Gender double standards abound in many aspects of life. This we know. When it comes to parents imbibing alcohol, there's a major discrepancy between the perception of dads who crack open a beer at the end of the day and moms who unwind with wine. Why should women bear the brunt of societal side-eye while dads get a pass? Let's investigate and together say 'back off, meddlers, and leave our bar carts alone'.

By Kelly Bryant
October 18, 2019
Illustration by Sarina Finkelstein; Getty Images (2)

It’s an idea immortalized by classic television shows—a father comes home from a long day at work, sits in his recliner, and kicks back with a cold brewski. No one makes a big deal out of it. Dad works hard. This is his evening ritual. Nary an eyebrow is raised.

Cut to the year 2016 when the feature film Bad Moms hit movie theaters. What makes them bad moms, you ask? They drink wine (granted, in some scenes, an unhealthy amount). They use foul language. They bring store-bought goods to the school bake sale. Yes, these moms were breaking the “rules”...and real moms ate it up. Because, you see, we're more than the ancillary character in a classic sitcom who swoops in to place a coaster under a man's beer to prevent a ring on a coffee table. We're people with likes and dislikes similar to the ones we held dear before tiny humans ruled our lives.

And, yes, sometimes those likes involve wine, cocktails, or even beer (because, spoiler alert, women like beer, too). But here’s the thing: Not everyone got the memo that just because we have added the Mom gig to our personal resumes doesn’t mean we should live a life devoid of alcohol. Yet somewhere along the line women had to band together to form "wine mom culture." It feels like a sort of weapon against the societal pressure that perhaps we shouldn't get so comfortable with that glass of Sauvignon Blanc while preparing dinner (or anywhere else for that matter). 

How did we get here? Jeff K. Larsen, M.A., MFT, a psychotherapist and addiction expert based in San Diego, California sees this as part of the larger issue of society’s issues with sexism.

“Women are often judged too harshly for engaging in certain activities or having certain emotions,” says Larsen. “Women who are angry are judged as bitchy and women who just need a break from the daily stress of a job or being a full-time stay-at-home mom are judged as being lazy or shirking their responsibilities. Women have always been judged more critically when it comes to drinking. Wine moms are lushes. Beer dads are collegial.”

Discussing this bias with a mom friend (coincidentally over a glass of rosé), we came to the conclusion that this has everything to do with women being held to a higher standard in the parenting realm. And there are thousands of memes on the internet that back up this idea. After all, if dad is in the kitchen, who is a child going to ask for a snack? Mom...who is on the opposite side of the house. 

“For many years, the notion that women should be seen as ‘well-behaved caretakers’ still persist,” says Keeley Teemsma, MA, MSW, LCSW, AATP, founder and CEO of Refresh Psychotherapy in New York City. “Even if we disagree with these notions on personal, logical, and philosophical levels, our environment and items that we have observed over the years have made imprints on our brains and we have adopted these ideas as our own, sometimes without even realizing it. These notions have become powerful social controls.”

Curious, I also considered those cashing in on us “bad moms” and our dedication to drinking what we want.. So I turned to Etsy, purveyors of all things cute and kitschy. I searched the term “wine mom” and was met with a slew of ubiquitous products appealing to the ladies of the grape: T-shirts with taglines like, “It takes a village and a vineyard,” Mommy Juice stemless glasses, and socks with the message, “If you can read this, bring me wine.” Interestingly, a search for “beer dad” turned up strikingly different results: Matching t-shirt and onesie for dad and baby that depicts them as “Drinking Buddies,” with a beer bottle illustration for the big guy and a milk bottle for junior. There were beer steins proclaiming “Best Dad Ever.” And don’t forget the engraved bottle openers that read, “Best Dad in the World.” Can you imagine a corkscrew that says, “Mom of the Year”? I can’t, unless the vendor is being facetious. 

Melissa Franckowiak, M.D., of Lockport, New York, also attributes the proclivity to judge moms more harshly for drinking than dads to the differences in parenting expectations—moms need to be "on" more hours of the day than dads so there's no time for her to indulge in a glass of anything, really. 

“According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, women make up half of the workforce," she says. "They also do more than half the household work and participate more in unpaid volunteer activities such as school and community work than men. If anyone deserves to crack open a cold one or uncork a nice pinot, it's Mom. It's an adult choice no matter which gender enjoys an alcoholic beverage, and one that shouldn't come with the stigma of needing to cope by calling it ‘mommy juice,’ or suggesting that as soon as the kids are off to the bus, mom needs to get into a bottle.”

Dr. Franckowiak also warns that “for both genders, alcohol is involved in many household accidents including both adults and children." Both mom and dad have parenting and household responsibilities. While each unit may tackle different tasks, one responsible drink for mom makes her no less capable than one similar drink for dad. The bottom line is assessing a situation and making responsible decisions that lead to positive outcomes, regardless of gender.

Just because Franckowiak is sympathetic to the bias, she’s not an advocate of drinking, noting that no amount of alcohol for either gender is the best amount, because at the end of the day, alcohol isn’t doing male or female bodies any real favors.

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