He for She in AA

By Juliet Elisabeth 10/02/14

The worst excuse for the Big Book is that it can't be sexist because it's an old book. This implies that the reader is too incompetent to realize the book is old and instead ignores how gender equality contributes to drinking problems.


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It's been proven, "higher gender equality is associated with less drinking, especially riskier drinking, among both female and male drinkers overall."

UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, actor Emma Watson, is behind a new global movement called HeForShe with the goal of gathering one billion men and boys worldwide standing up for gender equality. Addressing an audience in New York City, Watson said, "I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice, but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too— reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves."

But what prejudice is there in Alcoholics Anonymous? Both men and women can attend AA. As their Big Book Preface reads: "Because this book has become the basic text for our Society and has helped such large numbers of alcoholic men and women to recovery, there exists strong sentiment against any radical changes being made in it."

What radical changes would someone be against? First, the Big Book outlines how to work AA with all male examples. Is updating the book to include females too "radical" a change? This sexism on an institutional level requires women to adapt the program to fit their gender. So if gender equality decreases drinking problems, AA's sexism is both the RESULT and the CAUSE of those drinking problems.

Counterintuitively, AA members defend the book and do not want it changed. Which means feminists are unlikely to get the popular vote to be in leadership positions, like a GSR, who represents the "group conscience" and shares concerns with the General Service Office.

I assure you, one in good conscience cannot ignore the increased risk of binge drinking among AA members when sexism is linked to heavy drinking.

The Terminal Uniqueness Trap

Minority populations in AA are recognized as "special interest groups."

Yet, there is nothing special or interesting in the 1989 AA for the Gay/Lesbian Alcoholic brochure. In part it reads: "We no longer have to feel unique because we are gay. We can now concentrate on the similarities between us and other alcoholics rather than the differences." To the LGBT members' credit, back in 1974, they won a major AA victory with a 131 to 2 vote favoring listing gay groups in the AA directory. Since then, their special interest status has become more of an insult, not an honor. I'll explain why.

Calling a minority in AA a "special interest group," is a backhanded way of saying they suffer from "terminal uniqueness." Basically, if there is an AA brochure that describes you, it will only inform you that you are not unique. The main groups are: The Native American Alcoholic, the Black or African Alcoholic, and - of course- Women.

Being "special" is a hurdle you must overcome, it is not a compliment. It does not mean there is a customized, individual program tailored to your specific needs. Consider the pamphlet AA for the Alcoholic with Special Needs. The handicapped member, whether born blind or having become deaf, has no excuse for missing an AA meeting.

As long as members don't believe they're "special," they support the bollocks that every member is the "male" member described in the Big Book. Therefore, since everyone is the same, there is no reason to change the Big Book. (AA Fact: 65% of AA members are male; 87% of members are white.)

And what does the oddly-titled brochure AA for the Woman say to women? It asks if she plans to reward herself for doing housework, or she is too permissive with her kids because she feels guilty for drinking. Because, of course, children and housework are special interests for women, blatant sexism is not.

In defense of the women's pamphlet, it also mentions society looks upon the male drunk with "tolerance or even amusement, but recoil in distaste" from a female drunk. There is a "burden of guilt" and "unjustified guilt" for her. I fail to understand how she rids herself of the unjust stigma if the Big Book caters only to men. If anything, a woman is told she is double-stigmatized but is acting "terminally unique" if she attempts to speak up about it.

Victim Blaming

The worst excuse for the Big Book is that it can't be sexist because it's an old book. This implies that the reader is too incompetent to realize the book is old and instead ignores how gender equality contributes to drinking problems.

When other women say "sexism doesn't bother me," what they're really saying is: "Your honesty is making me feel uncomfortable. I don't want to feel the shame, disgust, and anger you feel. Uncomfortable feelings make me feel uncomfortable, I feel happier in my denial."

Sexism is a character defect of Alcoholics Anonymous, but at least it's not rape, right? No, sexist beliefs are at the root of the inequality tree, and rape is one of the branches. The word is mentioned in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book only once: "No one wants to be angry enough to murder, lustful enough to rape, gluttonous enough to ruin his health."

Rape is not being greedy, nor is it a symptom of alcoholism. "Of course, most human beings don't suffer these defects at these rock-bottom levels," the book continues. "We who have escaped these extremes are apt to congratulate ourselves. Yet can we?"

When Sexism Turns Into Murder

US courts are guilty of knowingly sending violent and sexual offenders to AA meetings despite the fact AA has no policy against sexual harassment nor preventative safety policies protecting vulnerable members.

In 2011, Karla Brada was murdered by fellow AA member Eric Earle, who this year was convicted of her murder. AA offers no protection against men like Earle, who had dozens of convictions including property damage, battery, elder abuse against his own mother, and six restraining orders against him. Gabrielle Glaser reported he "learned to troll the meetings for emotionally fragile women whom he impressed with his smooth mastery of the movement’s jargon and principles."

Glaser's book, Her Best Kept Secret: Why Women Drink - And How They Can Gain Control, also addresses the "13 Stepping" in AA, or the practice of hooking up with newcomers. 13 Stepping is the biggest sexist joke in AA, where newcomers are the punch line. When 13 Stepping becomes murder, it's no joke.

AA has no excuse; this is the truth about rape: Most rapes occur between people you know, who have gained your trust. Abusers do not act or look psychotic. It is not a woman's fault because she didn't fight back. Most women do not report domestic violence because they fear they will not believed.

In this day in age, Alcoholics Anonymous suggests rape is a character defect and women's issues are too radical to address. Isn't overlooking over sexism like walking by a crime and not reporting it? Gender equality lessens societal problems like substance abuse and domestic violence, which makes the world safer for the people we love.

So who wants to make some radical changes to the Big Book now?

Juliet Elisabeth is a writer and artist. She is also a former court mandated attendee of Alcoholics Anonymous. Her activist cause for 12 Step alternatives in Ohio is the AARMED with Facts blog.

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Juliet Elisabeth is a freelance writer and independent contractor as a research analyst focused on the healthcare field; also an artist and mother of two. Activist for choice in recovery treatment. Her blog is AarmedWithFacts.