Ladettes never die. They merely get older, drifting towards a gin- and prosecco-soaked middle age, wryly referring to their children’s bedtimes as “wine o’clock”.
At least, that has been my experience. Having lived through the nineties and early noughties, during which getting drunk became a feminist statement solely because the Daily Mail kept insisting it wasn’t a feminist statement, I now find myself a mother in her early forties, surrounded by cheery reminders that nothing says “I’ve still got it!” so much as getting off your face.
These days you can buy humorous books with titles such as This is why mummy drinks and bottle stoppers labelled “mummy’s medicine”. It’s not for nothing that Katie Kirby’s hilarious blog on the realities of motherhood goes by the title Hurrah For Gin. My own mum recently bought me a coffee mug emblazoned with the slogan “I wish this was prosecco”. I didn’t have the heart to tell her actually, I didn’t.
In a world where mothers are judged harshly regardless of the choices they make – if you’re not neglectful, you’re controlling, if you’re not slovenly, you’re uptight – drunkenness seems to represent an invaluable shortcut to not giving a toss. How else can you quickly and easily demonstrate that no, giving birth has not transformed you into a compliant, conservative non-person who puts everyone else’s needs before her own?
Get hammered and you’ve shown you’re just as capable of being a total idiot as everyone else. Hurray! And, as Margaret Atwood so wisely put it, feminism is all about recognising that “women are human beings, with the full range of saintly and demonic behaviours this entails” (admittedly she wasn’t referring to the right of all women to hit the Soave every night. But she could have been).
In this context, it could be easy to view Anne Hathaway, who’s just announced that she’s giving up alcohol until her son is 18, as a bit of an arse. Way to let down your fellow mums, Anne! It’s not as if you weren’t prone to being seen as a goody two-shoes to begin with! To give up alcohol as a direct response to the practicalities of parenting (according to Hathaway, her son is “at an age where he really does need me all the time”) feels a little, well, old-fashioned. Sure, doing the school run with a hangover is grim, but isn’t it a modern motherhood rite of passage?
I’m not so certain. One of the most annoying aspects of motherhood (apart from the children bit) is the way in which you can’t do anything without it being interpreted as a statement on what all mothers should do. The mutual insecurity is such that the only obvious response to a mother doing something “good” is to ostentatiously do the opposite, as a show of solidarity with all the other mothers who are “bad”. But when everything is a statement about the kind of mother you are not, it can become difficult to decide for yourself what kind of mother you want to be. Certainly it’s taken me a long time to realise that while I don’t want to be a compliant mother, I don’t want to be a drunk one, either.
Women of all ages, whether they are mothers or not, face particular pressures to be selfless. Getting drunk is not an immoral act, but it can be a self-centred one. It prompts a turning inwards, rendering a person practically incapable of being at the disposal of others. As such, I don’t think we should be too dismissive of the feminist import of female drunkenness. Intoxication permits us to access a selfishness we ought to be permitted to express in other ways, at a lower cost to ourselves and others.
Like Hathaway, I, too, am a mother who no longer drinks. This may just be my (and Anne’s) opinion, but it is far easier, in practical terms, to take care of children if you do not feel as though you are about to vomit. I’ve found other benefits, unrelated to motherhood per se, but not drinking has made me far happier with the way I parent. At the same time, I still believe mothers have a right to be self-absorbed and foolish, at least some of the time. The purpose of maternal sobriety should not be constant availability.
It’s over a year since I had my last drink, longer still since my last miserable Saturday morning, watching my sons play football while nursing a nightmare hangover. I still use my “I wish this was prosecco” mug, though. To me it says something other than “I want to be drunk”. One day we mothers, drinkers and non-drinkers alike, might have other words to express it.