Stories of self-censorship in the media are sadly common; here's one that's relevant to what I tried to do with this series. Years ago, Barry Lopez addressed an environmental philosophy class at my alma mater and I cornered him later to ask him some questions about journalism. He said it can be a constant fight to get good, varied content published, and as an example told me that a writer friend had had an essay pulled from a mainstream magazine that's well-respected for its reporting and commentary, and which has a pretty highbrow, progressive slant. The essay talked about alcoholism from a personal perspective; it was yanked because one of the magazine's major sponsors, a vodka distiller, was none too thrilled with the writer's discussion of the dark side of drinking. Bitch's commitment to providing a forum for non-mainstream voices and perspectives meant that I was allowed to talk about alcohol from whatever perspective I chose – good, bad, indifferent or amused – and I am enormously grateful for that.
It turns out! Women drink too! Sometimes they even drink faster or more than men, according to a charmingly colloquially written science news piece that crossed my notice over the holidays. According to a survey of Spanish college students, male college students drink more on average, but women drink faster, and a higher percentage of women were identified as “binge drinkers.” A survey of US students also found that students in mixed-gender housing were more likely to binge-drink than students in single-gender housing. Which, as we've discussed, is completely true in my experience, therefore I believe it! And nothing is wrong with the article itself, and the research could guide policy changes on college campuses that keep students safer, whether they drink or not.
But an almost-inevitable result of research – however sound or suspect – on gender breakdowns on, well, anything, is the inevitable tide of sexist eye-rolling or concern trolling that follows. (Look no further than the comments on that article. I kid. There is no reason to read them.) I've long been fascinated by moral panics, as they inevitably target the young, or the ladies, or people of color or sexual minorities. (Christine Sismondo notes that while bars catering to sexual minorities have probably always been around, raids on same in the 1940s and '50s started because Joseph McCarthy was disproportionately interested in the behavior of gay men, who he believed could be more easily blackmailed and brainwashed by Communists. Of course, the moral panic – and the attendant official interest in gay bars – took on a life of its own, and raids continued well after McCarthy's resignation.)
I've asserted several times in this series that bars were, traditionally, male spaces. It wasn't until checking Christine Sismondo's phenomenal history America Walks Into a Bar out from my local library that I found out this was not just an informal taboo: in the decades after Prohibition, many bars explicitly banned women, or banned them from visiting during certain hours.
There were a few reasons for this, depending on the region and the bar: first, during World War II, as was the case in many other fields, women went into traditionally male occupations, including bartending (in some cases forming barmaids' unions). When men came back from the war, they formed their own, all-male unions to muscle female bartenders out. But bars did employ women during the postwar era – just not to pour drinks. Instead, “B-girls” employed by the bar would show up, pretending to be nurses or secretaries on their way home from work, and charm the male clientele into buying them drink after drink. After several drinks, the woman in question – usually called a “B-girl” – would disappear, leaving her companion with an artificially inflated bar tab: he'd be charged for cocktails even as the in-the-know bartenders had been pouring one glass of juice, soda pop or iced tea after another.
The ensuing moral panic (which focused on protecting the male victims, and didn't concern itself one way or another with the women involved in the work) had the result that many bars banned women from visiting, or just from visiting during certain hours. And, of course, there were the bars that had never opened their doors to women in the first place, or just refused to serve unaccompanied women.
In college, I lived in a co-op – on-campus, owned by the university and so-called because rather than rely on the custodial service that cleaned the other campus buildings, we divvied cleaning tasks among ourselves. It was cheaper to live there than in the dorms or off-campus. There were several on our campus, and I lived in no fewer than three. There were not the hippie havens they sound like, though the one I lived in for two years in a row had a hackey sack circle going out front pretty much 24/7. That house – the only coed house in Oregon State's co-op system – was far more like a coed fraternity.
None of us would have admitted that at the time, of course. All of considered ourselves a little too cool, a little too lefty and a little too mellow to participate in the, pshhhh, Greek system.
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.)
Oh, hey, look at that! It's the weekend! THE WEEKEND, you guys! And, since it is the weekend, I am going to assume that a fair number of you will be drinking. Me, I like drinking; I can mix a decent cocktail, I'm not averse to beer, and I am nowhere near sophisticated enough to tell good wine from just-OK wine, so THAT usually works out pretty well for everyone involved. In fact, I am just going to go on the record, here, and say that I am a fan of drinking. Here's what I'm NOT a fan of, however: this video from Ke$ha.