DOUBLE STANDARDS

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.

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13 Responses to “DOUBLE STANDARDS”

  1. Matthew Says:

    BLARGH BLARGH BLARGH ED HATES WOMEN

  2. jon Says:

    I think more women are driving, more women are drinking in public, and more women are then driving home when they shouldn't be. Feminism, economics, zoning, liquor licensing boards, enforcement, and changing standards of femininity all come into play with that, but mostly it's comes down to the fact that more women are acting like men. Of course, men and women alike are always ready to damn women who act like men, and they're ready to provide extra damnation when it gets in the way of women doing that super special motherhood thing that is entirely natural and omnipresent in women's lives.

    Being an irresponsible nitwit and taking the family along for the ride is something men have done, women have done it as well, but somehow it's only the women who are supposed to have some genetic aversion to that? Sure, I guess. Not that there's any sexist assumption going on or anything.

    As for how a husband couldn't see a wife's alcoholism? It's easy. Denial and obliviousness are natural whenever a loved one is involved, and it's even easier when that loved one lies about or hides the truth. Even serial killers can have loving spouses, so anything is possible.

  3. J. Dryden Says:

    I'm afraid I'll have to dock you several points for misusing the term "factoid," which does *not* mean "an interesting little fact" but instead means "an untrue statement disguised as a 'hey-didija-know-that—' piece of trivia." Sure, the media gets this one wrong most of the time, but we your readers hold you to a higher standard, Ed.

  4. ladiesbane Says:

    Re: "Maybe in the past police officers, the large majority of whom are male, were more willing to let women off with warnings" — no. I know "in the past" encompasses all of history, but women have always been more seriously stigmatized and punished for offenses that are shrug-worthy when perpetrated by men (shoplifting, check kiting, etc.)

    I'm not saying no one ever flirted her way out of a ticket; I'm just saying that people are SHOCKED SHOCKED I TELL YOU that women have the same weaknesses as men. Since few people assume we likewise have the same strengths (or even, ahem, separate but equal strengths), it's just one more layer of sexist BS.

  5. Grumpygradstudent Says:

    What I found incredible about this story is that she was THAT hammered at, like, 9 am! Even for a juicer, that's a little odd. My mother was an alcoholic, but she wouldn't hit the sauce till the evening, and she never drove us anywhere. I'm not saying she couldn't have been a closet alcoholic, but sounds like she had some kind of meltdown on this day. This sounds more like a suicide to me.

    I have no comment on the substantive aspect of this post (gender). Alcoholism sucks. Killing people sucks. Bad parenting sucks.

  6. Heqit Says:

    @Grumpygradstudent–

    Yeah, but you know, every alcoholic has their own pattern. I would generally say that 9 AM is quite early to be that sloshed, but my alcoholic grandfather got up every morning around 5 AM to go to the bar. He'd worked the graveyard shift in a factory all his life, going to the bar with his buddies right after work, and he kept the same drinking hours in retirement. By 8:00, he was gone (if not usually driving, thank god). My alcoholic grandmother, now, she preferred to stretch her bourbon out through the day.

  7. jon Says:

    Being that hammered at 9am is very possible if she was up late drinking the night before, didn't sleep well, woke up with a raging hangover, and tried to fix it with some more alcohol. I wouldn't bet the farm on BAC testing as being anything more than a ballpark figure, especially as the amount gets higher, but there's plenty of reasons to believe she test that high and still be a run of the mill drunk.

    You probably wouldn't want to know how many people on the road had a few too many, even in the morning. And especially in the afternoon. Luckily, the other traffic tends to keep drunks more able to navigate after happy hour in ways that are lacking at 2am.

  8. duquesne_pdx Says:

    /delurk

    DUIs cost far more than $1000 a pop. That's just the initial fine. Between court costs, diversion programs and additional fees, the cost here in WA state for the average DUI is $10,000 for a first offense, and it goes up from there. That's money that goes directly to the city/county/state. Where I live, the cops will pull people over at night for purely made up reasons to see if they can get lucky and hit a high-functioning/borderline drunk driver.

    (Full disclosure: I haven't had a drink since 1993, so this isn't personal experience, but anecdotal evidence from friends and co-workers who've been through a DUI. This is also a state where you can get a $1000 fine for throwing a lit cigarette out of the window based on someone reporting you on the phone.)

    /relurk

  9. waldo Says:

    In my experience women are more affected by alcohol and drugs and are generally aware of it. It would be interesting to know why she was so motivated to self-destruction.
    Shame about the kids.

  10. BeckySharper Says:

    Thanks for the mention!

    As for Diane Schuler and her husband, of whom you said, "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."

    My guess–having seen this first-hand in my own family–is that it was a combination of A) and B). It almost always is. The drunk does a good job hiding it and the spouse does a good job denying that sneaking suspicion that something is Not Quite Right. They do this because if either party did confront the issue, they'd be forced to realize that there was a serious, dangerous, potentially embarrassing problem and they'd have to deal with it. And no one wants to deal with that kind of problem. Denial FTW!

    Also, you're probably right about municipalities stepping up their DUI patrols and catching more drunk driveres But, of course, they're shocked, appalled and dismayed to discover that a fair number of those drunks are women.

  11. Daniel Says:

    I tend to doubt that the husband didn't have any idea his wife was an alcoholic. If they slept in the same bed, how couldn't he have known. The smell of hard liquor on someone's breath is unmistakable. He's probably in abject denial and feels a tremendous amount of guilt over all of the lost lives involved.

  12. jazzbumpa Says:

    IMHO, the quotes BeckySharper cites do not connect the way she infers.

    From
    “Younger women feel more empowered, more equal to men, and have been beginning to exhibit the same uninhibited behaviors as men,” said Chris Cochran of the California Office of Traffic Safety.

    To
    “does seem to be coded language for “Feminism drove Diane Schuler to drink and then to drive,” an anti-feminist myth with dangerous repercussions.”

    Is a wild mental leap. Please help me find anything that implies “Feminism drove Diane Schuler to drink."

    Immediately preceding the first quote, the original article states:
    "Men still drink more than women and are responsible for more drunken-driving cases. But the gap is narrowing, and among the reasons cited are that women are feeling greater pressures at work and home, they are driving more, and they are behaving more recklessly."

    Toward the end, this:
    "Our society has taught us that women have an extra burden to be the perfect mothers and perfect wives and perfect daughters and perfect everything," Levounis said. "They tend to go to great lengths to keep everything intact from an external viewpoint while internally, they are in ruins."

    That's no description of feminism that I recognize. Yet BeckySharper alleges that feminism is blamed in this article? Sorry kids, don't see it.

    Sex discrimination, like race discrimination is real and pervasive. But to see anti-feminism behind every rock and tree both dilutes and trivializes any possible corrective action.

  13. Elle Says:

    Is a wild mental leap. Please help me find anything that implies “Feminism drove Diane Schuler to drink.

    There is a trope, prevalent in articles that attempt to explain why women's behaviour is trending in a particular direction, that conflates feminism both with women attempting to 'have it all' (possibly what the last paragraph you quote is referring to), but also any sense that women might be behaving in a way that was historically coded masculine.

    Thus, in the UK, 'feminism' is blamed for the stress women who work full time and have children experience. It is also blamed for young women's perceived penchant for strutting around town in revealing clothing while drinking lashings of booze. This is frowned upon because of its public order implications, but also because young women who are drunk experience rape. Thus, some sections of the British popular press blame 'feminism' for rape and the difficulty of balancing work and family life. I'm sure the irony won't be lost on you.

    Less polemical news digests (and the California Office of Traffic Safety) skip the explicit linking of feminism with whatever bad outcome they're talking about, while talking about 'equality' and 'empowerment'. However, because the narrative is so well-rehearsed, it raises a bit of a red flag even when the mentions of feminism are missing. (Although where else would equality and empowerment have come from? Free with a box of Cocoa Pops?)