A recipe for disaster

Young woman, alcohol and a competition for male approval is a formula for trouble

Thu, November 29, 2007


We used to like to go there to drink because it was downtown, and they served cheap draft, and no one asked us for ID.

And I think also because it made us feel cool.

We were middle-class white girls from the suburbs, after all.

My friend had landed in big trouble the year before and her parents had sent her to the Catholic school so she wouldn't go even farther down the garden path. But she'd already screwed up there, too, fooling around with someone's boyfriend. It all came to a head one night, when the angry girlfriend and my friend both showed at the dive bar across from the bus station. Her group was tougher -- by far -- than we were, and we bailed fast, before things got ugly.

As we huddled on the cold sidewalk putting on our coats, one of them burst out the front door of the bar and began screaming obscenities at us. Fuelled with liquid courage, I rushed back to engage in some out-of-character chirping.

I only remember feeling the flat bottom of a Doc Marten connecting with my sternum. Pushed back, the wind completely knocked out, my friends gathered me up. A few minutes later, in the car, I could talk, and when we got back to our home base we could laugh, especially at the perfect imprint of a dusty shoe bottom square in the middle of my chest.

On Sunday morning, when I spotted the Sun headline saying that 18-year-old Stephanie Young had been charged with fatally stabbing 18-year-old Tammy Couture on Friday night, I thought about that long-ago night, and how stupid it was, and how easy it is for things to get out of hand, even for girls.

The case has been played out on our city's front pages and televisions all week. No wonder: We can't understand it when women lash out at each other. We're nurturers, right? We don't hurt each other with knives. Not very often anyway.

Yet, as Dr. Sibylle Artz, a professor at the University of Victoria's School of Child and Youth Care, points out, the urge to aggression is human, not simply male. There is no indication of an upward trend, she said. It just happens sometimes.

Reports from both sides indicate the pair had been fighting about a boy; they also suggest alcohol played a factor. They often are; it usually does.

But these were not suburban girls out for an underage thrill. Their lives have been difficult, money tight, and their futures far from certain, which can make for a tragic trifecta when a guy is involved.

The more vulnerable a young woman is, says Artz, the more willing she is likely to risk her life or someone else's for male attention.

Add alcohol -- which she calls "the most potent intervening variable factor" in such situations -- and you have an even bigger recipe for disaster.

There's a learning opportunity here, in the awful mess left behind. And it's not just that people get drunk and do dumb, awful, desperate things, and it's worse when you're young because everything feels so much more pertinent then.


Why, asks Artz, is a woman's value still so strongly attached to attracting the male gaze? We are our ability to mate and be partners, of course, but also so much more.

What we need to figure out is how, after all we know and all we've seen, is how any young woman's sense of her own value can be anywhere but deep inside herself, where it belongs.