Two new articles – co-authored by DruGS program members Duane Duncan and David Moore – analyse how gender is handled in Australian government policy documents on alcohol and violence in the night-time economy. The articles are based on an analysis of 18 publicly accessible national, state and territory government alcohol policies, strategies and related supporting documents.
The first article, entitled Obscuring gendered difference: The treatment of violence in Australian government alcohol policy, observes that despite debate about the role of men in night-time public violence, the issue of masculinities or male gender is rarely visible in Australian alcohol policy. Instead, while health promotion and legislative measures (such as ‘coward punch’ campaigns and ‘one punch’ laws) may implicitly target particular men, alcohol policy recommendations focus on reducing the availability and the consumption of alcohol in general, obscuring men’s contributions to and experiences of violence. The authors identify three commonsense understandings or assumptions made about the causes of ‘alcohol-related violence’ in Australian policy: (1) alcohol is the primary cause of violence; (2) because alcohol is the primary cause of violence, its availability should be reduced at a population level; and (3) the vulnerability of ‘young people’ to alcohol-related violence and other forms of harm is the result of their developmental immaturity. These three claims frame ‘alcohol-related violence’ in ways that reproduce normative categories and performances of gender and taken-for-granted assumptions about the properties and effects of alcohol. Men and male conduct go unnamed, thereby naturalising the relationship between men’s drinking and violence whilst other groups (including young people and women) are singled out and treated as especially vulnerable to alcohol effects.
The second article, entitled Making gender along the way: Women, men and harm in Australian alcohol policy, looks specifically at how Australian alcohol policy framings of night-time economy-related violence, and other harms attributed to the supply and consumption of alcohol, depend on a set of assumptions about gender. These include the representation of gender as an individual attribute in statistics, graphs and pictorials describing harms associated with alcohol. While this enables a comparison between men and women in relation to some harms, other differences between men and women are routinely ignored or minimised. Gender is also often treated as biological sex or equated principally with women, who are marked out as particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol or to the drinking of others. In contrast, men are sometimes singled out in terms of individual health risks associated with alcohol, but their relationship to acute harms, such as injury, drink driving and assault, is obscured in that these harms are routinely reported using representative population statistics in which gendered patterns of behaviour specific to men are not made clear. This is particularly apparent in the gendered representation of violence in private and public life. Whereas domestic space is understood to be gendered in ways that leave women vulnerable to violence, public space is described in gender-neutral terms, with the night-time economy characterised as an economic marketplace populated by abstract gender-neutral ‘patrons’. It is assumed that reductions in alcohol supply overall will lead to reductions in violence in both settings.
The most obvious political effects of these representational practices can be seen in alcohol control policies emphasising venue and precinct closing time measures and other strategies targeting the availability and consumption of alcohol. But as lead author Duane Duncan explains, there are other related significant effects:
‘Current responses unfairly target everyone, and this has important implications. They reinforce familiar problematic ideas about the specificity and vulnerability of women and the universality and invulnerability of men. Equally concerningly, they limit our understanding of the diversity and complexity of violence in the night-time economy.’
The authors argue that the political and social implications of these policy practices should be considered more fully, and awareness of their effects prioritised in the development of responses to alcohol and violence in Australia that are both effective and equitable.
Duncan, D., Keane, H., Moore, D., Ekendahl, M., & Graham, K. (2020). Making gender along the way: Women, men and harm in Australian alcohol policy. Critical Policy Studies, https://doi.org/10.1080/19460171.2020.1867598
Duncan, D., Moore, D., Keane, H., & Ekendahl, M. (2020). Obscuring gendered difference: The treatment of violence in Australian government alcohol policy. Social Politics, https://doi.org/10.1093/sp/jxaa038