Gender stereotypes are a buzzkill


Michelle Reagle |Copy Chief

By Amber Montgomery / Columnist

There should be no such thing as a girly drink — or a manly one for that matter.

Drinking culture is a complex and almost omnipotent aspect of social life for collegiate co-eds — but it doesn’t escape the bounds of gender.

On a Sunday morning in Hillman, a friend of mine told me about her previous night’s escapade to the casino with a male friend of hers. After promptly losing $10 on roulette, she resigned to sitting with her friend and watching him play blackjack.

She went to order a drink intending to get a beer, but found the bar special was $4 frozen margaritas.

What’s a girl to do?

“I was sitting at a table with all men, plus one of their wives. I was going to get a beer, you know, to show I could hang. But the margarita just sounded so good!” she explained to me.

Spoiler alert: She got the frozen margarita — ­lime, to be exact.

What you’re drinking says a lot about you. A man drinking a beer sends a message: relaxed, strong and thoroughly masculine. A woman drinking a beer? Now, that’s a different story.

A drinking woman is coded in one of two ways — she’s a “cool girl” and just one of the guys, or she’s at least trying to be one of them. Welcome to the double bind.

I hate to make drinking into a gender politics issue. But it is, so I will.

There are few drinks out there that are socially neutral. An Old Fashioned, a gin and tonic, a Martini maybe, depending on the context. But generally, a man’s drink should be simple and straightforward — a beer, a Jack and Coke, a Scotch on the rocks. A woman’s drink will be sweet and sugary, complex like them and most likely fruity, possibly in some vibrant shade reminiscent of a gemstone served in a long stemmed glass.

Men should drink stronger, harder drinks. And if a woman partakes in similar drinks, she’s making a mindful decision to drink “like a man.”

“This is typical for America today: women are expected to perform femininity, but when they perform masculinity, they are admired and rewarded,” as Lisa Wade, a professor of sociology at Occidental College, said in a Jezebel article about what it means to “drink like a woman.”

We see the same trend in all aspects of society, not just drinking. A woman who can play video games, fix a car or memorize all the verses in a rap album is praised for her perceived resistance of femininity. We quickly put her in two boxes — she’s either cool enough to embrace masculinity or she’s pretending to in order to be perceived in this way — without bothering to consider that perhaps she likes these things without any ulterior motive.

Some girls just like football, beer or engineering, and some girls don’t. And they do or don’t because it’s their personal preference, not because they want to stand against or be in line with what society expects from them.

But as you can imagine, it doesn’t work the same way for men. Men associating themselves with things inherently feminine have only one way to go, and it’s down.

It all boils down to the same strain of gender inequality in our society — what’s considered masculine — i.e. beer — is strong, and what’s considered feminine — i.e. appletinis— is weak.

We take cues about what’s masculine and what’s feminine from subtle, but sinister, marketing techniques. This framing has happened for years, with more than just alcohol — even pens aren’t safe from gendered marketing.

Brands like Skinnygirl Cocktails and Little Black Dress vodka are clear examples of chick-targeted products. Likewise, a typical beer commercial shows a man that he can be the perfect ideal of masculinity, safe from any threat of rejection from the girl at the bar, as long as he’s drinking the right beer.

We internalize these social norms, just like my friend at the casino did. Would the men at the table think of her as ditsy and inconsequential, there to serve only as a good luck charm and a bit of eye candy for her male friend? In a tough and masculine environment, surrounded by all guys, she had to stop and think about how they would read her sipping on a lime-green frozen margarita.

Some within the alcohol industry are calling out this inherent sexism and encouraging dialogues about it.

There’s a new Brazilian beer, Cerveja Feminista, that aims to start a conversation about feminism, how women are portrayed in beer commercials and why there are few female directors for such ads.

“Our hope is that, once you put a beer on the table with ‘Feminist’ written on it, people will have no other subject to discuss,” Thais Fabris told Co.Exist.

Fabris is one of the founders of the group called 65|10. The group’s name is a reference to the statistics that 65 percent of Brazilian women feel they are misrepresented in ads and only 10 percent of the creators at ad agencies are women.

“Media shapes how society sees itself. If we can stop advertising that stereotypes women, we are changing an important part of our culture,” Fabris said.

Everyone knows whiskey and beer are manly, while wine, flavored vodkas and Cosmopolitans (thanks, “Sex and the City”) are girly — it’s subconscious and so we don’t question it. But we should.

Women aren’t the only ones affected by this — it affects men just as harshly.

When was the last time you saw a man sipping on a drink with a cocktail umbrella and salt on the rim? Exactly, because he would immediately be knocked down to the level of weakness associated with femininity. A quick, but probably not painless, social suicide for the night.

A woman can get away with making a reach toward something more masculine. If she grabs a beer or a glass of Scotch, her motives may be questioned and judged, but it’s done despite the double bind it puts her in.

If a man drinks one ‘girly’ drink in a bar, he’s mocked and completely stripped of his claim to masculinity.

It’s tempting at times, but don’t buy into advertisements and the stereotypes they carry. Drink whatever you want to drink — as long as you like that particular drink because you like it and not because you want to perpetuate an idea about your identity. Seemingly small assertions of self-identity won’t automatically end gender inequality, but they help show how pointless these social constraints are. That’s a start.

If you want a beer, get a beer. If there’s a deal on refreshing margaritas, get a margarita. And respect others’ choices to do the same.

You’re out drinking for one reason — to have fun. Don’t let gender stereotypes get in your way.

Write to Amber at [email protected]

Amber primarily writes about gender and politics for The Pitt News.

Write to Amber at [email protected]

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