If you Google the term “wine mum,” you’ll find an array of comedic returns, including countless memes of celebrities like Julia Louis-Dreyfus maniacally waving a bottle of wine or Amy Schumer drinking from an oversized glass, or numbered lists pointing to “signs you might be a wine mom.”
You’ll also find popular media articles highlighting that while this trope initially appears to be harmless fun, it also alludes to a darker underside of modern motherhood.
As foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) prevention researchers, we are increasingly interested in the growing popularity of this phenomenon and its portrayal on social media.
A wine mum is a mother who drinks wine to take the edge off daily tasks associated with motherhood. While the use of substances to cope with challenges is not new (like “mother’s little helper”), the term wine mom became popular in the mid-2010s when mothers began to self-identify and joke online about drinking wine to cope with the stresses of modern motherhood.
#WineMum fights back against the picture of a “good mother”
Women are described as “good mothers” when they exhibit behaviours associated with being a doting caregiver, having an immaculate home and engaging in flawless self-care. Women who fail to achieve these high standards run the risk of being characterised as “bad mothers” and being shamed or ostracised.
In our recent study, we explored posts using the #winemum on Instagram to better understand how alcohol consumption was juxtaposed with motherhood.
Consistent with what has been reported in popular media, we found that alcohol, and specifically wine, was often used to fight back against traditional social constructions of what it means to be a “good mother.” Women used the #winemum hashtag to convey that alcohol is an acceptable form of self-care.
The darker side of #WineMom
What we found concerning were the messages that normalised regular binge drinking and frequently used humour to express possible serious underlying mental health concerns.
Health critics have described alcohol as “no ordinary commodity” given the serious biological, psychological and social impacts of its use.
This is where the #winemum hashtag can become problematic. The hashtag was used as a form of empowerment and connection — but these messages normalise binge drinking and encourage the use of alcohol as a one-stop coping strategy.
Increasingly, in popular media former wine moms are sharing their stories of how participating in “wine mom” culture led them to develop a problematic relationship with alcohol. They’re now sharing posts celebrating their sobriety when they used to share memes about drinking.
#WineMum and COVID-19
COVID-19 prompted new versions of the “wine mom” meme, centred on drinking to deal with the pandemic and its associated challenges. A survey from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation has found that 12 percent of Australians have begun consuming alcohol on a daily basis since the coronavirus pandemic began. The survey showed that many Australians who did not drink regularly before have picked up the habit.
As more research emerges on the impact of COVID-19, growing evidence speaks to the compounding impact of the pandemic on women and mothers. Mental health and substance use concerns have remained very high. Females reported the most mental health concerns, particularly among those living in households with young children (under 13). Thirty-seven per cent of females reported both moderate-to-severe anxiety and increased alcohol use.
Women are being pushed out of the workforce primarily due to child care obligations; COVID-19 restrictions are limiting opportunities for social connection; and closures to gyms, businesses and outdoor amenities means reduced access to healthy outlets for stress.
Women who are seeking ways to cope with additional stress and increasing mental health challenges may find shelter and connection within the virtual ‘wine mum’ community.
Women need support beyond wine mum culture
What started out as a way for women to unite and poke fun at the challenges associated with motherhood has revealed an alarming indication that women’s needs are not being addressed in real and serious ways. The COVID-19 pandemic has further stressed mental health needs and highlighted how women are increasingly juggling multiple roles.
While #winemums provides a space essential for empowerment and connection, we need to ensure that women have access to the supports and resources that provide healthier opportunities to cope with their stress and mental health challenges. It is evident that both during COVID-19 and beyond, women need support that extends beyond wine mum culture.
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