Gendered Drinks and the Multiple Layers of “Privilege”

I really enjoyed this article on judging people’s alcoholic drink preferences. It points out some pointless gendered bullshit, which is great, but it also provides a nice little representative sample of one area of privilege.

On the one hand, the “embarrassing” drinks are also coded as “feminine”. Masculine drinks are favored, an example of the way in which many shameful things are seen as the thing girls do. This is the kind of thing many feminists mean when they say that the masculine tends to be valued over the feminine.

On the other hand, the linked Salon article indicates that these preferences are likely to be as much about socialization as biology (and shame on Matt Yglesias for linking it as if it supported a total biological basis for drink preference). As for why socialization would produce such a split, you need look no further than the fact that a man will be shamed for ordering a “girly” drink. Whether or not a woman will get shit for ordering the wrong drink is highly dependent on who she’s hanging out with — some groups will shame for the girly order, others for the manly one. Here, the stereotype hurts the gender-nonconforming man and the woman whose gender performance doesn’t meet with her group’s standards.

Privilege? Who the hell knows. I’m gonna go pour myself a nice scotch.

About aliarasthedaydreamer

Aliaras is a giant nerd. Kinky, queer, and poly, she loves thinking about things and poking at them to see how they work. She’s currently in college learning the secrets of the universe (physics). While not arguing over the internet, she blows pixels up, draws, writes, cooks, and wanders around making the world a weirder place.
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32 Responses to Gendered Drinks and the Multiple Layers of “Privilege”

  1. Men being shamed for doing feminine things is usually interpreted as meaning the feminine things are lower status, but that doesn’t necessarily follow. If you have two groups, and two sets of behaviours, and one set of behaviours can be indulged by both groups, while the other set of behaviours is restricted to one group, with the other group being aggressively discouraged from engaging in them, we might say that the more restricted behaviours are the higher-status ones – the higher status group are free to “slum it” with the lower status group’s behaviours, but the lower status group may not presume to lay claim to the higher status group’s exclusive behaviours. This is enforced as much by the lower status group (on the “bucket of crabs” principle) as much as the higher. You can see it, for example, in middle class white kids appropriating urban black fashions, while black kids disparage each other for “acting white”.

    In this case, the drinks men are shamed out of drinking are generally sweet. They’re immediately pleasant-tasting, and you don’t have to acquire a taste for them, unlike the drinks we’re expected to restrict ourselves to. In other words, we’re expected to know our place and not presume to drink anything nice – instead, we have to learn to like the bitter flavours of the stuff we’re restricted to, while women can drink what they want.

  2. aliarasthedaydreamer says:

    That’s true, but the higher status group only gets to “slum it” ironically — see, for example, hipsters. The middle class white kids who appropriate urban black fashions either have to add some element of comedy, or risk being derided by their peers as “wiggers”. Likewise, men are frequently free to take part in things coded feminine, as long as it’s at least in some part a joke.

    There’s also the thing where “[sad is] like happy for deep people,” to paraphrase a Doctor Who quote. The most “cultured” things tend to also be harder to like on first encounter, so a connoisseur can still be relevant. Art, literature, and to a certain extent music suffer from this like whoa, it wouldn’t surprise me to see it also working in the drinks department. That phenomenon is genderless (although while art/lit/english/cooking are coded feminine, the “greats” in all those departments have tended to be men).

  3. aliarasthedaydreamer says:

    Also, (while I hate using racial metaphors, because racism =/= sexism), the black kid who gets teased for “acting white” will find acceptance in some primarily black groups who place a higher value on that type of behavior as well as in some primarily white groups. This is actually a major complaint: that the only way to get taken seriously by white people is to act like them, and who died and made white people in charge of what acting “properly” is.

  4. I’m gonna state the bleeding obvious here: why can’t we all just get wasted and have fun? Why shame in the first place? Every drink on there gets you the same result in the end.

  5. Titfortat says:

    In other words, we’re expected to know our place and not presume to drink anything nice – instead, we have to learn to like the bitter flavours of the stuff we’re restricted to, while women can drink what they want.(PB)

    This all goes back to being tough, the ability to take care of oneself or friends or family. Being a man means you can do what is necessary. Pretty shitty actually but such is the way for many of us. Bitter drinks are just a analogy for what this ‘hard’ life may give to you.

  6. Danny says:

    I suppose you could argue that this is an example of female privilege (guys being shamed for ordering outside what’s acceptable while women have some freedom to order outside what’s acceptable).

  7. Solo says:

    I’ve never heard of sweet drinks being a female thing or unacceptable for men. That aside I think this is just a silly article deadline meeting list that people are reading too much into.

    I mean, look at the authors!
    http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/author/aminatou-sow/
    http://prospect.org/cs/author?id=1478

  8. tu quoque says:

    “That’s true, but the higher status group only gets to “slum it” ironically — see, for example, hipsters. The middle class white kids who appropriate urban black fashions either have to add some element of comedy, or risk being derided by their peers as “wiggers”. Likewise, men are frequently free to take part in things coded feminine, as long as it’s at least in some part a joke.”

    How status is determined differs depending on what department of culture is being considered. African-americans have suffered a lower status socio-politically and economically, but black culture in modern times is in many ways considered superior because the cultural tastemakers in america are, one, not the same white people who wish to oppress blacks, and, two, place a special value on cultures that are thought to be generated from tough, challenging environments. Cultures that are “real.” White guys are ridiculed for acting black because their assumed privileged lives do not give them authentic claim to the cultures their adopting, not because their debasing themselves by “slumming it.”

    And, again, men are ridiculed for liking girly drinks because masculinity has to constantly be affirmed by men because authentic femininity is not allowed them. Femininity is not less valued than masculinity. It’s seen as inherent only to female humans and a man trying to adopt those behaviors is seen, as with “wiggers,” as an embarrassing fraud.

  9. Sonja says:

    I always thought that ‘girlie’ drinks were meant to be weak. Then I tried a Cosmo. Love it, since two of my favourite drinks are vodka and cranberry juice. A guy I knew (died of a heart attack at 43 😦 ) thought it was a ‘girlie’ drink. Until he had one and was damn near knocked on his ass by how strong it is.

    I recently shocked one of the two paintball teams my husband plays with. We went interstate for the second round of a tournament, and afterwards, grabbed grog and headed back to the cabins we were staying in.

    I drank my vodka straight.

  10. superglucose says:

    I… agree with quoque. I don’t think that allowing women to drink the fruity girl drink (only said because of an irony connected with Kingdom of Loathing) is because they’re viewed as “lesser” or because you have to “trade up” to men’s drinks. I think it’s because drinking a drink that doesn’t make your throat feel like it’s on fire is considered “weak,” and women are allowed to be weak. Not because they’re considered weak, but because they have permission to BE weak. At least, that’s the sense I get in my home town which is a lot more “feminist” (quotations on purpose) than most other places.

  11. Schala says:

    “And, again, men are ridiculed for liking girly drinks because masculinity has to constantly be affirmed by men because authentic femininity is not allowed them. Femininity is not less valued than masculinity. It’s seen as inherent only to female humans and a man trying to adopt those behaviors is seen, as with “wiggers,” as an embarrassing fraud.”

    That«’s what I said, for years:

    Trans women are hated for being seen as frauds as compared to other hetero women, therefore usurpers, outsiders, people who take advantage of you, profiteering people. They’re not “really women”, how dare they even pretend to have this value while having none at all, as vagrant failed males.

  12. Schala says:

    PS: Infertile women are also treated as such if presumed to be fertiled (which is likely), as learned from an intersex friend.

  13. Schala says:

    fertile not fetiled

  14. I love pointing out that beer is loaded with estrogen and flavoured with flowers… it’s the ‘girliest’ drink possible.

  15. Sagredo says:

    In Britain what you drink is not only gendered, it’s also heavily class-based. Passport to the Pub has the anthropological observations on this.

    Actually, this is something I’ve noticed about a lot of restrictions and burdens upon men: they tend to be very class-based. Working-class men are more likely to serve in the military, or do all the really dangerous jobs, or suffer violence, or have their social standing damaged by various “girly” behaviours etc.

  16. noahbrand says:

    Okay, I’m gonna digress on country music for a minute, because I’ve been concerned about gender performativity as manifested in cocktail selection in country music for a while.

    No, seriously, I have. This is a weird thing.

    First off, country music, as a genre, is hella into gender policing. Like, a LOT. The template for gender roles in country songs is best encapsulated in Willie Nelson’s lyric “She’s a good-hearted woman in love with a good-timin’ man,” but that’s a whole ‘nother rant on its own.

    However, this enforcement has some weird holes in it around the issue of alcoholic beverages. Now, obviously there’s the usual cool-chick femmephobic thing that Aliaras and Ozy have pointed out, that a girl who drinks guy drinks is macho and therefore cool. We see this in Toby Keith’s “Whiskey Girl”, in which he describes a woman who performs masculinity better than most men I know, and in Gretchen Wilson’s “Here For The Party”, where she declares she “Don’t want no purple hooter shooter/Just a Jack on the rocks”, a classic cool-macho-girl move.

    On the other hand, there’s John Anderson’s “Straight Tequila Night”, in which the woman he’s singing about switches off between white wine and tequila shots as an indicator of her mood. There’s minimal gender enforcement in the lines; they seem to take for granted that it’s just a matter of her taste.

    Similarly, much of your basic hard-drinking country music has the male vocalists consuming manly beers and whiskies as though Prohibition were being reinstated tomorrow, my favorite being Gary Stewart’s “She’s Acting Single, I’m Drinking Doubles”. However, Jimmy Buffet’s famous crossover classic “Margaritaville”, Alan Jackson’s duet with Buffet on “Five O’Clock Somewhere”, and Garth Brooks’ rather straightforwardly titled “Two Piña Coladas” all have male stars ordering traditionally girly drinks without a flicker of apology. Lots of country songs have that flicker of apology, a lyric that basically says “Before you think that’s weird, let me explain,” but I’ve never heard one that felt the need to apologize for a guy ordering a girly drink.

    I have no idea what this might prove, I really don’t. I do think it might have something to do with this Cat and Girl strip, though: http://catandgirl.com/?p=668

  17. @noah That cartoon is forgetting one thing:

    Tab. That stuff is about as 70’s femme-retro as it gets, and there are hipsters who special order it by the case.

  18. Ruxandra V says:

    What raises my hackles about the coding of some drinks as girly drinks is that said drinks are precisely the ones that make it very easy to get drunker than you wanted to. Mixing sweet stuff with hard spirits makes it harder to estimate how much alcohol you’re actually having, since the taste of it is partially covered up by the sweet stuff. Feed that stuff to someone who doesn’t usually drink and you’ve gotten yourself the perfect date rape concoction.

  19. OrangeYouGlad says:

    “And, again, men are ridiculed for liking girly drinks because masculinity has to constantly be affirmed by men because authentic femininity is not allowed them. Femininity is not less valued than masculinity. It’s seen as inherent only to female humans and a man trying to adopt those behaviors is seen, as with “wiggers,” as an embarrassing fraud.”

    Throwing in with Schala that quoque is pretty on point with this. I’ll be more generous to cis women than any cis woman has probably been to any trans person (but particularly the women) and say that maybe there is an aspect of of the feminine being < the masculine. However, I have my own theories for the phenomenon of women disparaging femininity/"trading up" that don't really play into that too well and there's really no denying that every instance of femininity expressed by male-bodied* or precieved-as-male-bodied people is claimed to be some sort of fakery (hence trans women =/= "real women" and effiminate gay men are *acting* gay/effiminate).

    *Couldn't think of a succinct way to put that while still acknowleging that a trans-woman is female-bodied when she decides she is.

  20. Good point. Presumed-male works well if you want something shorter, but each construction is value-free. And to be sure, there are super-respectful cis women out there… my last boss was one of them. (Sadly she had bosses… they were not quite as respectful.)

  21. AMZB says:

    Not only are women allowed to order man drinks, but anecdatally, as a scotch drinker, I have noticed that it gets us laid. If I order a Lagavulin, every straight man in the room instantly wants to fuck me. I’m not sure why that is. Generally doing things that are considered too “mannish” makes women less sexually desirable to Joe Straight Man, doesn’t it? So why is this particular instance of gender-bending so sexualized? I have been wondering about this for some time now.

    Re: making fun of people who drink sugary drinks. There’s also a non-gendered element to this. Sugary drinks are seen by some (including me) to be the domain of n00bs. A margarita is likable right up front, but things like scotch or really hoppy beers are something of an acquired taste, so I think in some sense liking them denotes sophistication. I wonder if the gendering of drinks is at least somewhat based in the assumption that women are n00bs at anything that you might consider a vice.

    But then again, wine snobbery is somehow not very gendered at all. So maybe not.

    I will probably continue shaming people who order vodka cranberries. But not because it’s girly. I also shame people who order Coors.

  22. unreal man says:

    I have gone out with a woman who said, that if a man orders any “feminine” drink in her presence, she gets up and leaves immediately.

    Charlie Harper would have thought “Great, there’s an easy eject button!”

    Unfortunately it’s easy to think of clever responses afterward. At the time I was so surprised that I didn’t know what to say.

  23. debaser71 says:

    IMO anyone who would give me flak for my choice in drink doesn’t pass my jerk-filter. I’ve said it before but I genuinely value niceness.

  24. debaser71 says:

    darn it, again I wanted to say something and I hit submit…

    Some places I go to can’t even make me a proper drink especially places like TGIF and margaritas. Margaritas should be strong tasting…I detest those sour giant pitcher things. Those are not margaritas. My friends wife was a bartender and she’d make us drinks…awesome drinks…and my friend brews his own beer…I am a alcohol snob. People who give me flak over trying to get the waiter to understand that I don’t want a sour mix pitcher, that I want t real margaritas are ‘noobs’. Their objections tell me more about their mentality than anything else.

    /carry on

  25. Sam says:

    I remember seeing an OKCupid blog entry that basically said women who like the taste of beer are twice as likely to have sex on the first date than women who don’t…

  26. typhonblue says:

    @ Ruxandra V

    “Feed that stuff to someone who doesn’t usually drink and you’ve gotten yourself the perfect date rape concoction.”

    Girly drinks are all a secret conspiracy by men to get women drunk and rape them.

    Wow. Way to sinisterize male sexuality there.

  27. dungone says:

    Sugary alcoholic drinks tend to give me heartburn, which combined with the fact that men usually consume more alcohol than women, makes them a poor choice for me. I really don’t know why anyone drinks them, anyway. Getting drunk involves a lot of calories so why make it worse?

    If you ask me, sugary drinks are a conspiracy for bars to make money by masking the bad taste of cheap liquor. They’re rarely made well and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to a bar that had a cocktail that was worth drinking. I’m a whiskey and wine guy myself, but if I’m on a mission to get drunk then I’ll opt for vodka. What I like about wine is that I can order a dry wine, she can order a sweet wine, and we can still enjoy drinking the same thing. I guess the nice thing about living in an upscale metropolitan area is that no one ever questions what you drink, anyway.

  28. Jim says:

    “Lots of country songs have that flicker of apology, a lyric that basically says “Before you think that’s weird, let me explain,” but I’ve never heard one that felt the need to apologize for a guy ordering a girly drink.”

    I think if you look at CW you will find a lot more class-policing than gender-policing. Think of Toby Keith’s whole pose, or Randy Travis’ “A better Class of Loser” or even just Garth Brook’s “I Got Friends in Low Places.” And margaritas and cosmos are very class-marked. That was the trangressive part of being unapologetic about them.

    “IMO anyone who would give me flak for my choice in drink doesn’t pass my jerk-filter.”
    I had a (former) friend sneer at me for getting a Budweiser – in a goddamed gay country dance place! – and I returned the sneer. Beer snobbery is so 70’s. It was stupid then and it’s just really dtaed nowadays. (Except for what Dungone is talking about, which isn’t even rela snobbery, just discernment. Well made beer is better than fashionable beer.).

  29. Argyle says:

    Random anecdote: this weekend I was at a party, and the host pulled out a bottle of scotch and told his guests to, “please, make it go away.” Tuns out he bought the stuff b/c his favorite author declared a love for scotch, and this guy (not a big drinker, and not familiar with most types of hard alcohol) decided he should like scotch, too . . . only to find out he hated the stuff.

    I, on the other hand, quite liked it. Can’t say my preference got me laid, or even earned me the offer of being laid, as AMZB describes above, but it got me a lot of good scotch. 🙂

    I’ve never known anyone in my social group to care what anyone else is drinking, or to gender-shame/-enforce/-encourage drink choices, so articles about which drinks are gender-acceptable always seem bizarre to me (as do WTF comments along the lines of “if someone orders a such-and-so on the first date, it’s over”). But it’s a trope that keeps coming up again and again in the popular press, so *some*one out there must care . . .

  30. SpudTater says:

    Ach, as a alcohol snob I largely stand by the “drinks you should be ashamed to order in public” article. Alcohol should be enjoyed, and not be masked with ice and cheap cordials. As for gender, I know loads of women who appreciate a good ale or a good whisky. (The most knowledgeable whisky connoisseur I know is a female friend.) And many more who enjoy a good wine — which seems to be more the domain of women these days, and yet is a totally respectable drink. Um, so long as it isn’t served ice cold, that is.

    And sorry, Americans, but your mass-market beer is an atrocity, no matter who is drinking it.   8^)

  31. wondering says:

    Where I’m from cocktails and fruity drinks are unironically referred to as “bitch pops”. It is considered lower status to drink them, regardless of the gender of the drinker. Women will be teased a little, men will be teased a lot.

  32. jnakabb says:

    @Ruxandra V “the taste of it is partially covered up” and @dungone “masking the bad taste of cheap liquor” :
    I understand that was the reason cocktails were invented – to get over the bad taste of bootleg liquor during the Prohibition.

    In the Antipodes, there’s a culture such that beer is for (labouring) men, wine is for girls (and more recently, wine snobs), cocktails are for girls looking to get laid/trolleyed and spirits are for serious sessions.

    Personally, I side with Emmeline (@emeriin) and drink beer (differing colours but not in the same glass), wine (including dry reds and sweet Spumante), cocktails or liqueurs whenever I feel like it. The only thing I keep away from (largely due to a previous bad experience) are spirits – @Argyle, feel free to drink mine, and .. best wishes for getting laid

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