True Science Facts About Booze and Broads!

by Shaker Ethyl, a geologist and feminist who lives, much to her dismay, in Upstate New York. Special Friend Holocene is a feminist ally and biologist in the Pittsburgh area and has been Ethyl's BFF since before the dawn of time (i.e., those dark ages before the internet).

[Trigger warning.]

In recent "Today in Fat Hatred" installments we've noted some of the ways in which scientists can allow their prejudices to influence their work. Unfortunately, as we all know, it's not just obesity research that suffers from the insidious intrusion of the kyriarchy into what is idealized as a strenuously objective enterprise. A recent article from the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) of all places really drives this home.
Spring break season is here and many teenage girls may be tempted to take their first drink. The AAAS Science Inside Alcohol Project suggests that parents, teachers and caregivers help girls delay that drink by telling them of scientific research that shows they may be more vulnerable than boys to alcohol-related problems.
I'll leave aside the vague and undefined "alcohol-related problems" for the moment to address instead the purported reasons that girls "may be more vulnerable" to them.
• Girls have less water in their bodies than boys. Girls have a slightly higher proportion of fat to lean muscle tissue, concentrating alcohol more easily in their lower percentage of body water. This means they become intoxicated faster after drinking less alcohol.

• Girls have fewer enzymes to break alcohol down. Alcohol dehydrogenases are a group of seven enzymes that help break down alcohol so the body processes it. Girls have fewer of them, so it is not as easy for their bodies to metabolize the alcohol they drink.

• Girls are smaller and often weigh less than boys. When drinking the same amount as a boy, a girl will experience a quicker rise in her blood-alcohol level, and she may stay intoxicated for a longer period of time. Girls who drink heavily can be at greater risk for alcohol poisoning because it takes less alcohol for them to get really sick.
So...about these facts. The first thing I did after reading this article and deciding to write a post on it was to get with my biologist friend (code name: Holocene) to do some fact-checking. According to Holocene, the True Science Facts are generally true—women tend to have differences in body type that seem to be able to affect how much alcohol is kicking around in one's bloodstream—but he noted, however, that there are also plenty of other variables (age, race, body type, etc.), and there's much that is not known about the ways in which our bodies process alcohol. So how much can one really generalize these True Science Facts to an entire population of people…? Never mind that! If one's agenda is not, in fact, the health and safety of humans but instead the prevention of damage to one's property, then the conclusions make a lot more sense.

My suspicions as to the agenda behind these True Science Facts were further aroused by the fact that they all, aside from bullet 3 there, seem to focus on how fast women can get drunk, without focusing on why that might be a bad thing. It's taken as read that being drunk is inherently bad—well, bad for women at least.

And of course, my suspicions as to the agenda behind these True Science Facts are entirely upheld with the last bullet point:
• Girls often prefer sweeter, carbonated mixed drinks. Such drinks can speed up the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.
This...this is my current favorite True Science Fact. Holocene could find nothing at all to support either the claim about women's preference in alcoholic beverages, or the assertion that these types of drinks are likely to make women drunker faster.

Shockingly, it almost seems as if someone took their preconceived notions of what women drink and made science out of it. But no, this is the AAAS, they wouldn't do that, would they? These must be True Science Facts if the AAAS says so!

But wait! There are more True Science Facts for our edumacation!
If those points don't sell girls on abstention or drinking less, here's another reason: Boys don't like it when girls drink heavily, according to David J. Hanson, professor emeritus of sociology at the State University of New York at Potsdam and a member of the Science Inside Alcohol Project's advisory board.
And I was just beginning to wonder: Where are the boys in all this? Oh right. Turning up their noses at girls who drink (unless it's to target them), because girls who drink are dirtybadwrong and probably sluts to boot, whereas boys who drink are just having a bit of fun, right? These are True! Science! Facts!

Also a True Science Fact: Girls should do and not do things based on what boys think of that behavior. I know the only reason I myself pretend to enjoy craft beers is because I think it makes "boys" like me!

What about girls who like girls? Or boys who like boys? Or people who are not interested in a romantic or sexual relationship at all? Or even just people who don't focus their entire lives on what someone else thinks of them? And what makes this David J. Hanson person believe this, anyway?
On his "Alcohol Problems & Solutions" Web site, Hanson discussed a recent study in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors that found seven out of 10 of the college-age women surveyed thought their male peers wanted them to have five drinks during social occasions, while the men preferred they drink half that or less.
Okay, it doesn't take a ton of scientific understanding to note the enormous piles of cultural baggage that are inherent in a study asking women what they think men want from them, and following that up by asking men what they want from women. This result, IMO, is not surprising, but I think maybe it doesn't mean what Hanson thinks it means.
"Not only does alcohol affect girls' bodies differently from boys, the result of heavy drinking can be a turn-off for boys," says Hanson. "Boys don't want to take care of a girl who is drunk."
Wow. That is...that is quite a statement there. I mean really, there is much that could be discussed regarding expectations and pressures to drink for people of any gender, especially in college. The study Hanson mentions could even be used to explore some of these issues. But to leap to the conclusion from the data he quoted that "boys don't like it when girls drink heavily," and that "boys don't want to take care of a girl who is drunk" says far more about Hanson and his prejudices than it does about These Girls These Days. Because, in Hanson's world, women only ever do things to appear attractive to men, and the way to keep them from doing things that are unattractive to men is to use our favorite tools—shame and fear!

And of course, all of this totally ignores the actual really true fact that could be actually really helpful for people in environments where alcohol is being consumed: That serial rapists on college campuses operate with a clear MO, and frequently use alcohol to incapacitate their victims. But of course Mr. Hanson would probably not rape anybody, so the worst thing he can think of is "having to take care of" a drunk "girl." Sheesh.

So there's a lot that's bad here, but it feels like the worst part is that this article is from the AAAS, an organization who:
seeks to "To advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people."
I guess those "all people" don't, as usual, include women. Typically, the use of fear and shame to keep those pesky womenfolk constrained to roles that men approve of is the "benefit" that is being sought here.

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