Category Archives: alcohol

Advice by moonlight

It’s 12:47 at night on Monday (Tuesday?).   Mondays are Mondays, which means it’s hard to get up in the morning, and they are long days, full of meetings, catching up on email, figuring out what I said I’d do over the weekend and didn’t, regular work, and then the highlight of my week, an hour with the kiddles at 826Michigan, followed by pub trivia.

This Monday was enhanced by a ribbon cutting ceremony at the library (a rather moving one at that), the excitement of losing my purse (I think/hope I know where I left it), and a young writer more interested in bolting out the door than crafting his personal nemesis.  So the columns, all in all, were left by the wayside until 12:47 or, by now, 12:50, when I’m tired but not sleepy.

And thus I offer a quick drive-by-fruiting (Mrs. Doubtfire?  Anyone?) of Prudence’s Monday live chat–which I always forget about until 12:47, or, by now, 12:51 on Monday (Tuesday?).

As Prudence says each week, (except, of course, this week when I want to quote it): Let’s get to it!


Yikes.  After reading the first three chat participants, I’m not sure “drive by fruiting” is the best approach after all.  Some pretty heavy stuff in this week’s chat.  Here’s a rundown, anyway, with key quotes included and sassy commentary withheld.  Have a look, if you want to read about:

  • “One of my close friends just announced his engagement to a woman he’s been dating for a few years. We’re happy for him, but many of us can’t shake the feeling that he’s making a mistake. In essence, the woman makes fun of him a lot in front of his friends, and not in a loving way.”
  • “A few months ago, my husband raped me in the middle of the night. He was asleep during the attack, and he believes that it is a disorder called sexsomnia…I feel like I will never be able to get over this and I will live in constant fear for the rest of my life…To make matters worse, I have recently started having an affair, because I needed someone to take away all of the pain….I still care about my husband, and I want to honor the commitment I made to him, but when I look at him all I see is a monster. Is there any hope that I can fall in love with him again, or should I cut ties and move on?”
  • “If you have done whatever you can to get any kind of income and you haven’t been able to find a stable job, do you take it as a sign that perhaps you’re supposed to be unemployed? I’m at my wits’ end, and this is how I’m thinking, more to save my sanity than anything else. What do you think?”
  • I work in a small, close-knit office. There is one “boss” to speak of, but we all work mostly independently. Most of our staff have advanced college degrees. My problem occurs during lunchtime. There have been quite a few times that the “boss” reaches on my plate and takes some food.

Thank God!  Something petty, at last!  From that point on, the chat is all over the map, with the nasty relatives, nosy friends, speech disorders, adultery, boozing, housekeeping (and lack thereof) and lazy co-workers we all like to see.

Not much cheery or inspirational in Prudence this week, I’m afraid.  Tell your friends not to marry jerks, ignore the jerks in your own lives, and do your jobs, everyone!  Happy Tuesday.  Since it’s now 1:08.


The Pragmatic vs. the Political

I’ve been sitting on this post for awhile, ruffling and unruffling my feathers and trying to think about what I want to say. The right “moment” has probably already passed–but I’ll give it a shot anyway.

It’s been a season of feminist blogger backlash against the advice columns. It started with restless rumbling against Lucinda Rosenfeld’s harsh critique of a young woman left in the street, drunk, by her so-called friends. Right on the stilettos of this one came Hess vs. Garner regarding Eva, who had been raped (but was reconsidering calling it that) by her boss, was raising the child that resulted from that assault, and wanted help winning back her ex-husband, who left her when she chose not to terminate the pregnancy.

But the bs really hit the fan, so to speak, the day after Thanksgiving, when Amy Dickinson advised a college student who was sexually assaulted at a frat party.

The key points of Amy’s response were:
1) Making the decision to drink to the point where judgement and inhibitions are impaired is never wise–and that’s something you can choose to control
2) According to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, no matter what state either of you were in, if you did not consent to have sex, and it happened anyway, that’s rape
3) You must seek physical treatment and emotional support immediately through the resources available at your university.
4) Find a way to tell this dude that someone is onto him, and that whether his behavior is deliberately, violently malicious or terrifyingly, alcoholically ignorant, it’s not going to fly under the radar anymore.

The bloggers went to town on this one (among them, Hortense at, meloukhia of This Ain’t Livin’, Amanda Hess at The Sexist, and ginmar at A View From a Broad, henceforth, “the bloggers”), all of them generally re-stating Amy’s response this way:

“Yeah. That’s right. You stupid slut, you made your bed, now go lie in it. Everyone knows that going to parties at frat houses will result in rape, or sex that you will regret, and no self-respecting lady would ever attend such a party, for this very reason.” (that’s meloukhia)

Arrrrrrrrrgh. OK.

I think the advice columns are a fantastic source for social activists of any kind to identify the problems that burden our society. And rape on college campuses is certainly one one of them. I’m all for re-purposing these columns, pushing them out there to raise awareness, to be sure that men, women, parents, and children know that this is happening, and must change. There’s a social and political cause here, for sure.

But I maintain that for the advice columnists, the pragmatic comes before the political.

Amy is pretty cutthroat, no doubt. I agree with the bloggers that her first line, “Were you a victim? Yes. First, you were a victim of your own awful judgment,” probably did not make “Victim(?) in Virginia” feel much better. That’s her style–she’s not a coddler. Carolyn Hax might have started the column with, “I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through, and the pain and uncertainty you’re struggling with.” But guess what? I suspect she would have followed it up with very similar advice.

Frankly, I’m not sure Amy is in a position to say, “yes, you were raped. ” In any case, it’s clear she didn’t feel she was in a position to say it. She’s not a doctor, a lawyer, or a psychologist. She’s never met or spoken to Victim, or heard more about what happened than, he quickly proceeded to go against what he ‘promised,’” which doesn’t give a lot of medical or legal information. It doesn’t help that the whole thing is clouded by (possibly illegal) consumption of alcohol (possibly by both parties).

This is so often the case, and I think must be the hardest part of being an advice columnist: rarely, if ever, can they safely diagnose. They can’t confirm that your spouse is cheating, they can’t tell you to definitely have that baby, they can’t help you get a girlfriend, and they don’t know whether you were raped. What they can do, and what most of them are quite good at (in different ways) is break down an overwhelming event into comprehensible chunks, and make recommendations for moving forward.

Another harsh truth of advice columns is that they can only advise the person who wrote to them. It does no good to say “Your mother-in-law sounds like a real bitch, she shouldn’t treat you that way” or “This criminal needs to stop raping people.” The mother-in-law and the criminal don’t care. All the columnist can offer is perspective and choices for the person who wrote.

So bloggers, use these columns to your heart’s content! Please draw notice to the fact that even in this day and age, a young woman can be sexually assualted, and the only place she can think to turn is a stranger, a face she’s seen in the newspaper. People need to know that. And we need to fix it. But keep in mind when you do that that face in the newspaper is trying to provide useful, accurate, honest guidance to an unknown person, on a terrible, delicate situation about which she has only 2 paragraphs of vague information–and about the same amount of space to respond.

You can expand upon, repurpose, and even totally disagree with what the columnist says, while respecting the fact that your audiences and purposes are very different ones. You can take a different tack, make something more of a column that you thought was fundamentally weak, without calling the original writer “one part incredible bitch and one part cover-your-ass scold” (that was ginmar).

For the record–I think Amanda Hess does that really well this time. She’s clearly disgusted by Amy’s response, but her commentary is nevertheless precise, logical and nuanced.

The trouble is, when you get so worked up about criminalizing the columnist, you force yourself to make everything black and white, to disparage everything she says for the sake of being right. For example, meloukhia is affronted that Amy didn’t “provide [the victim] with any resources beyond a tepid recommendation to go to the college health clinic.” Ok…the college health clinic is free, it’s on campus, they’re trained in dealing with students, and they could refer her to local doctors, hospitals, or rape crisis centers with much greater expertise than Amy could. What’s wrong with this recommendation, and how is a directive to go there “tepid”? I don’t get it.

And finally…..(drumroll)…..I admit it: I don’t think Amy’s reinforcing rape culture by agreeing with Victim that her choices weren’t good ones. I believe (subtlety again, look out!) that there’s a difference between, “this probably could have been avoided” and “you deserved what you got, you hussy.”

I don’t believe that anything you do or don’t do, say or don’t say, wear or don’t wear, means you deserve or are asking to be assualted. I do believe that there are choices that make it more likely to happen.

Let me be clear: I am not saying women should wear habits, keep a 9 p.m. curfew, and avoid direct eye contact with men, lest the men be aroused beyond their control. I am saying that everything we do, and everywhere we go, falls somewhere on the spectrum of risk to our well-being: we could be hit by a car, we could get food poisoning in the cafeteria, we could meet a stranger in a dark alley–or an untrustworthy charmer at a party. The answer, of course, is not to cower under our beds (after all, the roof could cave in). But the responsibility to calculate those risks, and choose to take them on, or not, with a clear mind, lies with each of us alone.

Women have fought for autonomy, on college campuses and off, for years. Female college students have insisted, rightfully of course, that parents, house moms, dates, RAs, and older brothers have no place dictating, or even knowing, where we go, what we do, and when, even though just a few decades ago that wasn’t the case. But the corollary is that the responsibility for those choices is ours and ours alone. Being the victim of sexual assault is absolutely not any woman’s fault or rightful punishment. But choosing whether to isolate herself, while incapacitated, with a stranger in a strange place is in her hands, and no one else’s.

The trick of the advice column is that it has practical merit only if it’s directed specifically at what Victim can control. Unfortunately, that inevitably puts the focus on her choices and options, not his unacceptable behavior. Whoever this guy is, he obviously should never have lied to Victim, and then attacked her as soon as he got her alone. But Victim wasn’t able to stop him from doing it, and Amy certainly can’t do anything about it now, from her column. Victim just wants permission to call herself, well, a victim. Amy could give it to her–but what good would that do? What would she do next? Instead, she focuses on a plan of action, encouraging Victim to seek treatment, help, and closure, to reclaim the agency and control that she lost in this terrible episode.

To a wide audience of parents, students, feminists, voters, etc., “This should never have happened! Our society is broken!” is a powerful rallying cry. But to one woman to whom it already did happen…well, it’s not so helpful. We need both the political and the pragmatic, the activist and the advice columnist. What we don’t need is the ranting and the name calling.

Advice Columnists in the news!

Thanks to ML for this! Commentary to come.

Flipping the bird…at Margo

Ever since Margo’s whiny “open letter to Amy Dickinson” a few weeks ago, I’ve had less and less patience with her. Especially when she’s neither sympathetic nor helpful. Like today:

Dear Margo: After 29 years together, 26 of them married, my parents are getting divorced. My father has always been a functioning alcoholic who a few years ago ceased to function. His life was down to watching TV and drinking. My mother eventually tired of his refusal to do anything and his constant complaining when he actually had to leave the house. She moved in with me while looking for a new home and has never been happier in her life. She laughs, goes out, has a few drinks two nights a week with friends, and has even started dating. My father is devastated. He drinks more, calls my mother “to make sure she’s OK” and calls me repeatedly if she doesn’t answer the phone. He lies to my younger brother (who is away at school) and tells him she drinks too much and is never home. My brother is angry and resentful with my mother and me. My father is a train wreck — he has admitted he was unhappy before she left, but doesn’t understand why they shouldn’t be miserable together. I’ve begged him to talk to someone, but he “doesn’t want to air their dirty laundry.” My mother tries to keep me out of the middle, but my father is determined to put me right there. In the process, he’s destroying our usually close family. I don’t know what to do. I love them both, but I’m being pulled in three directions!
— Tugged Too Far

Dear Tug: First, hurray for your mother. After 29 years with Jim Beam, she can at last have a life. Second, your brother, unless he was anesthetized while living at home, should know enough family history to take your word over your father’s, and if you’ve not set him straight, you should. About all you can do for your father is to tell him your mom is doing well, and now that his life is essentially ruined, he might want to consider getting some help of the AA variety.
The “dirty laundry” excuse won’t wash, pardon the pun. I believe you can end being the bird in a badminton game if you are firm in what you say. — Margo, perseveringly

Really Margo? The friggin’ birdie? What does that even mean? And in what way is getting smacked from all sides is better than getting tugged three directions? Her response is useless on multiple levels: it doesn’t make the writer feel better, it doesn’t give any concrete help and her metaphor totally falls apart (boooo!). Tell off/ignore everyone in the family? That will work well, especially since mom is living-in and dad won’t stop calling. And no suggestion of any support (friends? family? neighbors? clergy? counseling? Al-Anon?Journaling? Kick-boxing?) for this person who is clearly trying to remain the (only) stable hub in this family?

The evidence suggests this person is about my age, give or take a year or tow. Now, I don’t know much, but I know that if my parents suddenly split, my mom moved in with me, my dad was a wreck and my brother was abdicating all supportive duties by kicking and screaming in denial, I would need a LOT more guidance and a LOT more solace than Margo gives here. As Mr. Knightley says…..Badly done.

Looking for Trouble?

Today’s totally random post of the day comes from Dear Abby:

DEAR ABBY: I have a friend who leaves full bottles of liquor on her kitchen table for days at a time. She has an 8-year-old son who eats at the table. Is this good for the boy, or can it affect him in any way? I need to know if I should say something. — RUTH IN DAYTONA BEACH

and Abby says:

DEAR RUTH: Unless you have reason to think that your friend’s son is sampling the booze, I see no reason for you to interfere. You did say they were FULL bottles of liquor, didn’t you?

What? What is this? Is she concerned about the image, that the child will come to associate booze with breakfast cereal? Or that the toxic liquor will leach through the glass, through the table, and into his undeveloped bones? Or that he’s being invited/encouraged/tempted to sample? Or perhaps that he’s learning it’s OK not to put groceries away promptly? I don’t understand the aim of her question. And since Abby doesn’t seem to either, I’m not really sure why she opted to publish this one out of the thousands of letters written to her each week by people who actually have problems.

**Upon reflection and discussion** I have decided that if you keep alcohol in your house and are concerned that your child may get into it, the kitchen table is the BEST place to keep it. It’s much harder for them to snitch it in broad daylight/the middle of the house than it would be from a cupboard under the sink or above the fridge. And locking it up? That only makes it more “forbidden.” When you eat your cereal and read the label of the vodka bottle, the mystery and romance is gone. And you also see the surgeon general’s warnings.

My favorite Holiday Hootenanny Event

This was my favorite, non-traumatic moment from Carolyn Hax’s Holiday Hootenanny. I hope that one day I can be this kind of parent to my children:

The Breakfast Stocking: This isn’t really a holiday horror story, but just a testiment to my parents’ cleverness.
When I was a kid, my family would have big blow out parties on X-mas eve (all the family and extended family would be there). Naturally the adults would get drunk and send the kids off to bed before the raunchy caroling became too raunchy for our ears.
When we (the kids) would wake up on X-mas morning, there would always be a stocking on the pillow next to each of us — filled with breakfast pastries, cereal, fruit and a little note that basically said Santa wasn’t going to stop by the house until noon-ish, and until then, we were to watch TV VERY quietly and feed ourselves from our X-mas stockings. If we woke our parents up, then Santa wouldn’t stop by the house.
Needless to say – we were very quiet… and all of our parents and guests had time to nurse their hangover in peace.
It wasn’t until I was married, and spent my first X-mas with my husband’s family that I realized that the X-mas stocking wasn’t supposed to be filled with breakfast foods…

Carolyn Hax: Brilliant.

Jumping to Drunklusions?

Today one of Abby’s writers had an important, but not uncommon problem: what to do when you leave your kids with a relative (usually a grandparent) and you learn the guardian has been drinking/smoking pot/going at the furniture with a chainsaw while in charge of the kids.

Rightfully, the advice columnists typically point out that parents’ FIRST responsibility is to their children’s safety, not to keeping the peace among extended family, and that they must speak up and set boundaries, or not leave the children unattended in a place where they aren’t being, well, properly attended to. Today’s writer, though, didn’t give much evidence for her parents’ apparent indiscretion. Frankly, I’m surprised she didn’t do a little more investigating herself before writing to a major newspaper columnist. Here’s her letter:

DEAR ABBY: My parents recently took my kids for a “day with Grandma and Grandpa.” My children are 5 and 3. When they returned home, they were driven by one of my siblings with Grandma in tow. My sibling stated that he was the “designated driver.”

My husband and I are extremely upset that my parents chose to drink when they had our children in their care, and so extensively that they needed someone else to get the children home safely. We’d like to discuss this with them and ask them not to consume alcohol when our children are with them. However, we are hesitant because of the conflict this may cause, and are concerned that they will feel that we’re attacking them.

How should we approach this — or is it best not to express our concern? — VACILLATING IN ARIZONA

So…the only evidence that her parents were drinking was the brother’s statement that he was the “designated driver.” The term carries implications, sure. But the mom witnessed her mother at the scene. Did she seem intoxicated? What else did the brother have to say? Was he with them all day? Or called in at the last minute to do chauffeur duty? Do her parents have a history of making poor choices regarding drinking, or caring for small children?

To be honest, my first instinct was that the brother was trying to indicate that the grandparents are not comfortable driving at night, or at all, and that they asked him to step in and take the wheel. If the grandparents were with it enough to realize they were both too drunk to drive and call for help, it doesn’t jive that they would have also gotten that drunk while watching the kids–it would have made more sense (though been much more frightening) if they’d driven the kids back themselves, in no condition to do so.

Of course there’s no way to know for sure from this letter, and that’s precisely the point. I think the writer is too quick to assume that her parents were making inappropriate and dangerous choices. Unless she has other reasons to believe this that she doesn’t state, I think she should try to find out more from her brother, or even from her mother (“I was surprised to see Joe with you on Friday night…does he drive you and dad often?”) before accusing them of sitting sloshed.

What do you think? Am I closing my eyes to obvious alcoholism and potential child endangerment, or does the writer need to take a crash course in Hints and Figurative Language 101?