So far in this series I've talked about women making and marketing beer, the gender politics projected onto drinks themselves and women visiting bars. But I haven't yet talked about women behind the bar.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak to Mindy Kucan, the lead bartender at Hale Pele, a tiki bar in Northeast Portland. Kucan has been tending bar for 10 years, but got interested in "craft bartending" (which focuses on complex, balanced cocktails mixed on quality liquors and unusual ingredients, as well as reviving classic drinks from bygone eras) five years ago, while tending bar at a Hilton in Texas. "I wanted to get better at what I did, so I just found ways to do it," Kucan told me.
In 2008, she attended Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans both to meet more people in the craft cocktail scene and to watch skilled bartenders at work. Eventually, she started entering mixology competitions. Often, these are sponsored by the makers of spirits or liqueurs, and the competition centers around (quickly) building a drink with that ingredient inclusive – but they grade on personality and aplomb as well as quality of cocktail. Others are charity events asking competitors to quickly build a drink with that ingredient inclusive – such as the Iron Bartender competition I attended earlier this month, in which Kucan competed (and where she is pictured here, dressed as Angostura bitters).
This summer, a Los Angeles gay bar called the Abbey banned bachelorette parties from its establishment until marriage equality is achieved, which sparked discussion in LGBTQ communities elsewhere about the tradition of straight bachelorettes celebrating impending nuptials in queer spaces. Here in Portland, a gay bar called CC Slaughters announced it would permit bachelorettes and their parties to celebrate there provided they didn't "flaunt it." That is to say, bridal veils, tiaras, penis hats – and, presumably, sequined "Bride" T-shirts – now have to be checked at the door.
Just how long brides-to-be have been crashing the gates of gay bars for pre-nuptial fun, I can't say: the bachelorette party itself is a relatively new phenomenon (historical info online is spotty, but the first how-to-plan-a-bachelorette-party guide was published in 1998, and etiquette and bridal books only started referencing this alternative to the bridal shower in the 1960s). Why precisely dancing at a gay bar, or seeing a drag show, evolved as the counterpart to male bachelor party traditions (mostly, if Hollywood is telling me the truth, going to Vegas and either accidentally marrying strippers or accidentally killing them) is another question.
Part of it at least stems from a perception of gay bars as safe spaces for straight women – where they can drink or dance without likelihood of being hit on or groped the way they might be in straight clubs. (I like dancing in queer clubs for just this reason – and sometimes drag my computer or a book to happy hour at the gay bar in my neighborhood, partly because they have really good drink specials and partly because I know no one will tap my shoulder and ask me what I'm reading or working on.) Perhaps seeing a drag show, or dancing with gay men, or watching male strippers might provide straight women with a means to act out sexually without running a real risk of zero-hour infidelity (the likelihood of which is the running joke in pretty much all plans and narratives around bachelor/ette parties).
The Leveson Report on the ethics of the British Press has vindicated U.K. feminists by concluding that our tabloid media demeans and sexualizes women. But now that the dust has settled, will there be any real change in British newspapers?
Cocktail culture began in the home and broke down norms around who socialized with whom, gender-wise, and I certainly know people who assume all cocktails are sweet and sugary (and therefore feminine), or that any drink with more than two ingredients is a "girly" drink. Neither of those things are true, of course, as anyone with an alcoholic grandfather or an even passing familiarity with James Bond can attest. And, I mean, Ernest Hemingway drank mojitos and daiquiris (albeit not the frozen, flavored concoction usually called a daiquiri these days).
Also, tiki drinks – usually mixed on rum, and full of sweet ingredients that will charm the teeth straight out of your mouth! These are drinks people like Howard Hughes used to love in the postwar period, and that have become popular among lovers of craft cocktails in the last few years. Tiki drinks, as far as I can tell, are largely detached from "girly drink" stigma, possibly because most of the classics are so full of booze that their moribund names (the Zombie, the Corpse Reviver, the Suffering Bastard) should serve as a warning, a kind of macho throwdown: "Just because I am full of fruity, tropical flavors and rum does not mean I cannot kill you dead, sir!"
Of course, the fact that a fictitious jerky, misogynistic spy likes something or an actual jerky, misogynistic writer liked something does not automatically make that thing good. Or bad. (Let's not even mention Don Draper and his old fashioneds.) Nor should we assume any correlation between urine-hoarding and knowledgeability about cocktails. And while I'm still snobbish enough to make faces when I walk into a bar and the drink menu includes things like appletinis (or, really, anything that's just vodka and flavored syrup in a martini glass), it stands to reason that not every drink pegged as a "girl drink" tastes like a blue Slush Puppy.
I've been the coworker who never missed a chance to drink with coworkers and I've been the one who hated my job so much that the last thing I wanted to do at the end of the day was spend more time with my coworkers. That turned out to be a mistake, though: at my first job out of college, the occasional beer with coworkers kept me sane, but it took me a year to even consider it. One coworker there said I seemed "stuffy" to her, which would have been hilarious to the staff and volunteers at my next job. I drank with them regularly and developed a rep as something of a party girl. During the day, I fended off sexist comments and had to fight to be respected; being known as cool, fun and likeable probably worked against me.
A massively unfair catch-22, that: skipping the office Christmas party and keeping your head down at work can get you the wrong reputation in the office, but so can being known as the lampshader. (While men aren't immune to this kind of gossip, I frankly don't hear nearly as much murmured concern that the guy who got too lit last weekend might be a little more committed to the good life than he is to his job.)
If the incessant loop of "Baby It's Cold Outside" playing at the grocery store hasn't tipped you off yet, allow me: The holiday shopping season is upon us. And if you celebrate this time of year, this means you have approximately one month to buy everyone in your life a meaningful gift—and retailers won't let you forget it. Hence, the holiday shoppings ads, which are now playing at a rate of approximately one thousand per minute. While some of these spots are kinda clever, others are downright terrible. That's why were reprising an age-old Bitch blogs tradition, as timeless and hairy as Santa's beard. It's the Offensive Commercials Holiday Showdown!
I've always been perplexed by the stereotype that women just don't like beer very much. The stat I hear most often – which I quoted in my post about Teri Fahrendorf – is that only about 30 percent of American women prefer beer to either spirits or wine. Of course, if I were asked the question that way, I'm not sure which of the three I would choose myself. Wine has always intimidated me a little bit, because while good wines can be had at any price point, the quality and flavor varies year to year, and getting really, really into wine seems to require more disposable income than I have. Liquor is, well, quick, and a well-balanced cocktail is a beautiful thing, but can also come with a hefty price tag. With beer, there's enormous variety; while lots of breweries do special seasonals that vary year to year, or super small-batch brews that are both tasty and a little expensive, there's a remarkable consistency and affordability to beer, and it's likely I spend the bulk of my booze allowance on it.
I see plenty of other ladies at brewpubs, beer-forward bars and beer tastings I go to, but the conventional wisdom is that I'm a rarity. I wondered what, if any, actual research had been done on women's purchasing and tasting habits where suds are concerned. So I chatted with Ginger Johnson, the founder of Women Enjoying Beer, a southern Oregon-based business that does qualitative research and marketing for beer companies, as well as educational events for women interested in beer. Johnson told me she started the company because she ran across the same problem I did: "There's not a lot of stats. There's stereotypes," she said.
It doesn't surprise me that Snoop took the opportunity to engage in a little product placement, though he's also joked about pot brownies on Martha's show. What's more interesting is that Landy's deal with Snoop appears to be a case of the tail wagging the dog. References to cognac started appearing in hip-hop lyrics as early as the 1990s – somewhat, it seems, to the surprise of cognac makers. Previously the brandy (named for the region in France where it's made) was marketed to older, upper-class and upper-middle class white folks, at least in the U.S.
After a few years, the stodgy, slumping cognac industry seized on the trend and started enlisting rappers for endorsement deals; right after Snoop was shown pouring yak into mashed potatoes, Hennessy released a special edition cognac to celebrate Obama's inauguration.
African-Americans probably don't make up the percent of the market that some cognac makers claim. But the cognac industry continues to court African-American customers heavily, and rappers are still coveted spokespeople for luxury booze (even if they're also, uh, shilling for Hot Pockets).
According to a New York Times piece from earlier this week, teens still work out to lose weight just like they did in my mom's day, but that's not all: A recent study shows that boys are increasing their workout routines, and they're increasing their "muscle-enhancing behaviors" (everything from diet changes to steroid use) along with them.
At Feminist Camp, there's no bug juice, no panty raids, and no singing around a campfire, but that doesn't mean it's not an experience you'll remember forever. Soapbox, Inc., the speakers' bureau and training organization founded by activists and Manifesta authors Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner, hosts two camps per year, and registration is currently open for the Winter 2013 session (previously known as Feminist Winter Term). The weeklong camp immerses attendees in feminist advocacy, policy, art, and more, spending each day meeting with organizations like Third Wave Foundation and Sistas on the Rise, as well as individuals who have made feminism integral to their careers.
Former Camper NC Eakin, who attended in Winter 2010 and now works at a feminist nonprofit in New York City and blogs at Genderqueer Fashionista, has a rundown of what made the experience so worthwhile.