I'm sitting in a coffee shop, sipping apple juice with a suburban schoolteacher who's wearing running shorts and polar fleece on a chilly summer day.
This teacher's students and the students' parents might be startled by today's agenda: Teach is headed to a guy's house to do bong hits. And not just any bong hits. This teacher's dealer has a gravity bong—an often-homemade jug bong that delivers a more intense hit; gravity bongs can be taller than some people. Teach is also going to buy some weed.
"When I buy from him I get an eighth and he smokes me out," teach tells me, "so I get, you know, the bonus round."
The only thing more remarkable than teach's drug use is teach's gender. Fiona is that rarest of species—a female stoner.
Smoking pot is a guy thing. Guys are the ones who deal, buy, and smoke. In 2005, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stated that adult males were 50 percent more likely to have smoked marijuana in the last month than females. (Alcohol use showed only a 12 percent difference.) All illegal drugs show this approximate divide between the sexes (except illegally obtained prescriptions—women use those in substantially higher numbers).
Why don't women smoke pot as much as men? Marijuana isn't like other illicit substances; it's more accessible than most drugs and safer than cigarettes or alcohol. A joint is not a crack pipe.
Are women scared of being out of control? Maybe, but if that were the case, wouldn't women drink less than they do? Maybe women are scared of getting arrested—pot is harder to sneak than pills. But women don't take prescription drugs to get a feeling of euphoria (you know, high), but to cover up for a lack of confidence or to lose weight, according to the Associated Press. And smoking pot definitely does not help you lose weight.
Perhaps the obstacle to female toking is a fear of looking lazy. Getting stoned is, in effect, a great way to relax. Men are allowed to be lazy—being stoned is part of their farting, pajama-wearing, video-game-playing pantheon of acceptable male relaxation techniques. Since Jeff Spicoli made his debut in 1982's Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and continuing into the entire oeuvre of director Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up), stonerdom is an accepted part of modern maleness. Their sloth is even kind of adorable.
But modern women are not allowed to be lazy, adorable stoners. Women have to go to college (which they're now doing at higher rates than men), and then get their careers going quickly, before their biological clocks run out. Then they have to have kids and take them to all of their activities. There is no time for women to be slovenly and relax—and if women do relax, it has to be at a gym.
One of feminism's original goals to subvert traditional male and female roles. So how come pot culture, which one would expect to be receptive to the feminist message, has changed so little?
Thirty-five-year-old Fiona (her name has been changed to protect her stonerdom) has been a teacher for ten years. She and her boyfriend spend about $120 to $160 a month on pot, an expense that's figured into their household budget.
"There's such a focus on achieving things and gaining materialistic things," says Fiona, "that people have this view of people who smoke pot as Deadheads or hippies."
Fiona is no hippie. In fact, she has her life completely together: She drives an almost-paid-off 2005 model car, lives in one of Seattle's nicer neighborhoods, and even paid off her student loan in a year. She also plays in a regular Ultimate Frisbee game. (Ultimate Frisbee is for jocks these days, not hippies.)
"My parents were hippies, and I was always embarrassed of how they smoked pot when I was growing up because I went to Catholic school," she says in an even tone, pushing her red hair out of her face as she speaks. "They tried to grow it but the cats would always eat it." She didn't start smoking weed until high school—and she did it to rebel against school administrators, not her parents.
Now she says she smokes weed pretty much every night, and on the weekends she smokes more than once a day. "I have to be on my game when I am at work, but it's very stressful, so I come home and I just want to relax and chill out at my house."
Smoking pot helps her mellow out after work, but it also helps her with her job. She reflects on problems she had that day: "Sometimes [smoking pot] helps me to be creative in my problem solving."
But it's not all about her professional life. "A lot of girls drink to be social, and when you smoke pot, you're kind of in for the night." But when Fiona goes out, she'll smoke weed before she starts drinking. When attending a recent Daft Punk concert, she smoked a little pot before she went into the venue: "It definitely helps deepen my appreciation of music."
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Women, of course, aren't supposed to smoke pot and then go drinking at Daft Punk concerts. They aren't supposed to turn to pot to help them with work.
A woman's role in pot culture? Like the case of this year's Hempfest poster, women are supposed to be cartoonish sexpots who cater to men (guess that's Hempfest's demographic) or sympathetic poster children for medical marijuana.
And when a woman does smoke weed on film, she's not generally a cute, bumbling, child like Apatow's male characters. She's a girl who is in trouble, a girl with low self-esteem, or a hippie-redux character. Even Kim Kelly (Busy Philipps) in Apatow's television series Freaks and Geeks smokes pot because she's troubled, not because she's a regular girl. The message? Men can handle pot. Women smoke pot when they can't handle their lives.
Fiona believes that media images have a lot to do with why so few women smoke pot, but says that fear of weight gain also plays a large role. "You get the munchies, you know?" says Fiona. "A lot of girls wouldn't want to sit on the couch and eat chips all night."
With all this social pressure on women not to be stoners, the gender divide is not surprising. Every aspect of getting stoned is banned from women's psyches—relaxing, eating, and feeling pleasure. It's reminiscent of old-school ideas about female sexuality—orgasms aren't ladylike so why would women want to have them?
But women should ignore that sexist Hempfest poster, and, like Fiona, hit Hempfest this weekend. (It's August 18 and 19 at Myrtle Edwards Park with five stages of music and speakers and brownie vendors galore.) They should also feel free to upend stereotypes all year long and, like Fiona, put their feet up after work and take a long toke from a gravity bong.
For more information about Seattle Hempfest and a full schedule of musicians and speakers go to www.hempfest.org.