A photograph emerged over the bank holiday weekend of a young woman, presumably drunk, perched on the edge of the River Tyne in Newcastle’s Quayside as she relieved herself in full view of all those in the near vicinity. Unfortunately for the ‘reveller’, as she was referred to in at least one newspaper, her actions were also caught on camera and have since been widely shared on various social media channels.
This image has been on my mind for most of today as I was called this morning and asked to comment on it for BBC Radio Newcastle. My immediate reaction was more to do with the response from the media and the people viewing the photo via the Internet rather than with the girl herself and what she was up to in the picture.
Firstly, there is a gender issue. Would people have reacted in the same hostile manner, branding this person ‘scruffy’ and ‘disgusting’, if it had been a man in the photo? Society does not regard women – and especially women who are obviously under the influence of alcohol – equally to men. Women are not supposed to act with such outlandish disregard for themselves and the thoughts and feelings of others, and being drunk is no excuse; females should remain ladylike at all times otherwise they are labelled shameful and unfeminine. Men, on the other hand, are allowed to get drunk and display tomfoolery because it is simply illustrative of ‘boys being boys’.
Secondly, there appeared to be a response to this image from some quarters that could be described as light-hearted, a trivialising of the event. A hand in front of the mouth hiding a smirk as people observed the cheeky lass from Newcastle exposing herself in broad daylight; giggling because it’s all a bit of a laugh.
I’m not banging the temperance drum here but I don’t think it’s funny at all. This picture reminded me of myself back in the day, legless and stupid, having a ‘bloody good time’ as I drank myself into a stupor day after day and consequently found myself injured, in dangerous situations, being abused and falling way short of my potential because I was always either pissed or recovering from being pissed. Fast forward a few decades and I can see this girl in her middle years, dying of shame and self-loathing because women of ‘a certain age’ cannot joke so easily about their drunken behaviour like teenagers can. Furthermore, when I was a teenager and doing stupid, mortifying things when I was drunk, I didn’t have the humiliation of social media to cope with on top of my own deeply felt self-hatred.
Thirdly, there is major concern, I think, for the fact that this girl may well have slipped through the railings and into the River Tyne where she could have drowned (as many do in the UK each year). Not so funny if that happened.
Agreed, this girl shouldn’t have become so inebriated that she dropped her trousers and took a slash in public, and yes, she should have more dignity, and OK, whatever happened to personal responsibility? But none of us start drinking with the intention of acting shamefully and idiotically, dangerously and with no self-respect whatsoever – most people are under the illusion that alcohol will just make a social event go with a bang, inject a bit of excitement and glamour, and help loosen them up a bit. These type of outcomes are never planned or desired; rather they are the fall out from being immersed in a binge-drinking culture which, hypocritically, condones alcohol consumption on the one hand while chastising those who take things too far on the other.