TORONTO — A Toronto woman who organized a daytime wine festival for new mothers has found herself caught in a firestorm over the pervasiveness of alcohol at a time when heavy drinking is on the rise among women.
The weekday event, dubbed "A Very Mommy Wine Festival," was meant to give new moms a chance to get together and have fun without the judgment and "mommy-shaming" they consistently face, said organizer Alana Kayfetz.
The 33-year-old, who has a one-year-old son, argues the backlash is simply another facet of the pressure placed on mothers.
"If this was a man's beer fest where babies were welcome, it would be celebrated, it would be revered," Kayfetz said. "We would say 'Oh that's so cute, look at those dads guzzling beer and holding their babies.' No one would question it."
But critics, some of them experts on substance use, have expressed concerns that making alcohol a focus of social events normalizes drinking and increases the risk of binge-drinking, a behaviour that has grown among Canadian women despite hitting a plateau among men.
While the number of teen girls and women who reported drinking in the last year has not changed since the mid-1990s, the proportion of teen girls and women who reported heavy drinking has gone from 8.3 per cent in 2001 to 13.2 per cent in 2014, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada.
In comparison, the proportion of teen boys and men who reported heavy drinking in the last year has stayed around 23 per cent.
When having a drink or two is par for the course at social events, it can be a slippery slope, said Catherine Paradis, a senior research and policy analyst with the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.
"The more you drink, the more likely you are to binge-drink," she said. Binge-drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks on one occasion for men, or four for women.
Part of the problem is that alcohol is "everywhere," from races that see runners travel between breweries to university information sessions to cooking shows, Paradis said.
"And now, you feel isolated and at risk for post-partum depression and anxiety? Join the boozy mom playdate," she said.
Ashley Wettlaufer, a researcher at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said events that prominently feature alcohol typically have alcohol brands as sponsors, which is a form of stealth marketing much like product placement in movies and television.
"This is another way in which women are being targeted — the brands are aligning themselves with, say, breast cancer charities, for example," Wettlaufer said.
"We now see events like beer yoga advertised on social media and of course groups and events like the mommy wine festival," she said, noting that Canada's current regulations on alcohol advertising don't apply to the internet and social media.
Though most research on alcohol ads has focused on youth, it suggests exposure is linked to increased drinking and positive impressions of brands, she said.
"This is all concerning because of the health impact of alcohol, especially for women," such as increased risk of several cancers, including breast cancer, Wettlaufer said.
Kayfetz, the organizer, said drinking at the festival was optional, as it is for every other event she organizes through her company, MomsTO.
And the marketing — which includes taglines such as "babes on the hips, wine on the lips" — is tongue-in-cheek, she said.
"I never thought about what we're doing in part of the dialogue of the larger marketing phenomenon, what's happening with alcohol being marketed to women," she said.
"We tried 'Mommies that like to drink tea, join us,' but nobody came."