2011 — student winner
Amanda Berg is a senior majoring in Photojournalism at Rochester Institute of Technology. Involved in many activities, she serves as a volunteer photographer for the Children Awaiting Parents Rochester project and as a mentor in addition to being captain of the RIT women’s tennis team.
A rise in the number of women who binge drink has been showing up all over America and in particular on college campuses.
This trend is especially relevant in light of the Convergence Hypothesis, a theory popularized in the '80s and '90s that speculated the alcohol consumption of undergraduate women would converge with that of their male counterparts. As women began to take on more stereotypically male roles, in the workplace, athletic arena and elsewhere, this theory posited they would make an effort to drink more like men. Standardizing drinking norms across gender boundaries can be seen as an attempt to standardize gender norms in general.
However, equal drinking does not necessarily correlate to equality. Compared to men, a woman’s body is more easily inebriated by alcohol. Having less body water then men, females achieve a higher blood alcohol level after consuming the same amounts. This leads to higher rates of the negative side effects associated with drinking (i.e. injuries, alcohol poisoning and non-consensual sexual activities). As Dr. Duncan Clark of the Pittsburgh Adolescent Alcohol Research Center described, the homogeneous use of alcohol between sexes presents a “perverse kind of equality.”
My project will focus on the cultural dialect surrounding this “perverse equality.” From anecdotal experience the language used by female binge drinkers themselves may be the most dangerous aspect of this trend. I know first hand how language and “group think” can change the meaning of an action. After a night of excessive drinking sexual assault can be redefined as a “hook up.” The loss of memory due to inebriation can proudly be termed “blacking out.” Words like “apparently” preface the stories told of the prior night. With this, women abdicate responsibility and give themselves permission to repeat the same behavior.
By using convoluted language female binge drinkers obscure the potential consequences of their actions. Robyn Warshaw demonstrates in her book "I Never Called it Rape" that out of the 25% of women in college who are victims of rape only 5% report the incident. Likewise, many students have described being too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex.
In October 2009, the first semester of my junior year in college, I decided to bring my camera to a “Halloween party.” With the permission of the women and men at the party I recorded the scene. In distancing myself from the partiers, I viewed the environment with a more objective perspective. It allowed me to recognize the complex relationship women undergraduates have with alcohol. By binge drinking, under their own volition women appear to be putting themselves in positions of higher risk. Rather than promoting equality, women who subjugate themselves to the dangerous drinking practices of their male counterparts are actually inviting inequality.
By continuing this project I intend to explore the repercussions women who transgress gender boundaries face by going shot for shot, competing at the beer pong table and doing keg stands with men. I am determined to document the moments female binge drinkers choose to discard or painfully reinterpret through language. Through the stories of a variety of women from a cross-section of schools I hope to shed light on a culture so universal among my peers it is often disregarded and misunderstood. I will combine audio, natural sound and interviews, with the images to provide a comparison between the language used while one is enamored within the party culture and while one is independently reflecting. I ultimately aim to produce a body of work that will inspire female binge drinkers to confront a more objective image of themselves and begin to communicate their experiences to others.