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Even some bars that cater to young women are rethinking their priorities. This month one company will begin distributing "safe drink strips" to bars; the white cardboard rectangles turn a deep purple when dipped in a drink laced with the prevalent date-rape drug GHB. The strips, which cost just pennies to make, are certainly a promising step. But colleges are also lobbying bars to banish gender-based drink promotions ("Ladies Drink Free!"), which have proliferated in recent years. A consortium of city, community and Florida State University officials in Tallahassee has crafted a series of print and television ads that will begin running next month. "Gender-based drink specials. In this day and age?" intones one ad. "At the very least they're demeaning--at the worst they're dangerous."
Of course this assumes that women feel demeaned by deals that help them save hundreds of dollars each semester. After a fight, the University of Colorado at Boulder dissuaded bars immediately adjacent to campus from offering special promos to women. But now women just flock several blocks away to a joint called the Walrus, where they drink at a deep discount on Thursdays. An ad for the bar shows a pair of silken panties with the message, "Lose Something?" The bartender says a popular drink among female patrons is a mixture of Red Bull, Grand Marnier, Stoli Ohranj and orange juice. It is named after a vulgar phrase for vagina.
Some women are repelled by the very notion that it's physiologically impossible for them to drink like men. Dr. Charles Lieber, a professor of medicine and pathology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, has spent years studying the effects of alcohol on women's bodies. At one conference he delivered a paper detailing why women can't hold their liquor as well as men. He looked up and noticed that the women in the room were hardly applauding. "They were a bit offended," he recalls. "There's a tendency to reject anything that shows them as inferior. They don't want to admit the biological difference."
For that to change, today's young women may need to take a lesson from the early feminists who fought so stridently for temperance. Jodie Rosenbloom, a senior at Syracuse University, is striking out along that path. After drinking away many of her freshman-year weekends, she has gradually scaled back to a cocktail at happy hour or wine with dinner and feels much better for it. "I'm referring now to something I learned in a women's studies course I took," she says. "In the wave of feminism we're in right now, women shouldn't be emphasizing sameness with men. I don't think women gain any power in outdrinking a man, because it will always be at a standard set by the man. In drinking and everywhere else, women need to start setting their own standards." Now that would be girl power indeed.
--With reporting by Amanda Bower/South Hadley, Rita Healy/Boulder, Steve Barnes/Little Rock, Leslie Berestein/Los Angeles, Laura A. Locke/San Francisco and Jeanne DeQuine/Miami