I’ve been sheepishly ordering vodka sodas since I was old enough to do it. I don’t like them very much, but then I don’t really like hard liquor in general. I’ve never taken a sip of vodka and thought, Yum. I don’t particularly want to have one over dinner, nor learn to make one with just the right amount of zing. I don’t care what kind of vodka is used as long as it’s not the shitty stuff. I might prefer beer or wine with food but those are harder on my body so at a bar? Vodka. It’s my drink not because I love it but because it’s simple and predictable, because I don’t want sugary stuff late at night, because my palate is a wimp.
I’ve been bashful about my drink order forever. I dress it up to a mule, collins or gimlet if I’m feeling bored or watched, but that’s about it. I wish I thought it sounded even vaguely appealing to nurse a whiskey neat instead of choke down a drink beloved by sorority girls, calorie-counters and white women (or so it’s been said) like some sort caricature of myself, but alas, I don’t. For a long time I thought that made me lame.
When I met my boyfriend last year, I was surprised to learn he loved vodka and drank it more than any other alcohol. He said it with pride, too, and had all kinds of reasons for liking it that somehow made it seem legitimate. “No wonder you drink vodka,” he said to me, “because you’re Polish!” (It wasn’t a connection I’d ever drawn, but one I jokingly accepted.) Whenever he ordered a vodka soda at a bar I was taken aback, and I’m embarrassed to say he made me feel better about ordering one myself.
Why did it take a man to validate my drink order? It’s a question I hadn’t even thought to ponder until I read Jaya Saxena’s “Women Aren’t Ruining Food,” piece last week in Taste. “When men enjoy something, they elevate it,” she writes. “But when women enjoy something, they ruin it.” I immediately recognized my own attitude in her words, and that’s when I realized my relationship with alcohol has been sexist for as long as I can remember.
“The treatment of women-centric food trends illuminates how, in many respects, whatever a man does is considered the standard that the rest of us should adhere to,” writes Saxena. “If a man is fussy about craft beer or protein shakes, it’s food that should be fussed over. If a man requires nothing more than meat, potatoes, and a Budweiser, neither should anyone else.”
She goes on to point out how pervasive this delineation is: movie franchises, music genres, food trends and other cultural touch-points. It’s hard to argue with, impossible to unsee and endlessly troubling. “Men can obsess over every aspect of procuring, drying, and grilling a steak, but women are the high-maintenance ones for arranging a beautiful smoothie bowl,” she writes.
When I consider her points around alcohol in particular I’m especially disturbed; I’d never noticed the cache of certain drinks is unquestioningly in favor of those which are considered “manly.” Anything considered “girly,” like rosé, only becomes cool once men start drinking it too. I always found it a little grating when a woman bragged about her preference for dark liquor, as if preferring a “man’s drink” made her better than me — but I’d never chalked it up to internalized misogyny. Nor my own shame, either. How weird.
I ran some polls on Instagram to see if this view around alcohol was as pervasive as I suspected. The results, which include the views of over 25,000 people, confirmed as much:
45% of respondents have been embarrassed their drink order was lame or basic (41% have actually ordered something else as a result), and 67% have been proud their drink order sounded sophisticated.
65% of respondents associate certain drinks with certain genders, and just as many say they consider “manly” drinks to be cooler.
40% of respondents have made fun of someone for ordering a “girly” drink, and the same number have been the recipient of such teasing.
That’s a lot of drink-related shame. I think it’s time we rewrite these rules, and I’m starting by rethinking how I order drinks. There’s nothing wrong with not having a palette for dark liquor straight-up, nor is there any reason to feel ashamed for preferring something simple. Tastebuds are just tastebuds, they don’t indicate our level of worthiness any more than our predilection for cilantro. How would you have responded to the above measures? Have you internalized some of these sexist views?
Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi; Creative Direction by Emily Zirimis.