There she is in my mind's eye. Her jaw is slack, her voice too loud and her speech is slurred. She's drunk.
A drunken woman? Disgusting . . .
But what about him? His jaw is just as slack. His voice is loud and boisterous, his language crude. He may be making passes left and right. He may pass out.
Admit it. Your reaction is not nearly as visceral. He, somehow, just isn't as offensive as she.
"Back in ancient Rome," Marian Sandmaier was saying, "a woman could be executed just for sipping wine."
From the writings of Valerius Maximus, First Century, A.D.:
"Egnatius Metellus . . . beat his wife to death because she had drank some wine; and this murder, far from leading to his being denounced, was not even blamed. People considered that her exemplary punishment had properly expiated her offense . . . for any woman who drinks wine immoderately closes her heart to every virture and opens it to every vice."
Sandmaier turned up that happy domestic picture in the course of research for her just-published book, "The Invisible Alcoholics: Woman and Alcohol Abuse in America." It traces a continuous attitude -- with somewhat less drastic consequences -- to the present.
Sandmaier's point is that even though there may be close to 4 million American women classified as "problem drinkers," the problem -- and the drinkers -- are, by and large, still in the closet.
The "biggest difference between men and women (alcoholics) is that the stigma is so much greater for women," she says. "We have a whole fantasy image of the drunken woman . . . one, she's promiscuous, in and out of bars and in an out of different men's beds . . .
"The other image is that the alcoholic woman is a bad mother and a bad wife because she deserted her (duty to her) family . . . We tend to see her in moral terms: She's failed as a woman."
In fact, only about 5 percent of women with alcohol problems have any sort of active sexual life at all, says Sandmaier. Partly because most woman drink alone in their homes, not in bars, and partly because alcohol tends to eventually decrease sexual desire.
Sandmaier agrees that the open discussion of their problems by such celebrated women as Betty Ford and Joan Kennedy are helping lessen the stigma, but she also notes that it was Betty Ford's problem with Valium that got the wider public acceptance.
"Women are allowed to be addicted to Valium," says Sandmaier, "but they're not allowed to be addicted to alcohol."
Sandmaier was hired in 1974 as a writer by the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol Information. She found, as she tells it, that "there were varying kinds of alcohol education-directed efforts towards different groups. There was a youth effort, a minority effort, a clergy effort, military, all kinds of groups.
"But there was nothing happening for women."
As she worked to set up a program, she ran into persistent refusals to accept the facts she (just as persistently) helped to dredge up.
"Oh," she would hear, "women have problems with Valium and Librium, not with alcohol." Or, often, "Why deal with women apart from everybody else?"
When she began her work, there were only 14 women's programs funded by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in the country. There are still only 30, she notes, but by the end of 1981, "there are supposed to be 58."
Twice as many women as men who are alcoholics are also addicted to Valium and Librium and other drugs, surveys have shown. Sandmaier believes that many of these cross-addicts recognized they were in trouble and went to the doctors only to find that, because of the stigma, they were unable to discuss alcohol.
"So they'd say, 'Doctor, I have these stomach pains,' or 'I can't sleep very well,' or 'I'm nervous,' and I think because doctors tend to see women as more emotionally unstable then men, what happened, lots of times, the doctor would say, 'Aha, you're depressed, you're anxious, here, take a Valium . . .'"
Says Sandmaier, who interviewed scores of recovered alcoholic women, "A lot of the women I talked to were addicted to three or four or five pills in addition to alcohol. Sometimes they'd get them from five different doctors. And they could get them again and again and again."
A woman alcoholic can go on and on with no confrontation by physician, employer or family. Husbands of alcoholic women tend to leave them. Sandmaier says, whereas wives of alcoholic men are much likely to stand by.
As a result, "Women are often more physically and emotionally ravaged by alcohol by the time the illness receives treatment," and the treatment for woman must be conducted accordingly.
She suggests, among many other resources listed in the book, that those seeking help should approach AA, many of whose chapters now have women's meetings, local councils on alcoholism and drug abuse -- most cities have them -- and a new national network of local support groups for alcoholic women called Women for Sobriety. It can be reached -- by mail only -- in care of Box 618, Quakertown, Pa. 18951.
Sandmaier, who is a feminist, believes that alcoholism in women is "a product of their condition."
While she predicts more recognition of the woman alcoholic's plight and better treatment, "In the long term," she says, "I think things aren't going to change substantially for alcoholic women. I don't want to be too pessimistic, but they won't [improve] in any really significant way until all of us start to deal with our underlying attitudes toward women.
"As long as women are put on this false pedestal -- that means every time they're human, they're disparaged -- we're never going to be able to look at an alcoholic woman and say, 'You're sick. You're not disgusting.'"