Sex sells. The sexual objectification of women is used in advertising to sell anything from auto parts to cologne to alcohol. Despite the myriads of feminist critiques of women’s sexual objectification to sell products, it still exists. Open a Vogue Magazine or walk into an Abercrombie and Fitch store. Women are posed half, to almost totally, nude in sexually suggestive ways trying to entice the generic person in patriarchal society, the “average” male (usually white, middle-class and heterosexual) to buy the product. Sometimes that same sexually suggestive pose is meant to also sell a product to the “average” woman as well with the mistaken notion that she will look as attractive and satisfied as the model if only she own the product too.
One of my part-time jobs is as a clerk at a liquor store where there are a good number of sexually explicit ads for alcohol. I also have three other part-time jobs teaching in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Boston College, in the Religious and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and in my shul’s religious school. My combined income from the four jobs barely covers rent, food and bills and some months when I don’t get paid from teaching I use the little savings I have to make ends meet.
Recently I have noticed how silenced my feminist voice has become in the liquor store because of my precarious financial situation. I am hesitant to speak up about the sexist ads for fear of losing my job. This muted feminist voice is a class issue within feminism. Specifically, classism affects one’s ability to stand up for one’s self when one’s livelihood is on the line. Often, I find myself thinking about this as I sell customers vodka or beer.
But I also spend a lot of time at the liquor store thinking about religion. Alcohol is one of the most regulated items in many religions. Some religions prohibit it outright like Islam, Mormonism and some evangelical Christian groups. Other religions like Judaism and some denominations within Christianity have found places within ritual and celebration for its consumption. Go to any Roman Catholic Church and there will be wine at communion or a Shabbat meal in a Jewish home will have wine as well. Wine is also part of many neo-pagan festivals and alcohol or another drug is used in many shamanic rites and indigenous practices.
Yet, most religions do not sanction drinking to excess. There are a few exceptions. Purim is the Jewish Festival where one should drink to the point where they cannot tell the difference between cursing Haemon and blessing Mordechai (few really follow through with it). Many shamanic rites and other religious rituals use drugs or alcohol consumption to invoke trance-like states or movement to another plane of existence. Even so, most religions, even those that build alcohol into ritual and celebration, would not support wanton drunkenness or alcoholism in general seeing it as not good for the soul.
Alcohol affects us and our lives in so many ways that really are not good for the soul. When one drinks, the alcohol lessens inhibitions. One say things one may not have with clear heads. A drunken individual may fight people she or he would never consider hurting without its influence. One may cry pitifully about stuff that seems insignificant the next day. Sometimes, people get so drunk, they fall and hurt themselves badly or wake up the next day and can’t remember what they did. When people choose to drive under the influence, people are killed and lives are forever changed. Drinking also damages the liver and destroys brain cells. Yet, many people often turn to alcohol to help them cope with their less-than-perfect lives brought on by the patriarchal society we all inhabit.
Yes, many people use a glass of wine to unwind after a long day at work, others a cold refreshing beer. I often do the same. Yet, I often wonder (as I have already mentioned in this post) if religions that prohibit alcohol use in its entirety may have caught onto something we know but often deny: we may not be our best selves when we drink to excess. We fail ourselves and could potentially hurt others when we are drunk.
Nonetheless selling alcohol also helps me buy food and pay my rent and other bills. Yet, I do not agree with sexist advertisements to sell liquor. I’m frustrated with myself that I am more concerned about keeping my job so I can pay my bills than I am about speaking up when I see blatant sexism. I hate the way alcohol ruins social relationships and damages human bodies and human lives. In so many ways, our societal dependence on alcohol helps us cope with patriarchy. But, often our “comforter” hurts more than it helps. Religions that regulate or prohibit alcohol consumption may be onto something when we look at the damage alcohol does to people and the degradation done to women through the sexist ads used to sell it. All that being said, alcohol is a feminist issue too.