Definitions of gender disparity
According to the World Health Organisation, there are two gender policies we should strive for:
Gender equality: The absence of discrimination on the basis of a person’s sex in opportunities, the allocation of resources and benefits, or access to services.
Gender equity: Fairness and justice in the distribution of benefits and responsibilities between women and men. The concept recognizes that women and men have different needs and power, and that these differences should be identified and addressed in a manner that rectifies the imbalance between the sexes.
How toxic disparity started
For thousands of years, it was a commonly accepted social ritual for men to become intoxicated in public, especially during festivities. Women always had to be more discreet, as their traditional roles in communities exposed them to severe social stigmas. This established a culture that tolerated over-indulgent males, but had strict rules for females, even after women’s roles started changing.
Historically, men were the physically dominant breadwinners and heads of households. In ancient times, they lived in caves, but were roaming hunters and fighters. Later, civilisation made life easier, but they were still the main providers and the ones who had to leave the comfort of home to do their work. In exchange for their vital services and exertions, they were exempted from routine household chores at home. In time, intoxication became one of their “privileges” when they were off duty.
Traditionally, women took care of cleaning the house, cooking, mending clothes and looking after children. When the men left, women stayed and attended to these duties. When the men returned, they could take a break, but the women had to carry on working. When a neighbour’s wife fell ill, they had to look after her family, on top of their own. Women were expected to be on duty at all times, and female intoxication was seen as a moral flaw that disrupted society.
Historical evidence shows that communities were always highly prejudiced against “indulgent” women. Until a few decades ago, in many countries, women were not allowed in pubs, bars or male-only social clubs, and if they were observed to be “tipsy”, even in the privacy of their own homes, they became the targets of social punishment.
Temptation and therapy for females
Recently, the social and institutional scenario changed dramatically and western women no longer have to adhere to the draconic old rules. As most women are now contributing to household incomes and are also gaining recognition in other formerly male dominions, historical taboos are fading. Women still have significant family obligations, but now have more freedom of choice and enjoy more social levity, including far wider social acceptance of female alcohol and drug usage.
The easing of virtual prohibition of female alcohol consumption does not necessarily mean that it will produce more substance use disorders (SUD); but it does mean that more women will reach out for help. There is already a dramatic increase in the number of female SUD patients going for treatment. Women feel more confident to talk about SUD without being penalised by society. Greater sensitivity and judicial reforms also make it easier for them to access rehab centres.
Despite negative activist comments in the push for reform, and thanks to digital communication and the wave of awareness campaigns about stereotyping, most people have become open-minded and no longer harbour old distortions about gender restrictions. However, while the rules have softened, a degree of gender apprehension still exists. This means that some women who develop substance use disorders may still remain secretive about it or refuse to accept help for it.
Discrimination does not always come from outside sources. Self-discrimination, also called self-stigmatisation, is common and can sometimes be more destructive than the judgments and accusations of other people. It is an internal feeling that causes people to blame themselves for what they believe to be signs of their own inadequacy, inferiority, moral failure, sins, and so on.
Self-discrimination by female SUD victims may be spill-overs from the old, outdated social dispensation, when people blindly passed on obscure mainstream opinions. As the cultural turnaround really only started making noticeable headway a few years ago, there are still damaging traces of the old influences left. However, not all self-stigmas are due to old social dogmas. Some are caused by attribution, disappointment, anxiety, depression, and so forth.
If a woman with SUD is still hampered by traditional bias, or if they fear some kind of reprisal, then a therapist can intervene and explain the situation to them, their families, employers, or whoever needs enlightenment. They can also refer them to legal resources if they fear things like financial problems or losing custody over children. Women now have more resources available to overcome SUD and there is much more empathy with their plight.
There is a risk that some SUD victims may take advantage of the outcry against gender stereotyping and abuse it to deny a valid substance use disorder. Such a diversionary tactic could even attract support from uninformed sympathisers. This is a potential risk that can harm them if it succeeds.
If there is doubt about a person’s disposition, the person should be properly diagnosed by a qualified therapist.
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