Yes Women Drink and Drive -- But No PSA will Acknowledge It

It’s the Lizzie Bordenification of drunk driving -- even though we do it, we couldn’t possibly do it. At least as far as most public campaigns are concerned.
Publish date:
May 31, 2012
sexism, drunk driving, PSAs

In the grim world of anti-drug public service announcements, women have long-played a starring role. We famously destroyed a kitchen, to warn against the dangers of heroin. We even served as the physical embodiment of crystal meth. But when it comes to drunk driving, women are left out of the picture.

It’s the Lizzie Bordenification of drunk driving -- even though we do it, we couldn’t possibly do it. At least as far as most public campaigns are concerned.

I was reminded of this after watching a new anti-drunk-driving ad (which we found at Aukland Now), which plays out more like an episode of "The Honeymooners" than a call for sobriety.

The ad drops the ball in oh so many places. For starters, it cloaks the anti-drunk driving message in a cliched, sexist stereotype of The Harpy Wife. It draws on offensive stereotypes about women (always the downer, never the rager!) and also manages to paint people who don’t want to drive drunk as uptight killjoys. An anti-drinking PSA that makes responsible people seem uncool. Yikes.

Watch for yourself:

And, weirdly, this happens over and over. In the PSA world, women are not drunks. That’s a “guy” thing. It’s no wonder that ads like this from the UK “warn” women that drinking “like a man” will make you “look like one”:

Because that’s the real concern.

Another variation on the “nagging woman tells you to stop” theme (albeit more horrifying and more effective) emerges here:

In fact, in the world of drinking and driving PSAs, women don’t exist, other than victims or schoolmarms. The perpetrators are always dudes:

Is this anecdotal? Perhaps. There’s not exactly an IMDB dedicated to the stars of drunk driving PSAs. And there are a small handful female-targeted drinking and driving PSAs out there. But the fact that they aren’t visible -- even after searching for them, I might add -- is a big problem. How much can women get the message if the message isn’t readily available?

Consider this rare anti-drunk-driving campaign targeted at women in New Mexico — which literally has to remind people that women sometimes drink and drive:

Yep. One of the few women-focused drunk driving PSAs is a reminder that female DUIs happen.

And, alarmingly, the data on women, drinking and driving paints a bleak picture.

More and more U.S. women are drinking and driving, while men’s drunk driving (on the whole) has decreased over the last several years. In 2009, Transportation Department data showed that the number of women being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs had climbed nearly 30 percent over the past decade. During the same time period, the rate of arrests for men dropped 7.5 percent. Are the dearth of female-targeted PSAs entirely to blame? Of course not -- there’s a whole mess of cultural factors to blame for that one. But clearly there’s a need there.

(In case you were wondering, FBI data show that women’s DUI arrests climbed 36 percent between 2001 and 2010 — men’s arrests dropped 10 percent.)

What’s going on here? Clearly no one has a problem imagining women as drug addicts. Can no one picture a woman committing the outward violence of a DUI? Or is it just that no one wants to?

This article is reprinted with permission from The Jane Dough. The Jane Dough provides news and insight on women in the business world and political arena.