Johnny Walker loopt nooit weg
: Nederlandse vrouwen over hun relatie met alcohol in autobiografische geschrfiten van 1965 tot 2015

Translated title of the thesis: Johhny Walker never walks away: Dutch women on their relationship with alcohol in autobiographic writings from 1965 till 2015
  • S.V. van der Molen-Wilkes

Student thesis: Master's Thesis

Abstract

This Master’s thesis reflects the research on the way five Dutch female writers – Doeschka Meijsing, Anja Meulenbelt, Connie Palmen, Mariëtte Wijne en Loïs Bisschop – describe in autobiographic form their relationship with alcohol between 1965 and 2015. Analysis of their drinking practices, the reasons they state for drinking and the autobiographic form they use to write their history with alcohol, not only describe the relationships they have formed with alcohol, but additionally how they relate to the social developments and discussions of the last five decades.
The drinking practices are analyzed using a social practices framework as used by Meier, Warde and Homes for research on alcohol use in the United Kingdom. By looking at what, where, how much and with whom the five writers drink as described in their autobiographical work, developments in the habits become clear. In the Netherlands use of alcohol has sharply increased after the Second World War in general but specifically amongst women. Meulenbelt, Meijsing and Palmen, all born during or shortly after the War, find themselves in an environment where drinking is considered ‘normal’, even at a young age. This is even more true for both younger writers, Wijne and Bisschop. Wine is the drink of choice, followed by beer and different type of liquor. They all drink significant amounts, up to several bottles a day. Drinking is done in private – although deemed less desirable – and if restaurants, bars, parties, and for the younger writers in clubs.
The five women describe the pleasant effects of drinking alcohol and the social benefits it brings. As anthropologist Edward Slingerland states in Drunk. How we sipped, danced and stumbled our way to civilization (2021) there are good evolutionary reasons for people to drink. As described by the five writers and it helps them in social interactions, overcome feelings of shyness and is fitting in an environment were drinking is the norm. The notion that writing and drinking go well together – and specifically the romantic notion of drinking as inspiration – is not to be found in the autobiographic works. The rather see it a as a risk to the quality of their work.
Several gender studies as of the sixties have analyzed the relationship between gender and alcohol. Women are more likely to internalize their problems and can use alcohol as self-medication to combat feelings of inferiority, sadness, fears or depressions. The reasons the five women give for drinking alcohol often refer to this tendency to ‘medicate’; they hardly look for causes outside themselves, with some exceptions as mentioning the impact of genes or family situations. They also do not include their gender or any concept of emancipation or lack thereof in their reasoning, as is common in most gender studies. The only point of contention is the different standard women are held to as it comes to drinking in public.
Being dependent on alcohol is experienced by all five writers for at least a period of their lives. The therapies or other approaches to drinking less or not at all, is for the five writers a reason to write. Sociologist Frank Furedi claims in Therapy Culture. Cultivating vulnerability in an uncertain age
(2004), a cultural change where writing about personal issues has become common or even ‘obligatory’.
n addition to an increase in autobiographical writing in the last decades in the Netherlands, the five writers have included the stories of their relationship with alcohol in a variety of autobiographical forms. Based on a framework for autobiographical studies by linguist Lut Missinne how texts are perceived autobiographical or rather as fiction based on style, reflection of identity or indicators of autobiography or fiction. For the literary writers Meijsing and Palmen, the form is dominant and autobiographical details are included in a purposeful game between referentiality and fiction. The writers who take on a more journalistic style use the topos of confession to convincingly share their point of view on alcohol use.
Where the writers do not look outside themselves for the causes of their drinking they do not do this for the solution they seek either. Most of what they write details their efforts to drink less or not at all. The medicalization of alcohol use becomes apparent in multiple ways. Furedi, who calls this trend
‘therapeutisation’, sees an increase in people with problems considering themselves a victim. In a reaction to psychologist and philosopher Trudy Dehue point to an increased social ‘obligation’ to self-improvement. The three writers that eventually start leading a sober life, Meulenbelt, Wijne and Bisschop, do show that the latter is what drives them to write about it. They conclude by doing so they are touching a nerve. The postwar years, where drinking has become increasingly popular, accepted and the norm, is contrasting with a more recent attention to the health issues of alcohol use. With more focus on prevention and attention on risks for cancer the question on what ‘normal’ drinking or addiction means has moved to a larger group of people. ‘Can you not just drink less’ is a common reaction when they talk about their sober lives.
All five writers have a close and complex relation with alcohol. It can be medicine, friend or (ex) lover, it plays a role in their lives that they care to write about. More than drinking itself are the related problems and attempts to lower intake or stop altogether a driver to write about personal experiences. Sharing those is useful in showing accountability for their issues with alcohol. The sober writers take part in the discussions on alcohol use to hold a mirror to other drinkers, to sow that ‘just drinking less’ is not an option and to create a more positive view of the sober life. If Johnny Walker is a close friend or a past lover defines how women write about their relationship with alcohol. He does however never run away, if you continue to drink or lead a sober life, in a culture where drinking is so commonplace the question on what a good relationship with alcohol means cannot be avoided.
Date of Award28 Apr 2022
Original languageDutch
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Cultural Studies
SupervisorGemma Blok (Supervisor) & Lizet Duyvendak (Examiner)

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