Women and the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous: A Gendered Narrative

This paper examines how women ‘work’ the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) from a gendered perspective.

Feminist critics of AA have

  • challenged the language of AA’s Twelve Steps,
  • the spiritual nature of the steps, and
  • the male-dominated culture of the Twelve-Step program.

This paper offers insight into how women in AA approach, interpret, and utilize the Twelve Steps to recover from alcoholism.

Through survey and narrative data, findings suggests

  • that women working AA’s Twelve Steps become empowered and
  • change for the better in spite of the male-dominated culture and language of the Twelve Steps and
  • regardless of the difficulty they may have encountered in completing these steps.

In particular, the first three steps-the ‘surrender steps’

  • encourage women to let go of their alcoholic obsession and
  • begin a spiritual path of recovery.

Steps Four through Nine require

  • women to ‘clean house’ and
  • get rid of old self-destructive ways so that they may develop a new and stronger sense of self.

Finally, on completing Steps Ten through Twelve, women

  • experience a spiritual awakening and
  • then, in turn, ‘pass on’ what they have learned from the Twelve Steps to other women in the program.

Woven throughout these women’s experiences is

  • an acknowledgment of gender and
  • the role it plays in how they work the Twelve Steps.

In the end, these women express a sense of personal empowerment that is particular to a gender-specific orientation to the Twelve Steps of AA.

Research; Jolene M. Sanders, Women and the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous: A Gendered Narrative. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, Volume: 24 Issue: 3, 2006.