The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday February 8th

Column: Unhealthy masculinity and binge drinking don't mix well


Nikhil Umesh is a senior environmental health science major from Greensboro.

The epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses continues to need an honest diagnosis as to the root cause — a culture that encourages men’s violence and supports violence against women. Just as we need to be more truthful about the structural causes of rape culture, we must treat drinking alcohol with similar seriousness.

Vice Chancellor Winston Crisp, Provost Jim Dean and deans from the Gillings School of Global Public Health and the School of Medicine have begun discussing plans to curb binge drinking on UNC’s campus.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as drinking patterns that bring blood alcohol content to 0.08 — typically after four drinks for women and five drinks for men within two hours.

In thinking of alcohol overconsumption, we run into a chicken-and-egg situation, where intervention strategies must realize that the behavior stems from a world with power differentials along lines of gender, sexuality and more.

Drinking alcohol is a rite of passage for college-aged students, and it is a sometimes a literal initiation into “manhood.”

Men average approximately 12.5 binge drinking episodes per person per year, compared to about 2.7 for women. One study found that 68 percent of male college students equated the ability to consume and tolerate large amounts of alcohol without consequence with more “masculine” behavior.

In my experience, the only people who have chosen to drink and drive have been male-identifying friends and family.

It should come as no surprise, then, that men are about twice as likely as women to have been intoxicated and behind the wheel in fatal motor vehicle crashes.

This same risk-taking and tough, entitled masculinity enables men to treat women as objects of desire and carry out horrific acts of violence when their wants aren’t satisfied.

Unsurprisingly, fraternity parties and bars become active sites of gender performance. These locations are places where one can act out his masculinity — where one’s body becomes a “tank” that can take the bludgeons of several shots of tequila, pound back as many beers as possible and still flaunt whatever inkling of sobriety one has remaining.

Every year, more than 1,800 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related accidents, and more than 97,000 students are survivors of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

Such troubling numbers indicate that binge drinking is not due to some individual pathology, and to believe so would be naive. True, dominant masculinities are not the only ingrained socializations that facilitate the behavior.

Still, how can we work to prevent binge drinking unless we recognize and try to change the culture that enables and supports it?

I can’t offer a clear-cut answer. But I’m glad to see that our administration is feeling the pressure to address an issue that costs lives on our campus.


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