Why does it matter that teenage girls drink more than teenage boys?

Can we live

In another display of sexist journalism, newspapers up and down the UK are reporting the shocking news that ‘Teenage girls in the UK are ‘worst in the world’ for getting drunk’. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Britain has the largest gender gap when it comes to drinking at the tender age of 15. In fact the gap is 26 per cent of boys aged 15 admitting to being drunk at least twice, and 31 per cent of girls admitting the same.

This sensationalised headlines ignore the overall better news – more than a quarter of 16 to 24 year olds, according to official statistics, have stopped drinking or never even tried alcohol. This shows a trend towards less alcohol being consumed by young people – in fact this is 40 per cent higher than the figures from 2005.

Despite the fact that these figures were aimed at younger teenagers, it’s a stereotype which prevails well into adulthood. Shock, horror, girls are drunk and therefore fundamentally unladylike. Why exactly do we expect boys to drink more? Why is a bunch of drunk boys somehow more OK, easier to stomach, than the same group of drunk girls? One answer may come from the social expectations; the Daily Mail calls young female drinkers ‘ladettes’ with a hint of derision.

It’s even more unfair to link drinking to women’s mental health statistics – especially as the new figures focus on only having been drunk twice in your life. Mind, the mental health charity, issued a comment suggesting that “economic uncertainty, debt, unemployment and poverty” may be more to do with the rising mental health statistics than having a few WKDs in a park.

The article even says that nearly a quarter of young women have self-harmed, and three times as many girls as boys show worrying symptoms. Shouldn’t this be more of concern to adults than us getting a bit drunk on a Saturday night and having fun?

It’s a classic attitude held by many of the baby boomer or older generations that anyone who falls into the bracket of ‘millennial’ is a drunk, drug-using, waste of space. I can’t tell you the number of times my own parents told me stories of going straight down the pub after school whilst studying for their O Levels, so to suggest this is a current problem is very misleading.

Finally, getting drunk twice as a teenager doesn’t make someone an alcoholic. The first time I ever got drunk was at a family barbeque on wine and Pimms that was directly handed to me by members of my incredibly normal and sensible family. The connotations of suggesting young women ‘abuse alcohol’ conjures up mental images of preteens on all night ragers, going clubbing or at dodgy house parties. I would wager that a fair number of these people who have got drunk may have done it in the presence of at least one family member or ‘responsible’ adult.

Ultimately this is just the latest way for the media and society to criticise women for everything they do. Leave us alone to have fun how we want. So what if we drink more than guys? It just means we’re more fun on a night out.