Addiction. Chemical Addiction. Substance abuse. Dependence. All of these words are used more or less interchangeably in media. Chances are, if you pick a newspaper in any major city in the Western world, you are likely to come into, at least, one item discussing or mentioning Chemical Addiction. It’s all over the place. Either to report anti narcotics operations (DEA style) or to discuss some celebrity or crime rates in the city in question. We have become sort of immunized to the subject, in the sense that it no longer draws attention specifically. However, if you are a woman, you can expect three ways in which media will discuss your chemical addiction. Most likely, you can expect your gender to be portrayed as
- the crack whore
- the desperate housewife
- the Lindsay Lohan (formerly known as the Britney Spears)
Oh you say your personal narrative doesn’t fall into any of these stereotypes? Sorry, you do not exist, your story is not happening then. Because, you see, for mass media, women can only be addicted to substances in one of the three ways mentioned above. Let me try to elaborate, briefly, what each of these means.
The crack whore. This is the most socially dangerous type of addict. This is the woman who is solely responsible for the demise of good neighborhoods, the raise of crime rates, offending middle class sensibilities and just bringing in the filth with her. Her body will be portrayed as bearing the marks of dirt, of being unclean and dangerous. This woman alone will be responsible for all social ills in a given area. No mention of her personal story or, even better, the many socio economic factors that put her in this situation. The crack whore is a danger, as a matter of fact, one of the worst society can endure. Her motherhood will be regularly brought into question, only to highlight her selfish ways, how she ruined her baby’s life; tales of forced sterilization might be mentioned at this point. This is the woman that, society in general, and media in particular, deems to be beyond salvation. Coincidentally, this is also the only type that systematically portrays transwomen, women of color and minorities. Because the other should be as different from us as possible.
The desperate housewife. This is the victim. As a woman, you are a poor thing with an addiction to legal substances (always, because good women do not venture into dark alleys to deal drugs). Unlike her sister in addiction the crack whore, the desperate housewife is almost always white, cis and heterosexual. Her poison will most likely be either pills or alcohol, never something as unbecoming of a housewife as heroin. Because you see, the desperate housewife is the damsel in distress. We must save her from her addiction not because she is deserving as a human being but because, quite frankly, she makes us look bad. Her body is a fracture in the system; a system that is supposed to bring contentment and joy to those involved. Especially those we need to fit into the convenient stereotypes we have assigned for them. The desperate housewife will be portrayed as a shallow, black and white character in this narrative; one that lacks depth, substance and more importantly, one who has no distinctive voice of her own. She is an addict, she is failing (the system that bred her addiction will never be discussed or questioned). She must be saved because her failure is a failure for the system itself. She has to be a mother, a productive member of society (only this kind of society) and she has to put herself together because, quite honestly, we would prefer to preserve the status quo and go back to our more important matters.
And then there is the Lindsay Lohan (previously known as the Britney Spears). Depending on country of residence, this one can also go by the name of “the Amy Winehouse“. See, the Lindsay Lohan stereotype in media is our comical relief. This is the woman at whose addiction we are supposed to point fingers and laugh. Oh, she is so insane. And her family is so messed up! And we are so lucky that we are not her. We just read her gossip items, chuckle at the insanity (bonus points if, like a popular gossip blogger, you name her Lindsanity; isn’t that quirky?) and move on, back into our serious matters as, again, productive members of society. The Lindsay Lohan is the harlot, the woman whose sexual life is the tale of shameful stories, whose addiction she brought upon herself because she was too pretty, she got too famous, too close to the top. And we love nothing more than to bring uppity women down from their pedestal, back into their rightful places at the bottom of the ladder. In a few months time, maybe in a year or two, this stereotype might be called “the Miley Cyrus“ or whoever is the starlet that, again, got too big for her own good. In a not so subtle display of patriarchal affinity, her parents will be brought into question. Because the Lindsay Lohan stereotype is not an individual failure. Her failure is actually her father’s, for not keeping her on a short leash (Britney had to be saved by her father, after all).
What these stereotypes do, I contend that intentionally, is prevent identification with addiction or addicts. These women are not us, we are told. They are little dolls we put on display and their bodies, their lives are up for discussion at the dinner table. The only feelings these women elicit are either moral outrage, indignation or pity. These stereotypes also contribute to the continued veil of secrecy and shame that surrounds chemical addiction because if you suffer from an addiction and you do not fit into one of these stereotypes, you do not exist for media, your story doesn’t get told and, in turn, no people like you are in the public eye to show that addiction is normal, and that it can happen to anyone.
Editor’s Note: Red Light Politics generously allows us to crosspost from her brilliant, brave and sharp blog. You can find this post in it’s original context here.