Two weeks ago I went to Tesco and saw early bird Christmas shoppers. One man pushing his trolley alongside mine had it literally filled with bottles of wine.
This picture was for me a prelude to the alcohol related issues presented by Irish media.
It unsurprisingly made me think of children and the impact our social role modelling has on them regarding alcohol consumption.
Last week I listened to heartbreaking story of Natasha Eddery – the daughter of Pat Eddery – national legendary jockey, who died at the age of 63. She spoke about her father’s drinking problem and how it impacted on her and her family.
Few days after this account, RTE1 invited an expert to the Morning programme and discussed alcohol consumption during Christmas and how difficult it becomes for families who have a man in the family drinking far too much.
I then looked at the statistics and reports published by national charity Alcohol Action Ireland and realised how scary they are. From alcohol related crimes, health issues, problems caused within families, to mental health and suicide. To quote only two of the issues reported: ‘One in four deaths of young men aged 15-39 in Ireland is due to alcohol’. ‘Seven in ten men in Ireland who drink are drinking in a way which is already causing damage to their health’.
Men are much more exposed to alcoholism and it starts very early in their lives.* In fact it starts in our heads where we create socially accepted images of what real man should and shouldn’t be doing. There is much going on in our society to tackle damaging images we produce about woman, LGBT communities, ethnic groups. I believe we are moving in a right direction of developing equal and inclusive society. But at the same time I can’t see much going on about changing traditional, well established expectations towards men and their way of expressing themselves and their emotions.
Since my son, who is nearly 12 months old, was born I heard comments, like: ‘proper boy’ and ‘that’s what boys do’, referring to his busyness or adventurous behaviour. And from the same people I also heard (talking about some common friend) that he drank beer like a proper man. These words are worrying me, because they are expressing socially accepted expectation towards man, and boys who will be pressurised to grow into ‘proper man’: you should drink and you should know how to drink. That’s what man do here.
It starts with small signals sent to small boys: naughty, busy, less patient and less attentive than girls – that’s only few examples of how boys are perceived and unconsciously encouraged to behave. Then it moves towards being strong, brave and ‘dealing with emotions like a man’. These boys have also a role models – their fathers, uncles, cousins – who in vast majority are frequent and intense alcohol consumers. It is so obvious, that people who don’t drink really stand out, often being perceived as strange.
These boys are then becoming teenagers who have alcohol easily available as the way of belonging to the social group, as an escape from difficulties, as a risk factor which becomes very attractive.
This is how our society prepares us to go through transition to adulthood.
We all know it, but at the same time we don’t do anything about it.
But there is a link between terrible statistics and the way we think about our boys.
It comes from generations and we can change it by challenging the unconscious images and expectations, which occupy our minds and slip out through simple and ‘innocent’ comments.
*Unfortunately I can’t say that woman are free from drinking problems. There is a growing number of woman catching up on alcoholism and binge drinking. Alcohol become unquestionable part of our lives, being marketed as the best partner for virtually every occasion. Nevertheless it is not traditionally a ‘woman’s thing’ and this post focuses on a tradition influencing men’s drinking habits. For more on women’s drinking visit:
Click to access womenSubstanceAlcohol.pdf