What It Actually Means to “Drink Like a Lady,” and Why You Shouldn’t Actually Care

It’s no secret that the expectations for women in modern society are bordering on the absurd. Between the demands of physical appearance and the requirements of social graces, it’s a small wonder that women aren’t being mass produced like Stepford Wives to fulfill these highly calculated conditions (proposed almost exclusively by men).

Social expectations of women have evolved somewhat over the last century, but the prolonged need to regulate and control women’s behavior in order to make “ladies” of them continues to permeate the cultural sphere. Though the definition of a “lady” has gone through many permutations since the 1950’s, there still exists an unattainable pinnacle of “ladylike-ness” that women are expected, nee demanded, to adhere to in all areas of life.

The stipulations of “ladylike” behavior even extend into the realm of consumption, where something as innocuous as a drink order serves as an instantaneous personality barometer for any curious onlooker. With the advent of such linguistic gems as “White Girl Wasted” and the burgeoning popularity of alcohol brands like SkinnyGirl cocktails, the question that has lingered in the stale air of dive bars and dance clubs since time immemorial has once again reared its booze-addled head: what does it actually mean to “drink like a girl?”

According to ludicrous “girly-girl” magazines such as Glamour, women only drink in public because they crave male attention and tailor their drink choice to how they want to be perceived. According to press releases for SkinnyGirl cocktails, a line of “guilt-free” vodkas and wines created by former housewife and media gadfly Bethenny Frankel, “drinking like a lady” means narrowing your booze scope to little more than margaritas and/or cosmopolitans with only low-calorie additives (because heaven forbid your waistline should ever expand). And according to moronic “culture” blogs such as ShakeStir, the act of “drinking like a woman” is a depraved mating ritual of sorts geared only at enticing men.

The phrase “drink like a lady” seems to get tossed around like a bad Sex & the City joke any time a female steps outside the accepted norm of what she should drink, which is often limited to the fringes of weak martinis and whatever fruit juice vodka can be mixed with. Despite evidence that women are now the fastest-growing contingent of whiskey drinkers in the United States, there still exists a stigma that women who drink bourbon or beer are “masculine and unattractive.” Much of this can be contributed to gender bias in alcohol advertising, which views women as an entirely separate market demographic assumes that females are “…fluffy, little, girly, delicate creatures who need to be treated as a special case,” according to Jane Peyton in an article for Beer West Magazine.

In a 2014 article for Punch, an online magazine dedicated to wine and cocktail culture (and independently run by two women) Shanna Farrell sheds light on the unfounded stereotype that women have “dainty palates” and are thus uninterested in the flavor intricacies of stronger, more “masculine” drinks. Pervasive as this notion might be, it is entirely untrue — in fact, most women have more tastebuds than men, which gives them a considerable edge in terms of savoring the aromas and complexities of craft beer or small-batch bourbon (and why breweries are now scrambling to win favor with the ladies).

Kevin Fitzpatrick, a blogger for Huffington Post, disagrees with the narrative that women should “drink delicately” and instead encourages readers to follow in the footsteps of Dorothy Parker. Parker, an American poet and critic best known for her acerbic wit and dalliances with gin and gentlemen, pioneered the notion of a hard-drinking, wise-cracking woman as nothing less than desirable as early as the 1930’s. Of the myriad of her quotes that buzz around the internet, perhaps none is so famous as: “I love a martini — /But two at the most./Three I’m under the table;/Four I’m under the host!”

For those of us ladies who are more partial to beer and whiskey than anything involving the words “fuzzy” or “navel” (myself included), forget everything you’ve heard about how “unattractive” drinking beer makes you seem. For all the chauvinistic drivel about women who prefer strong drinks being “undesirable,” there is a growing sect of female-oriented brewing and blogging and an even faster-growing contingent of men who are bewitched by women who drink whiskey. So please, for the sake of hard-drinking women everywhere, stop denying yourself that Sierra Nevada and go for that second whiskey sour if you want it. Anyone, man or woman, who looks down their nose at you for it should probably adjust their bonnet and mind their own boozy business.

Cyanide and Happiness/Explosm.net

Cyanide and Happiness/Explosm.net

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“Responsible Drinking” Campaigns Promote More Debauchery Than Restraint

In the myriad of alcohol advertisements that have graced our culture over the last few decades, there is always a commonality: the reminder to “drink responsibly.” As ambiguous as it is pervasive, this message permeates the alcohol industry as a marketing tactic aimed not at advocating sensible imbibing, but at eliciting consumer loyalty to brands associated with such slogans. Despite the superficial sheen of promoting safer drinking habits, no amount of feigned urging towards responsibility can camouflage the flagrant hypocrisy the alcohol industry is guilty of in its advertising.

Nebulous and ill-defined, the ubiquitous “drink responsibly” directive fails to clarify what responsible drinking is and neglects to address its relevance. Instead, consumers are left with a vague impression of what it means to engage in reasonable drinking practices, and often that impression is geared much more towards establishing brand loyalty than promoting public health.

There is a staggering level of deception employed in the advertising of alcohol. The responsibility paradigm belies the economic objective of the alcohol industry, which is centered solely on profit. Conscientious drinking habits involve moderation and avoiding the excessive, which would mean a significant plummet in product sales were the concept of “responsible drinking” to actually be imposed. Despite what their advertisements proclaim, the likes of Anheuser-Busch and Skyy Vodka don’t actually want you to drink responsibly because that would mean you are buying less of their product.

The phrase “drink responsibly” began appearing in advertisements in the early 1980s, after President Reagan established the Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving (PCDD) in response to the epidemic of drunk driving incidents. The commission sought to raise awareness of the dangers of drunk driving and promote healthier attitudes towards alcohol consumption, and eventually resulted in the passing of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984, which officially raised the legal drinking age from 18 to 21. In the wake of this massive cultural shift, alcohol advertisers began inserting the phrase “drink responsibly” into their digital and print advertisements in hopes of saving face in the public opinion. For over 30 years now the vast majority of alcohol ads have been accompanied by the phrase “drink responsibly,” but its prevalence is not necessarily reflective of success.

Booze advertisements notoriously promote images of a “good time,” most often featuring aesthetically pleasing people (women, specifically) engaging in booze-addled revelry in the most fabricated of idealistic settings. The format implies that merrymaking is exponentially increased with the presence of alcohol, and that the consumption of specific brands will surely result in the consumer’s attainment of the implied glamour created by the ads. This marketing strategy creates these false narratives of the symbiotic relationship between alcohol and enjoyment, which utterly contradicts the proposed logic in moderate drinking. The bulk of capitalist advertising follows a trend of “more, more, more,” thus rendering the promotion of restraint in a consumer-driven market entirely fallacious.

In a 2012 study from Alcohol Justice, an organization aimed at exposing and regulating the flaws in alcohol commerce, researchers asserted that industry pretenses of responsible drinking are counterproductive because they serve to “…increase intent to use the product instead of decreasing alcohol-related harm.” As a result of these findings, the organization advocates for stricter regulations of the alcohol industry (one of the largest American industries that remains self-regulated) in hopes of raising awareness of the true implications of alcohol use.

Perhaps the best analysis of the hypocrisy of alcohol advertisements can be attributed to animated sitcom South Park. Already a veritable steamroller of pop culture skewering, this mock-up of alcohol ads from the 2014 episode “Freemium Isn’t Free” highlights the absurdity of sexually saturated and socially unrealistic ads, all in the space of 26 seconds:

Though the ad is intended to be a parody, it is disturbingly accurate in its satirization of alcohol advertisements: glorifying booze-addled decadence while reminding consumers to “be responsible” in their hedonism. Because that logic is just flawless.

And until alcohol advertisers can curb their heinous hypocrisy, the mainstream will continue to be flooded with conflicting images of inebriation as we strive to become a “nation of responsible drinkers” (or at least that’s what Anheuser-Busch wants you to think it’s up to).