Despite the increase in drinking by women in early midlife, little alcohol research has focused on this group. We explore how alcohol is associated with the construction of gender identities among women aged 30-50 years in the west of Scotland, United Kingdom. We draw on qualitative data from 11 focus groups (five all-female, six mixed-sex) with pre-existing groups of friends and work colleagues in which women and men discuss their drinking behaviours. Analysis demonstrated how alcohol represented a time and space away from paid and unpaid work for women in a range of domestic circumstances, allowing them to relax and unwind. While women used alcohol to construct a range of identities, traditional notions of femininity remained salient (e.g. attention to appearance, drinking ‘girly’ drinks). Drinking enabled women to assert their identity beyond the roles and responsibilities often associated with being a woman in early midlife. For example, some respondents with young children described the transformative effects of excessive drinking which allowed them to return temporarily to a younger, carefree version of themselves. Thus, our data suggest that women's drinking in early midlife revolves around notions of ‘idealised’ femininity but simultaneously represents a way of achieving ‘time out’ from traditional female responsibilities such as caring for others. We consider these findings within a broader social and cultural context including alcohol marketing, domestic roles and motherhood and their implications for health promotion.
- alcohol use
- Scottish women