvious problem with both statements' assumption that this factoid means more people are drinking and driving. I have a more plausible explanation: municipal governments are broke and DUIs are costly. Police are both eager to pull over more vehicles and more likely to write a citation after doing so. They need the cash. Maybe in the past police officers, the large majority of whom are male, were more willing to let women off with warnings. You remember the advice your cynical parents and relatives gave you when you started driving: "If you ever get pulled over, cry." Maybe that is effective overall and even more so for women. I have no idea. But regardless, there is no logical basis for taking the fact that female DUIs are on the rise as evidence of more drinking or more drinking and driving by women and/or men. It proves that cops are giving more tickets. DUIs are a lucrative source of income. They run well over $1000 per pop. State and county governments are broke. It's not unreasonable to connect the dots. Either the underlying condition or the enforcement thereof could be responsible for the increase.

Overall, I find it somewhat ludicrous that gender and feminism have been dragged into this conversation at all. Male or female this person clearly lacked any sort of judgment and our sympathy should be for the people whose lives were ended or changed by her lack of judgment. While we are getting lathered up about her apparent alcohol problem, however, we might benefit from examining her husband's comments more closely and asking what we can learn about our society's conception of when alcoholism and denial thereof are acceptable.