The "Ladette" generation is vilified for daring to drink like men

A new moral panic about the impact of alcohol on women is shot through with sexism.

Well, fellow ladettes, you can't say they didn’t warn us. Back in the 1990s, when we were all drinking ourselves into the gutter, experts said it was a ticking timebomb. And lo, it has come to pass. According to research carried out by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, women of my generation — born in the 1970s, now in our 30s and 40s — are more likely than those of previous generations to die of alcohol-related causes. And yes, “ladette culture” is to blame (damn you, Sara Cox and Zoe Ball! My liver will never forgive you!).

Only kidding. My liver function is perfectly normal, although that’s fortunate given how much I downed between ‘93 and ‘97. I prefer not to dwell on the precise quantity but suffice it to say that upon reading Koren Zailckas’ memoir Smashed - subtitle “growing up a drunk girl” - all I could think was “sodding lightweight”. After all, how can it be proper drinking if you can remember enough to write a whole book about it?

To be clear, I’ve no real desire to trivialise binge drinking. Even if it doesn’t destroy you in body and mind, it will turn you, temporarily at least, into a total knob. I’ve spent more time than I care to think of being a pissed, slobbering, hyper-emotional, self-centred idiot, unable to walk straight and a total pain in the arse for every slightly more sober person within a ten-mile radius. Fortunately for me, I never got photographed in such a state, shoved into a photo library and paraded before the general public during every future moral panic regarding women and booze. That woman lying on that bench, whom you’ve all seen a million times before? It’s not me (although I do have a friend who claims to know her. Apparently she wasn’t even all that wasted. Can’t a woman just lie on a bench these days? Do newspaper editors even realise just how agonising an evening out in boots like that could be?).

The sexism running through mainstream reporting into women's drinking habits — the patronising tone, the slut-shaming photos, the downplaying of what remain much more extreme statistics for men — is galling, but it's also hard to challenge. After all, dying in your 30s because you've drunk too much is a tragic waste, whichever way you look at it. The Daily Mail might illustrate its latest burst of moral outrage with a close-up of your arse as you trip out of the latest club, but perhaps in this one instance Paul Dacre's misogyny could save you from yourself. So what's a girl (as all grown women must be called in this context) to do? Sticking to the Lambrini isn't exactly liberating but hey, it's only common sense.

This, however, is where I start to have issues. Treating the problem isn’t simply a matter of dissuading women from embracing what Sally Marlow from the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London calls “male behaviours -- such as excessive drinking”. Much of British society has an entirely hypocritical attitude towards alcohol, a powerful drug which, stripped of its cultural relevance, would surely be made illegal. Nonetheless, this is also a society imbued with a messed-up attitude towards women’s independence and ownership of their own bodies. Put these two together and suddenly it’s the maturity and autonomy of women, rather than the illogicality of our broader relationship with booze, that’s being put into question.

Like “Blair babes” “ladette” is one of those crappy 1990s terms which captures so much about what’s wrong with attitudes towards women in public space. A cutesy diminutive - not a real lad, an interloper, a childish imitator - it belittles the choices of grown women. Lads drink because they’re lads - it’s one of many established “male behaviours” - whereas women are annoying younger siblings, trying desperately hard to keep up even though their frail little bodies can’t take it. The implication is that those women now dying of liver disease have got their just desserts for encroaching on male space. No one stops to point out that our fucked-up attitude towards getting wasted isn’t a male birthright. If women spread out and occupy the same cultural environments as men - the same space, not male space - then they will be exposed to the same risks. We should be questioning the rules of the game, not the fact that the ladies are demanding a go, too.

While it might be true that the average female body suffers more damage than the average male one when the same amount of alcohol is consumed, let’s be clear about one thing: women of my generation haven’t been consuming the same amount of alcohol as their male counterparts. The death rate due to alcohol-related causes has been decreasing rather than increasing for men, but it’s still considerably higher: 30 per 100,000 for men compared to 20 per 100,000 for women. Men are not out of the woods just yet, but then again, boys will be boys. We’ve a long way to go before men get accused of emulating the ladettes (which is just as well, because I’m struggling to think of a male diminutive of “ladette” -- laddette-kin? But anyhow, whatever it is, they’d be that).

Back in the 90s, when I was getting pissed, I didn’t do it in order to feel liberated. I did it because that was what people did in the space I occupied. I did it to belong. Twenty years on, I drink far less but resent the way my decision to do so (or not) is not considered mine to make. Twenty years on, I’m still being reminded I’m not one of the boys and that is that.

And twenty years on, we’re not challenging the powerful alcohol lobby, we’re not challenging lad culture, and we’re not challenging the idea that women are merely an immature version of men, requiring control and admonishment whenever they venture into adult space. I hate to say it, but such a trio of failures is enough to turn any person to drink.

Maybe she just fancies a sit down. Get over it. Source: Getty

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide