Wine Mom Culture: Alcohol, Patriarchy, and Motherhood

Hello everybody! Grab your headphones and your favorite sparkling water because in today's episode, we're talking about "Mommy Wine Culture: Alcohol, the patriarchy, and motherhood." I’m about to spill some serious tea (or should I say, mocktail?) on why this topic is more than just a lighthearted meme. If you've ever felt like the mom in need of a "time out" with a glass of Chardonnay, or if you're curious about why alcohol and motherhood are such a potent mix, this episode is for you!

Whenever I write or post about this topic, I always receive at least a few private DMs from friends or followers telling me their story, and they always have a story, about their relationship with alcohol. Sometimes their messages are defensive, which is always interesting to me. But more and more women these days are examining the role alcohol plays in their life, especially as a mother.

The thing is, alcohol is completely ubiquitous. It’s everywhere. More than half of adults had a drink in the last 30 days. We drink to relax, we drink to celebrate, we drink to socialize and connect, we drink to forget and numb out, we drink out of boredom, we drink to sleep better, we drink to seem more sophisticated, we drink for fun. Alcohol is everywhere.

And unfortunately, these days, it’s also intimately connected with motherhood. In fact, the first time I ever really even thought about NOT drinking alcohol was when I was pregnant with my first baby - and then I had to PRETEND to drink so I wouldn’t get called out by my friends! I remember we were out at a bar where one of our friends was the bartender. He served everyone shots and when I took the glass but didn’t drink it, he looked at me, I looked back at him, he raised one eyebrow and smiled questioningly, I smiled right back and handed him back the shot glass and he took the shot for me and didn’t say a word.

Now, the “mommy wine culture” is something we’re all familiar with, even if we don’t know it by that name. These are all the quote unquote “funny” memes and jokes about the message that “moms need alcohol to get through motherhood.” You see t-shirts that say “Mom-osa”, wine glasses that say “mom’s turn to wine”, posts and gifs with a mom drinking behind the words, “mommy needs a time out,” and so on. There’s a sarcastic coloring book titled “mommy drinks because you cry,” a wine called Mom Juice, a wikipedia page about the phenomenon of a “Wine Mom,” Heck I’ve even posted some of them myself! Every year I’m reminded on facebook about a post I wrote in 2016 that read “Sam’s out of town this week and I’m home alone with 3 kids - send rosé!” Wine has become a symbol of relaxation and self-care for women and particularly mothers.

Some people defend wine mom culture as a form of lighthearted humor and a means of self-expression for women navigating the difficulties of motherhood. But it’s actually becoming increasingly unfunny, and there’s got to be a better way of addressing the challenges of motherhood besides drinking them away. The stats on women and alcohol are pretty grim - Research shows that alcohol use and misuse among women are increasing, and while alcohol misuse by anyone presents serious public health concerns, women who drink have a higher risk of certain alcohol-related problems compared to men. Women, compared to men, have had larger increases in alcohol-related emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths in the past 20 years. An estimated 59,000 women die from excessive alcohol use, making alcohol one of the leading preventable causes of death, and while more men still die each year from alcohol, the number of women is increasing more quickly. And in 2022 CDC researchers found that nearly 14% of pregnant people reported alcohol drinking and about 5% reported binge drinking in the past 30 days. And that’s just the people who reported it.

So today let’s talk about alcohol and motherhood. What is the cultural obsession with drinking, and how does it affect mothers? The good news is that Gen Z consumers are more sober-curious than any other generation, and I do think the whole “mommy wine culture” is on the decline, at least in the circles I run in. But alcohol is still everywhere, and I bet you can guess the social systems that support it - yup, our good old friends patriarchy, capitalism, colonialism, and white supremacy. In fact, there’s a great article I’ll link to that talks about the racial and socioeconomic dimensions of wine mom culture, noting that it predominantly features white, suburban, middle- to upper-class women, but the consequences of such portrayals can differ significantly for women of color. Quote “The same imagery that white wine moms deploy as comedy—the harried mother at the end of her rope, reaching for a nerve-steadying glass of Chardonnay—is often weaponized against Black and brown mothers. Many are all too aware that child protective services could swoop and criminalize their parenting decisions, an occurrence nicknamed “Jane Crow.”

“Wine mom culture lets white women cosplay as ‘bad moms’ because they’re given the benefit of the doubt that BIPOC moms aren’t afforded,” says Akitunde. When white women share wine mom memes, the reaction is often, ‘Of course, you’re not really a bad mom, you just play one on IG.’ ” end quote

So there’s a lot more here than just addressing some funny memes. And in fact, when I stopped drinking in 2020, I did so as a form of activism. I made some connections about alcohol as a tool of the patriarchy and decided I’d had enough. I’ll tell you my personal story about drinking later in the episode but first let’s dive into a brief history of women and alcohol so we can see where we’re coming from!
History of Women and Alcohol
Our relationship with alcohol has always been complex. There’s evidence to suggest that intentionally fermented beverages existed at least as early as the Neolithic period, about 10-12,000 years ago. Cultures in ancient Egypt, India, Babylon, Mesoamerica, China, and basically all over the world all had rituals and ceremonies where alcohol played a part. Early in the medieval period, the Catholic Church taught that alcohol was a gift of God and created to be used in moderation for pleasure, enjoyment and health, although drunkenness was viewed as a sin. Alcohol has been a cultural staple for humans for thousands of years.

Women have had their own unique history with alcohol as well. Way back in the Middle Ages, women played a significant role in brewing and selling alcohol, particularly beer. Brewing was often considered women's work, and women brewers enjoyed a form of financial independence and status within their communities. However, as societies transitioned to more patriarchal structures, women's participation in the alcohol industry became increasingly marginalized.

During the Victorian era and the early 20th century, it became socially inappropriate for women to openly consume alcohol in many Western societies. The temperance movement gained momentum, fueled by concerns about alcohol abuse and its impact on families. Women played a prominent role in the prohibition movement, advocating for the banning of alcohol sales and consumption. Temperance reformers blamed “demon rum” for corrupting American culture and leading to violence, immorality and death. Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933, and while this movement ultimately failed to eliminate alcohol entirely, it had a lasting impact on alcohol regulation and cultural attitudes toward drinking.

After World War 2, alcohol marketing began targeting women as consumers, framing alcohol consumption as a symbol of independence and empowerment. Advertisements depicted women enjoying cocktails and wine in glamorous settings, appealing to notions of sophistication and modernity. Drinking was a way to be cool, embrace our new freedom and liberation as women - we didn’t have to be stuffy depression-age housewives anymore, now we could have a martini and a cigarette! Eventually, we could have a beer at a football game, take tequila shots on the beach, have a whiskey with the guys, show off our sophistication by sniffing wine and proclaiming that we caught hints of chocolate, tree bark, or lemongrass. This marketing strategy positioned alcohol consumption as a feminist act of rebellion against traditional gender roles and societal expectations.

And this brings us to today. Globally, alcohol ad spending was over $7 billion dollars last year, and alcohol sales are nearly $750 billion. In her book "Quit Like a Woman," Holly Whitaker draws parallels between the marketing strategies used for cigarettes and alcohol, particularly in their targeting of women, and engineered controversy. What does that mean? Well, have you ever heard that a glass of red wine is good for your heart? That it’s possible to drink responsibly? This is part of engineered controversy, the cigarette industry did it for decades to muddle and confuse the public about the very clear dangers of smoking with lines like, “there isn’t enough research, nothing can be proved, etc.” The alcohol industry has a similar take. If you visit the site “” you’ll see messages like “promoting responsible alcohol decisions” and “empowered adults to make a lifetime of responsible alcohol choices as part of a balanced lifestyle.” However, as whitaker points out in her book, quote, “if you look a little closer, you’ll notice that the site is run by the foundation for advancing alcohol responsibility, and if you dig a little deeper on the site, you'll find that this organization is sponsored by the kind hearted, well-meaning folks at bacardi USA, beam suntory, brown-forman, constellation brands, diageo, edrington, jagermeister, moet hennessy usa, and pernod ricard usa,” end quote, world leaders of alcohol sales and producers. How helpful of them.

When I picked up this book in 2019, this was one of the first things that really pissed me off. I hate feeling manipulated, and it’s clear that the alcohol industry is working hard to manipulate us and it’s gotten very good at marketing to women, with Specific products and product categories were created primarily for them: sweeter, fizzier, and marketed as more ‘feminine’ drinks. When I was younger it was Zima and Mike’s Hard Lemonade, now it’s White Claw.

Besides extremely effective marketing, is there another reason alcohol consumption has been increasing over the last 20 years? An article in the NY times suggests that it’s because of social and economic stressors including poverty, stagnant or declining incomes, loss of blue-collar jobs, and disintegration of family units. Anxiety and depression are on the rise, and alcohol is frequently offered as a balm for everything. And frankly, it’s very good (at first) at numbing away those uncomfortable feelings we aren’t well equipped to deal with.

We’re all familiar with the societal pressure placed on mothers to fulfill a certain idealized image of the "perfect" mom. This image often includes being nurturing, self-sacrificing, and effortlessly managing multiple responsibilities. These expectations create immense pressure for mothers to excel in every aspect of their lives, including caregiving, household management, and career advancement. Not only are you expected to have it all, you’re expected to be perfect at it all.

And of course, this expectation is totally unrealistic and often leads to feelings of inadequacy and failure, and really has a negative effect on maternal mental health and well-being. So you have a bunch of moms out there who are struggling to cope and then you bring in an industry that delivers calculating, deliberate, and highly successful marketing to women and mothers.

And when I started to put all these pieces together, this rise in marketing toward women, the rise in anxiety and depression and the use of alcohol to numb ourselves to all the stress in our lives, this is when I started to make the connection that alcohol is actually a very effective tool of the patriarchy, and of these larger systems of domination that serve to benefit people at the top at the expense of people at the bottom.

The alcohol industry has successfully marketed alcohol as something that represents fun, freedom, independence, cool-ness, and power, and we drink it to FEEL like we embody those things.

But it's bullshit.

Alcohol does not make us more fun, free, cool, or fact, it's making us sicker and more tired, anxious, depressed, and less willing or able to raise our fists and burn the fucking system to the ground.

THAT’s how it’s a tool of the patriarchy.

Now I’m going to share my personal story of giving up alcohol, because I think my story is actually very common and might resonate with some of you.
Personal Story
I do not drink alcohol anymore. And I say that with an asterisk at the end of that statement, because there’s more to it than that, but I’ll get into those details shortly. I had my last official drink on December 26, 2020 and now, more than 3 years later, I can count the individual number of alcoholic drinks I’ve had since then.

When people ask why I’m not drinking (and to be honest, they rarely do, I’m usually the one who brings it up), I give them a different answer depending on how well I know them or how interested they seem in the answer. If it’s a casual acquaintance and I probably won’t see them again for awhile, I just tell them I’m not drinking right now, and they accept it as that i’m like on a cleanse or something. Sometimes I expand and tell them that alcohol just stopped making me feel good, that I realized I felt worse after I drank and that wasn’t worth it to me. But SOMETIMES, if it’s someone who might be really interested, I tell them the truth - I stopped drinking because I consider alcohol to be a tool of the patriarchy, and not drinking it is part of my activism. Sort of how environmentalists will be vegan to protect the planet. I don’t drink to protect women and mothers.

I used to enjoy drinking. I associated the pop of a champagne bottle with celebration, the clink of red wine glasses with date night, a cold copper mug with summer afternoons, and that warmth spreading over my shoulders after my first glass with relaxation. My husband and I used to host a monthly wine club with a group of friends, and it was always so much fun. I wasn’t ever a real partier in college; when friends were doing shots at the bar I was usually sipping mine and trying not to fall asleep. But as I got older, alcohol, especially wine, just became a part of my life, and even when I was drinking every weekend, and many days during the week, I never felt like an alcoholic. And that’s part of the problem? We’ve created this dichotomy - you’re either an alcoholic who has a problem, or you’re not. I didn’t identify as an alcoholic, therefore I didn’t have a problem with alcohol.

Except as the years went on, it became clear that alcohol wasn’t serving me anymore. Every time I drank, I’d be more irritable with the kids, wake up with puffy eyes because I slept horribly, or eat an entire bag of veggie straws by myself. I didn’t like knowing that I was willingly ingesting a neurotoxin that exacerbated my depression. And when the buzz of relaxation wore off, I felt irritable, impatient, sluggish, and usually had a headache.

None of these things were dangerous or putting me in harm's way (largely, I’m sure, due to my class and race privileges; I was rarely at risk of being in an unsafe situation). I never blacked out or did something I couldn’t remember because of alcohol. I’ve never received a DUI. None of my issues with alcohol were life-threatening, just…not great. I didn’t have a “problem” with alcohol, but it wasn’t doing anything good in my life.

When I read Quit Like A Woman by Holly Whitaker, it was like a bolt of lightning. I immediately resonated with her messaging about alcohol as a tool of patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy, but also that you didn’t need to be an “alcoholic” to realize that alcohol is still a problem.

In her book Whitaker challenges the traditional binary view of alcohol consumption, arguing that one does not need to be classified as an alcoholic to have a problematic relationship with alcohol. She says that the black-and-white thinking of either being an alcoholic or not can be harmful and stigmatizing, especially for individuals who want to reassess their drinking habits without being labeled as alcoholics. She emphasizes that society's narrow definition of alcoholism overlooks the spectrum of behaviors and attitudes towards alcohol, which may still negatively impact one's physical, mental, and emotional well-being without having the label of “alcoholic.” What she’s really doing is helping to empower individuals to reevaluate their relationship with alcohol without the fear of being labeled or judged, and to decide, is alcohol really serving me anymore? Is it actually bringing anything positive to my life? Maybe I can have a problem with alcohol, not in the way it’s been positioned before, but just because I don’t like the way it makes me feel.

I knew I wanted to take a break, so I spent most of 2020 trying to find new and different associations and habits, so I didn’t always turn to alcohol. I started doing what I call sobriety test runs - Sober October, Dry January, things like that. One bright spot of the pandemic was being unable to travel or dine out so that I wasn’t faced with the social temptations to drink! (Going out with friends, a fancy date night, or a vacation on the beach are all my Achilles heels when it comes to staying sober). Sometimes I’d cave and have a glass of wine and halfway through realize I don’t even like it, but I’d finish it anyway out of habit!

I had my last official alcoholic drink on December 26, 2020. This is actually a funny story (tell story)

Now here’s my caveat - since I officially chose to stop drinking, I HAVE had a handful of alcoholic drinks - one with my best friend during a trip to New York City, another with a group of friends on the beach. I drank Portuguese wine during a family trip to Lisbon last year, and had a glass of champagne at my friend’s wedding.

So why do I say “I don’t drink alcohol anymore?” Because it actually makes things a lot easier for me. When I was trying to drink less, I’d actually be thinking about it all the time - “am I going to drink tonight? How much? Just wine or should I have a cocktail too? I remember trying to drink only on special occasions - but heck, soon everything becomes a special occasion, there’s a holiday every month, it’s always someone’s birthday or it’s a neighborhood party, and then it becomes every Friday night to celebrate the weekend, and then it’s just part of your life.

So for me it made it a lot easier to assume the identity of someone who doesn’t drink alcohol because then I think about it less. Here’s a similar example - I don’t smoke cigarettes, I’ve never smoked cigarettes. Being a smoker is not part of my identity. So when I’m out and about and I see someone smoking, or back in the day when people used to offer me cigarettes, I wasn’t ever thinking about it and trying to decide if I should or not, I just don’t smoke.

And I now see alcohol the same way. I don’t drink, so I never have to debate myself on if I SHOULD drink this time or not. It makes it so much easier. And, if there is a TRULY special, once-in-a-lifetime occasion, like my friend’s wedding, or a trip to Portugal, I’ll accept a glass to celebrate and enjoy it wholeheartedly. If I’m only drinking once or twice a year, I’ll definitely remember the occasion! There’s two quotes in Whitaker’s book that I love, one is, quote “it isn't’ about not getting to drink, but about not having to drink.” end quote.

The other one is “Sobriety, if it is anything, is paying attention, seeing the wonder and the beauty around us that we so easily sprint by on our way to the next thing. And this is more than fun; this is actually living.” end quote

And so this idea of switching my intention of not having to drink to getting to drink, is one of the reasons I stopped using the words sober or sobriety to talk about my relationship with alcohol. I noticed a VAST difference in the way people responded to me when I say I don’t drink alcohol to when I say I’m sober. Sober has a very clear connotation with it that means, I don’t drink alcohol because I’m an alcoholic. People don’t ask you any questions when you say you’re sober, and because stopping drinking is actually an activist choice, I WANT to have conversations and have them as me questions. And, I don’t know, I definitely want to be a part of ending the stigma around admitting that alcohol doesn’t do anything good in your life, but I still felt weird about having people think I was an alcoholic. That was actually a really good self-awareness practice, to notice how I felt in response to people judging me, or at least my perception was that they were judging me, probably because of how I felt about it. So many layers!!

But because the truth is I DO drink on very tiny, infrequent occasions, and because I want to keep the dialogue open with people who might be interested to hear my take on it, I choose to say, I don’t drink alcohol any more, instead of I’m sober.
How to quit drinking
So that’s my personal story of why I stopped drinking! If you’ve gotten this far in the episode, and maybe you’re thinking you’d like to examine your relationship with alcohol, what’s next? Do you just quit drinking…forever? Well, look, I’m not a sobriety coach or expert by any means. I know that when I think about quitting FOREVER it makes me want to rebel a little and drink, so that’s not a useful framing for me. I just…don’t drink. I definitely know I’m not going to have any alcohol today, and that’s a much more realistic and helpful framing.

I have a few resources and tips to recommend if you do want to look into this deeper. First, the book I’ve referenced, Quit like a Woman by Holly Whitaker was phenomenal, and helped me a lot. Highly recommend. Also, self-reflection is really helpful. Take some time to reflect on your drinking habits, motivations for drinking, and the impact alcohol has on your life. What are your thoughts, feelings, and experiences related to alcohol? When you think of giving up drinking, how does that make you feel? Why do you think that is? Being really mindful about your relationship to alcohol helps take the next step, whatever that is. When I finally made the decision that I was done drinking, it was actually not that hard - partly because I’d been thinking about it for a long time, but partly because I felt really settled in my decision to quit, I wasn’t being forced into it by anyone else, or by a sense of guilt or shame, I just wanted to stop drinking.

Educating yourself helps too. Learn about the effects of alcohol on physical and mental health, as well as its societal and cultural influences. Holly Whitaker writes the fact that alcohol is ethanol, and here’s what wikipedia has to say about ethanol: “Ethanol is a volatile, flammable, colorless liquid with a characteristic wine-like odor and pungent taste. It is a psychoactive recreational drug, and the active ingredient in alcoholic drinks. It has modern medical applications as an antiseptic, disinfectant, solvent for some medications, and antidote for methanol poisoning and ethylene glycol poisoning.[15][16] It is used as a chemical solvent and in the synthesis of organic compounds, and as a fuel source.” end quote. It’s rocket fuel. We’re drinking rocket fuel. Learning that certainly makes it less appealing.

Then you need to find alternative activities: Explore new hobbies, interests, and social activities that do not revolve around alcohol. Seek out friends and a community of people who don’t drink. Create new habits. One of the hardest things to give up for me was the Sunday afternoon glass of rose I’d have if it was a beautiful sunny day out and my husband is grilling and my kids are playing outside. So I started making myself little “spritzers” or mocktails - my favorite is guava and mango juice mixed with ginger beer and sparkling water. Yum. I’d pour that in a wine glass and it would satisfy whatever it was that I was craving in the rose.

Additionally, you might have to develop some new coping strategies, especially if alcohol helps you manage stress and anxiety. What are some triggers that prompt you to drink? What are some possible alternative coping mechanisms you could do instead? Go for a walk? Call a friend? Drink a ginger ale? Maybe you need to talk to a therapist or seek professional support. I’ll link to a few resources in the show notes.

You also need to prepare yourself, especially in the first year, about how you’re going to handle situations where you’d normally drink. Seriously, you have to plan for this in advance, because when you’re at a party and someone hands you a glass of red wine, it’s really awkward at first to be all, “oh, no thanks, i’m not drinking alcohol” and then it’s like you hear the record scratch and the music stops and everyone stares at you and someone points and laughs like nelson on the simpsons. HA HA.

No, that actually won’t happen, I promise. Our brains are really good at imagining the worst case scenarios, so take advantage of that and come up with how you’re actually going to handle meeting a client for happy hour or going to a superbowl party or what to drink on a fancy date night or at a baby shower. My favorite is the cop out, “i’m not drinking right now,” and everyone assumes you’re on a health detox or something and they say no more. And honestly, once you actually really embrace not drinking and start talking about it more, you’ll be amazed at how many other people don’t drink alcohol either.

So that’s it my friends! There we have it. The intersection of alcohol, the patriarchy, and motherhood is a complex and multifaceted issue that warrants careful examination. As we've explored throughout this episode, alcohol consumption has deep historical roots, and the rise of "mommy wine culture" reflects not only the normalization of alcohol consumption among mothers but also the systemic pressures and expectations placed on women to fulfill the idealized image of the "perfect" mom.

Taking steps to examine and potentially alter one's relationship with alcohol requires self-reflection, education, and the cultivation of alternative coping strategies. Whether it's exploring new hobbies, seeking out supportive communities, or seeking professional guidance, there are numerous resources available to individuals who choose to navigate their sobriety journey. By reframing our understanding of alcohol and motherhood and challenging societal norms, we can work towards dismantling the patriarchal structures that perpetuate harmful drinking patterns and prioritize the well-being of women and mothers.

Wine Mom Culture: Alcohol, Patriarchy, and Motherhood
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