Rowan Pelling: Women do make the worst drunks. Maybe it's the sick'n'sequin mix...

Call me old-fashioned, but it's intrinsically unfeminine to collapse in the gutter, legs akimbo
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The Independent Online

Last summer I was cycling home from Cambridge Station on a Friday night at pub closing time. My route took me past The Regal, a temple to vertical drinking that claims to be Britain's largest pub. As I prepared to slalom round hundreds of weaving bodies a trio of tanked-up young women leapt in front of my bicycle bringing me to a halt. "You fucking slag," shouted one of these latter-day graces. "Arsehole," said her mate, lunging at me.

I didn't wait for the third's assessment, but hauled the bike around and pedalled for dear life. Later I mused about this unprovoked aggression. In fairness, I did look decidedly poncy in my frock on my sit-up-and-beg bicycle with its straw basket. But in my own youthful pub-crawling days my friends and I would have just cackled with hysterical laughter at an absurd vision of middle-class smugness rather than felt an acute need to assault her.

It was the nastiest act of drunken vitriol I had encountered in a decade of cycling late through the city's drinking quarter, and I was profoundly sad that it came from a bunch of females. The worst thing about the incident was that it made me sympathetic to a proposition I've always resisted - that women make worse drunks than men.

Obviously, I'm not beginning to suggest women commit as much violent crime as men when plastered. But I do now concede that being aggressive, ignorant, lairy and foul-mouthed suits the ladies even less than it suits the fellas. Somehow the contrast between a comely female in Topshop sequins and the venom and vomit spewing from her lip-glossed mouth is more distressing to the soul than her Neanderthal male equivalent. At the risk of sounding like an ageing colonel, it's intrinsically "unfeminine".

I am also forced to admit, despite my rejection of the popular political notion that binge-drinking is the greatest threat to civilisation since time began, that the problem with girls and booze is getting worse. Even among my own friends the women with a "serious alcohol problem" outnumber the men by five-to-one and I barely know one female who sticks to the recommended 14 units, myself included.

There's no doubt that it's hypocritical to demand parity for the sexes in the workplace and then expect women to behave with more restraint when on the razzle. Even so, we can't ignore the fact that as a society we have long invested in the idea that women are a civilising force . And for good reason: it has often proved to be an observable phenomenon.

In recent years, the most memorable appeals for an end to bloodshed have come from Marie Fatayi-Williams, speaking after her son Anthony was killed in the 7 July bombings, and the McCartney sisters bravely taking on the IRA. We trust the female sex to preserve some notion of decorum and grace, and feel hurt when our faith is betrayed. This is why the little child in all of us wails at the female drunk, "Please, mummy, put the nasty gin away!"

This collective hurt probably explains why female boozers get a worse press than their male counterparts. It was noticeable that during the furore over this summer's Big Brother, viewers were far more appalled by the women's behaviour - Makosi's hot-tub sex shocker and Kinga's pleasuring herself with a wine bottle - than by the incipient racism and homophobia displayed by some of the men. Tracey Emin was slated for appearing rat-arsed on TV while Oliver Reed's infamous slurred performance on Aspel & Company is still talked of with fond awe. George Best is widely viewed as a national treasure, despite annihilating two livers, but fashionista Molly Parkin was seen as a national disgrace in her drinking days.

I suspect society's disapproval of the female lush has much to do with the fact that in women dipsomania tends to incorporate a degree of nymphomania. It's hard to say no when you're flat on your back in the gutter with your legs akimbo. And if you're not acquiescing, you're propositioning random strangers. Alcohol comprehensively disables the inhibitions and raw cunning that are a woman's best tools in the mating game. The male alcoholic has no greater virtue, but his inner slut is better restrained by the simple fact that when he's drunk as a skunk he can't get it up. The demon drink quite simply makes women more vulnerable than men.

So how should we cope with the binge-drinking epidemic? Strike where it hurts. At the hardest-wired female characteristic in the book - vanity. I suggest a national programme of videoing pie-eyed females in action. When you see your smeared lipstick, blood-shot eyes and shoes caked with sick, when you hear your slurred banalities and observe the primal fear in the eyes of every passing male... Let us just say water will seem like an attractive option.

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