I’m a mom. In the evenings, I like to relax with a glass of wine. No big deal. Or so I would have thought.
Since having my child, I’ve become increasingly aware that our culture tends to portray mothers as obsessed with wine, and for all the wrong reasons. Attitudes toward mothers who drink tend to fall into two camps. The first is the hand-wringing camp; its members bemoan the mothers whose love of wine goes too far. On the other end of the cultural spectrum are the endless products and memes that celebrate wine as “mommy’s little helper.” And both of these are deeply, deeply flawed.
Let’s start with the first. Google “mom drinks too much” and you’ll find no shortage of confessional essays and articles warning of the dangers of excessive drinking. Many address moms directly, something you don’t find with dads. Search “dad drinks too much” and most results are from adult kids wondering how to confront their fathers, not direct appeals to the fathers themselves.
But the double standard isn’t just among internet scribes. It extends all the way to U.S. health officials. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention caught backlash last year for what many people felt were sexist guidelines for alcohol consumption. The CDC recommended that any sexually active woman of childbearing age abstain from drinking entirely unless she’s using birth control. Its condescending infographic listed “injuries/violence,” STDs, and unplanned pregnancy as risks for any woman who drinks at all. As if it’s a woman’s fault if she doesn’t guard herself against violence, or her sole responsibility to practice safe sex!
In fact, contrary to what you might believe if you relied on the infographic, the vast majority of women maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol. Indeed, the very same CDC reports that binge drinking is twice as prevalent among men as among women. And the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism confirms that alcohol use disorders are twice as prevalent among men. For every report on excessive drinking in moms, we should theoretically be seeing at least twice as many articles begging Dad to reconsider that additional beer. But, of course, we don’t.
Language highlighting women’s childbearing potential is part of the problem. The CDC’s guidelines are there to protect unborn – indeed, unknown – fetuses from a mother’s glass of wine with dinner. But choosing to emphasize a woman’s responsibility to a not-yet-conceived baby is worse than a double standard. It reiterates the harmful idea that a woman’s worth is not in her humanity, but in her ability to serve as a healthy, sober vessel for life. The CDC’s guidelines for women’s drinking are positively medieval.
This is some pretty upsetting stuff. I’m guessing we could all use a drink right about now. But then you get the other side of the spectrum. Giddy roundups emblazon wine bottles over everything, as if women have no other interests or hobbies. Wine labels poke fun at the everyday struggles of motherhood. It’s easy to find activities that tack on free wine as a way to entice moms.
On a practical level, sloshing wine into any moms’ gathering is problematic for women who do struggle with alcohol issues. Being a new mother is isolating enough without having to explain why you’re not drinking at mom’s yoga. But even for women who imbibe, the broader social image of the wine-loving mom is often a damaging one.
Making “mommy loves wine” a knowing, catch-all reference for a certain type of snarky, laissez-faire motherhood often turns mothers into the butt of the joke. The focus shifts away from the messy house or demanding kids who apparently drive mothers to drink. It’s disheveled, disorganized Mom herself, self-soothing with an oversized glass that she clutches like a sippy cup. She’s drinking an adult beverage, but both her glee over her treat and petulant sulking if she doesn’t get it make her look more like a child.
We all know motherhood is messy, tedious, and labor-intensive. The mistake a lot of companies seem to make is assuming moms swig rosé for the alcohol the same way we gulp cold coffee for a morning caffeine hit.
But I’m not just annoyed by another patronizing image of a frazzled mommy. Frankly, it’s insulting to the wine, too.
A key part of wine’s appeal is its complexity. The grapes, the terroir, and the art and chemistry of fermentation reveal signature notes. Experts examine every detail, from the bouquet to the legs to, finally, each subtlety of flavor. Enjoying wine is about appreciating nuance.
I don’t pretend to be a sommelier. I’ve never picked up a bottle and said, “Oh, that was a good year for California Chardonnay.” But I know the basics of pairing dinner or cheese with a complementary glass. One of the pleasures of reaching for Cabernet Sauvignon at the end of the day rather than, say, a jar of Nutella, is indulging in a soupçon of sophistication. I’m not licking frosting off a butter knife. I’m reading the label, trying to identify the promised “red currants and vanilla” in my sip.
Sometimes a glass of wine is a way to remind myself that even if I don’t have energy to discuss The Atlantic’s latest feature tonight, I won’t be relegated to singsong board books forever. I’m not a body that may or may not house more kids, or a mommy stretched to the breaking point. I’m an adult, trying to feel like one at the end of a long day.