“I generally think women are not willing to take the risk of bringing up that subject because they’ll be judged by that other person. It’s also a social fear of being judged by other women and other men as well. There’s a connotation with marijuana, that lazy stoner attitude, and women already have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good.” - Sabrina Fendrick of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Women’s Alliance.
Recently, Hayley Krischer penned an article for Alternet posing the question, “why are women ashamed of admitting their marijuana smoking behavior?” The article addresses the issue of stigma and the idea that intoxication culture itself is highly gendered, with women’s intoxication only being accepted under certain circumstances, like being a talk show host (e.g. Hoda and Kathie Lee swigging wine on national TV at 10 a.m. in the morning). The article brings up an important and inherently larger issue, what do our gendered norms around intoxication say about our beliefs around gender roles in society?
Krischer states that, “Women generally don’t want to discuss their habit out of fear of being judged or compared to a cartoon.” I think it’s more complicated than that. Women have historically been portrayed as cartoonish archetypes, and it is the TYPE of cartoon that dictates the evolving stigma.
Take, for instance, a cartoon depicting a tired mother of two who has a million things on her plate and is too worn out to do them all. Enter stimulants! In the days of yore (1950’s and 60’s), stimulants were not uncommonly prescribed for a woman who needed a little pep in her step to keep her family and husband well cared for.
In today’s world, we read of mother’s swiping their children’s Ritalin and Adderall for this same purpose. Stigma? Not really, after all, coffee and Red Bull are available over the counter, with no age restrictions.
How about a cartoon with a woman who has ideas and thoughts and dreams, and expresses these consistently to co-workers and her spouse? She questions authority and refuses to take things at face value. She might be framed as aggressive, outspoken and opinionated.
The answer? In the days of yore it was benzodiazepines, highly addictive depressants prescribed by doctors. Today it is Zoloft, Valium and Xanax, all designed to calm a raging heart and an over active mind.
In the above two scenarios, the outcomes related to female intoxication (productivity and passivity) fit perfectly into society’s view of what a woman should be. As a result, the stigma against taking a stimulant to be productive and a depressant to calm oneself down is minimal.
However, consider another cartoon in which a woman fights the pressure to devote herself to the care of her children and husband, who is not even sure she wants to get married, let alone have children. A woman who is determined to break through the glass ceiling, and to keep herself physically, emotionally and spiritually strong and independent in spirit. A woman who does not embrace organized religion, but rather chooses to develop her own spiritual path. A woman who is curious, inquisitive and skeptical and more than willing to pose a question and demand an answer - even to a man in power.
Now, imagine if this woman rejected the stimulants and depressants that so many of her sisters had accepted, and instead chose cannabis. Research shows that these are the types of women who choose cannabis, and that cannabis magnifies the desire to question, learn and possibly reject social norms.
This cartoon scares the men who run this country, because in THIS cartoon, unlike the others, the woman is a true threat to the paternalistic paradigm that has so far ruled the land.
Amanda Reiman is a policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.