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Dinner Party Revelations: Gender & Alcohol

Written by: Anna Mohan, Associate Editor

Edited by: Clarissa Lilananda, Associate Editor & Jesie Randhawa, Chief Editor

Illustrations by: Angelia, Lead Designer


I begin to get ready about 30 minutes before I need to. This is a stereotype – women take forever to get ready. I wonder – is it because we’re so narcissistic that it just takes us ages to get ready, or is it something else? I know there will be several outfit changes that will occur in the next half hour and I begin to think about the options I have. Outfits I feel uncomfortable in, outfits I’m too comfortable in, outfits my mum deems appropriate but I think make me look lumpy, outfits I feel good in but show too much skin. This isn’t about vanity, these crucial minutes is all about finding balance: perhaps, I’ll wear a skirt? Can’t. It’ll be too short. Maybe a pair of jeans? No, I’ll probably sprawl around inappropriately. When I was younger, there was always a cycle of frustration between my mum and I - she would get annoyed at my indecisiveness or lack of obedience, and I would continue to feel uncomfortable with the choices I had to make. On this particular night, I decided to settle on a long black skirt, and a silky top. It’s perfect – a skirt so I have to watch the way in which I sit, but long enough that I can comfortably move around and pass the snacks and drinks. It’s strategic. For the top I tape the front shut with some double sided tape, my cleavage needs to be covered.

Now I’m in a room with other young adults – three females and two males. We’re all the same age, born months apart from each other. I ask one of the boys if he could grab me a drink, while he goes to get his. I’ve learnt lessons in the past: with various uncles and aunties peering into my cup, seeing a pint of beer or a heavy whiskey glass rather than some wine or a cocktail in a glass with a tall thin stem seemed to make them very uncomfortable. After many uncles tutting about my drink, and my mother eventually asking me to just not drink at these events, we decided that it would just be easier to have the ‘guys’ get our drinks. We don’t want the parents to suspect that I’m having ‘a men's drink’ instead of a cocktail or some wine – it’s just not very “ladylike” of me.

Whiskey, and beer are “masculine” while cocktails and wine are “feminine” drinks. We see these innuendos implied in gendered advertisements, gendered products (wine glasses labelled “mommy juice”), and throughout the media. In advertisements for alcohol, females and males are depicted in drastically different ways – they have different drinking practices, engage in these for different purposes, contexts and have different effects. To drink a beverage that does not align with your own gender seems to disrupt social norms, i.e. what is deemed as the socially-accepted behaviour.

A study in 1997 outlined gender norms and social expectations surrounding what is deemed appropriate behaviour in drinking spaces. This included what individuals considered to be women-specific beverages, quantities that women could respectably drink, the shapes of glasses that were considered ladylike, and the amount of space a woman could occupy in a bar. Furthermore, research suggests that men are praised for bad incidents resulting from intoxication as it is often deemed as a means of achieving masculinity. In stark contrast, for women this same behaviour is seen as failure in realising or in accomplishing femininity.

The process of gendering is clearly a social one. Notions of gender and gender roles aren’t something inherent to individuals, but rather, something learned and developed over time as individuals are exposed to various social norms and processes. This socialisation can take part in different ways, sometimes it is passive – through observation and imitation. For example, we see this in the way that children play “house” and imitate the behaviours of their parents. Other times, this socialisation is explicitly taught – mothers telling their daughters how to dress, sit, walk, or even talk. Personally, my mother instructed me on how I should drink, and be lady-like when I do.

Gender becomes a set of lenses – the way in which people can interpret the space around them and the ways in which they are able to interact with their surroundings. These identities extend beyond being mere categories assigned at birth, instead becoming ingrained in individuals as they begin to embody them. The ways in which we collectively behave and interact with each other, create a social reality. We create gender by engaging in social practices of gender. This is the act and process of “doing gender”, thus, gender is not just a role.

When women transgress norms of socially-accepted behaviour, it could have a negative effect on their social standing. To be a female who ‘drinks like a man’, or ‘dresses inappropriately’ is to deliberately attach the self with connotations of sexual promiscuity, lack of control and are seen as uninhibited. Being unladylike impacts the ways in which they are perceived and treated in their society and their surroundings. The behaviours of men and women after the consumption of alcohol are closely related to deeply fixed cultural perceptions of what it means to be a man or a woman. In instances of sexual assault and rape, women who drink are more likely to be blamed for the assault. Furthermore, through assigning specific drinking habits to different genders we affect the way in which we are able to notice issues of alcoholism in women – a blatant health problem.

The way in which alcohol, clothing, and behaviour is gendered, makes it difficult for us to have nuance when it comes to those individuals who transgress these norms. Extending beyond an issue of “gendered beverages”, through social behaviour we can see that a transgression of these norms and behaviours can have significant impact on the individuals who do so. At the dinner party, the outfit I chose, the drink I decide to drink, the way I choose to sit all affect the ways in which I am perceived. It affects the ways in which they are perceived in society. These fixed cultural perceptions include an understanding of how masculine and feminine roles are to be enacted and realised.

What happens to us when we transgress these norms?

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