Ladies! Liquor! Ladies and Liquor!

Welcome to Lady Liquor, where, for the next two months, I’ll be writing about the relationship between, well, ladies and liquor. Primarily.

I’m interested in the ways women’s attitudes about drinking – and society’s attitudes about women who drink – have shaped history and pop culture. But it’s pretty much impossible to talk about those things without also talking about other mind-altering substances (I’m looking at you, War on Drugs); I’d also be remiss not to talk about the relationship between booze and other social justice movements – like the gay rights movement, which, after all, started in a bar.

1890s-era lady grinning, holding a giant bottle of champagne in each handI’m here because I consume alcohol and feminist theory with equal enthusiasm, and it made perfect sense to finally throw the two in the shaker and pour them out. I’m also here because enough of a history nerd to know that in the 19th century, the temperance and suffrage movements were closely linked, but until I started reading up for this series, I didn’t know why they were so closely linked, nor did I realize that the two movements eventually parted ways – nor that women were instrumental in getting Prohibition repealed. I’m  here because I’m as uncomfortable with “Girls Gone Wild” as I am with tongue-clucking about “raunch culture”. And I’m here because when I first stumbled on Modern Drunkard magazine, which seeks to restore drunkenness to the glory days of the Rat Pack and Jackie Gleeson, I badly wanted to identify with it, but found that I couldn’t, maybe because it includes a column called “Concerned Cad” and runs incessant editorials about the “nanny state,” an expression that will always get the side-eye from me. I’m enough of a snob that when I order a martini and the bartender asks what kind of martini I want, I visibly wince, but enough of a populist to happily defend sweet, tasty “girl drinks” from sexist eye-rolling.

I mean, really: one of the most important projects of feminism, and particularly of feminism’s third wave, is encouraging women to embrace pleasure. It’s about embracing pleasure in a consensual, conscientious way, but it is by all means about getting your rocks off as you please – without shame or apology. But all of that talk has focused almost exclusively on sex, or on issues of bodily autonomy that relate to sex directly, such as contraception or abortion. But mind-altering substances – apart from being involved, for better and for worse, in many of our sexual experiences – offer their own particular pleasures, a dopamine flood that doesn’t so much as require a trip to the local sex shop.

But talking about women and their relationship to booze also means acknowledging that the spaces in which beer, wine and spirits are sold – and made – are stil, by and large, boy’s clubs. It wasn’t that long ago that this was literally true: in the 18th century, women were rarely allowed to visit restaurants, let alone bars, and were generally assumed to be prostitutes if they walked into the latter. In 2012, some bars are still hostile spaces for women: I make a policy of not visiting most bars that advertise Ladies’ Nights, on the assumption that there can’t be a good reason they’re begging for women customers. (Ladies’ Nights, as we’ll see, were made illegal in some states following legal complaints, but are alive and well in Portland, where I live.) Still, most women in most parts of the U.S. can wander into any bar they please without fear of arrest or reproach, or even a logistical headache; that’s not necessarily true for transgender people and people with disabilities, who are still fighting for safe, accessible spaces.

I don’t think it’s an enormous stretch to say that drinking, or just visiting bars, can have a revolutionary effect – for women as well as other marginalized groups. But not everything a woman does is liberating, just because a woman does it, which is to say I’m hard pressed to call Katy Perry a feminist heroine just because she recorded a song about being hungover once, though”Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” deserves a nod for making her almost seem relatable to me. (Sidenote: did anyone ever actually make out to Radiohead? Does even seem plausible that Katy Perry ever did? These are questions that keep me up at night.) I don’t intend to ignore alcohol’s rather serious downside: I’m interested in how gender intersects with narratives of recovery and addiction in our culture: I might roll my eyes at Cat Marnell’s suggestion that just by writing about being fucked up, she is doing this cool, transgressive, feminist-ass thing, but I have to concede her point that male writers get to write about these things unapologetically, and female writers almost invariably cloud their drinking or addiction stories in apology, self-judgment and a tidy moral ending: Here’s What I’ve Learned, and Why I Know Better Now. Charlie Sheen’s (reputedly drug-related) breakdown was an episode, with a relatively happy ending; Lindsay Lohan’s legal and personal battles (also often involving drugs or drink) are a serial drama, one in which a redeeming finale seems increasingly unlikely. In addition to the apparent gendered double standard in our culture’s reaction to addiction, I’m interested in the gender dynamics of the recovery movement itself – both its origins and its manifestation. I’m also interested in how the disease model of addiction has affected U.S. race politics: has the idea that some ethnic groups are just more susceptible to alcohol addiction been a tool to help those communities, or just a weapon with which to stereotype them? And what’s the science behind it, anyway?

Finally, booze is big business, and it’s one in which many, many women make their living. I’ll also be presenting the stories of female, trans and genderqueer bartenders, brewers, vintners, and distillers – past and present. Brewing beer, historically, was not a man’s job, but a woman’s; I’ll take a look at what changed, and how gender roles continue to evolve in the industry itself, and how that does or doesn’t affect the marketing of alcoholic beverages. (The month of pink nausea has just come to an end, but the pink-booze-for-breast-cancer hangover remains.)

In high school and for my whole freshman year of college, I was a rigid teetotaler (though I preferred the cooler-sounding “straight edge”), then a cautious sipper; both approaches were right for me at the time, and I don’t regret taking them. I spent a good chunk of my mid-to-late 20s being somewhat less cautious in the company of alcohol, and I don’t regret that, either, though I could do without the reflux. Now my drinking ethos is something along the lines of “all things in moderation, including moderation.” That is to say, I try to lead a balanced life, but I don’t mind falling on my ass now and then. If a single beer makes me a little dizzier at 32 than it did at 25, so does the way we talk about alcohol and young women – it’s polarized, it’s disorienting. I want balance in the discourse, too. This blog will be an attempt to help create it.

by Christen McCurdy
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Christen McCurdy is a freelance journalist who lives in Portland, Oregon with too many kitchen gadgets and craft supplies. She penned Bitch Media’s “Lady Liquor” guest-blog series on women and alcohol.

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14 Comments Have Been Posted


This looks great! I'm looking forward to it.


Hate to burst the bubble, but associating a physical substance with feminism isnt a good idea.
Not because I have issues with women drinking. I personally dont care who drinks and who doesnt.
Nor am I going to blame alcohol for "corruption in moral standards" or any of that bullshit.
The reason I have a problem with it is that there's really no such thing as moderation anymore, and associating feminism with alcohol is going to create problems for the young teenagers who equivelate drinking with creating a better female friendly future.
Just because men get shit faced and wind up viewed as "heroic" doesnt mean the liver damage isnt done. Whether or not you're male or female.

The same thing was done with Cigarettes in the 1950s, when it was 'frowned upon' for women to smoke, and by doing so, they challenged the gender stereotypes. Good idea, bad results. Cancer does not discriminate.
Booze has killed more people than Heroin, yet we moronically continue to over-consume it in making a stance for our gender to be viewed as "having fun/keeping up with the boys".
One Famous quote "The Lesser of Two evils is still evil, and the enemy of my enemies is not my friend" comes to mind.
Although I do believe that everyone should have equal rights and to make their own choices, beefing up the topic of feminism vs Alcoholism is a very very fine tight rope to walk across.
If I dont drink, does it make me any less of a feminist?

I tried to emphasize -- and

I tried to emphasize -- and will discuss in detail later -- that I think blithely equating drinking with liberation, without discussing its likely consequences, is uncool and problematic. The relationship between women and alcohol is incredibly complicated, and that's precisely why I think it's a valid topic for feminist discussion.

Just as I don't believe, and did not say, that drinking alcohol automatically makes one a feminist, I do not think not drinking makes someone not a feminist.


This brings to mind an article Beer West ran over the summer regarding the recent trend of marketing beers specifically to women. Putting beer in a pink bottle does not do anyone any favors. For those of us who like beer, we're doing just fine with the current offerings. For non beer drinking ladies, packaging beer differently isn't going to trick anyone into liking it. Either way, its insulting. I'm really looking forward to this blog series.

Ooh, this series sounds

Ooh, this series sounds wonderful. Be sure to share your favourite cocktail :)

I can relate to your "I try

I can relate to your "I try to lead a balanced life, but I don't mind falling on my ass now and then". I spent my early twenties overdoing it, then trying to understand what I had been doing, and then finding a balance (which is going pretty well). I'm looking forward to your series :)

beer lover

Nice topic, I really identify. The suffragist era always interested me and it's all connected. Looking forward to reading more!

Cheers! I look forward to

Cheers! I look forward to reading more.

great idea

This sounds like a great idea, and I think you've done a fine job of laying out the terms, the larger concerns, and what's at stake in thinking about women and booze, both in historical and contemporary ways. As someone who writes about young women in the workforce, and as someone who made a living as a bar waitress for years, I'm really looking forward to reading more about women who work in the alcohol industries.

I just moved to the U.S. a year and a half ago, and I totally find that people's attitudes towards alcohol (in general) are very conservative here. Drinking = bad, without question. People still drink, but with a lot more guilt and self-reprimanding WHILE THEY ARE DRINKING, which is weird. (Again, I'm really, really generalizing here.) They are especially conservative when it comes to pregnant women. I have friends in Italy and Canada who will have the odd glass of wine or beer when pregnant, whereas pregnant friends in the U.S. (I'm at the age where I have quite a few pregnant friends) tell me that they feel watched and monitored and shamed into not drinking ever while pregnant. This becomes another way that people feel entitled to controlling pregnant women's bodies. BUT obviously a contentious issue also, since too much alcohol while pregnant is definitely horrible for the baby. Anyway, those are my thoughts...

Women and drinking

In any given moment in media after a woman takes a drink and enjoys herself there are the following immediate consequences:
1. Rape
2. Fired
3. Car Crash
4. Pregnant
5. Murder
6. Accidental death
7. Stomach pumped
8. Humilitation
9. Inspiring some shitty Sandra Bullock movie
10. Rehab

Frankly drinking is awesome and the conversation should be changed to encourage the fun and lessen the "look at these sluts archetype their doom" narrative.

can't wait

I was wondering--many bars in Massachusetts still have an oppressive environment for people who are queer, female, trans, genderqueer, who aren't white, who are disabled, and who aren't assimilated Americans. In many Boston bars, the men look and act a certain way and the women look and act a certain way; it is as if there is no room for others. The sort of environment in most bars here--loud (and often terrible) music, dim except for the blaring TV screens showing sports, misogynistic behavior and advertising--is very monotonous and, to me, dull. I might just be a snob, but, well, I love drinking, and love drinking in an environment where I feel not only safe, but even accepted. Any thoughts or advice? Perchance someone else living in eastern MA could link recommend me some friendlier bars?

Hey, this comment is pretty

Hey, this comment is pretty old, but I used to live in Boston and I TOTALLY can relate. Avoid Allston -- frat bro central, yuck!

I never liked the bars that were on those "gay friendly" lists -- though I do love going to Machine when they have punk shows!

I never had a bad time at Tres Gatos in Jamaica Plain on Centre Street -- it's a pretty nice date spot, too! Same goes for the Brendan Behan Pub (and you can bring your dog!!).

The Middle East in Cambridge is nice, too, but I'm biased because some of my friends work there! :)

Thanks! What about Gaga?

Hi Christen!

Thanks for this article.

I'm quite interested on what you're writing about. It might sound strange, but I'm analyzing Lady Gaga's songs and performances. I think many of her lyrics are linked to this. Have you ever thought about it? It was a surprise for me that you mentioned Katy Perry, but you don't even talk about Gaga. I hope you do in later posts.

Again, thanks for your thoughts, and for sharing them! ^^

Strange times for women and drinking

Thanks for the article--I've been musing about how the image of teen girls and women drinking has changed so much in the last 30 years. When I was in high school, girls drank moderately and there was some binge drinking in college, but it wasn't part of the mass culture. Like you, I was a "straight edge" kid in high school and most of college and didn't really drink casually as an adult until the last six years.

What's really weird to me is how women and drinking now collide in our culture--Girls Gone Wild, Ke$ha, Chelsea Handler, Katy Perry, etc., My daughter is 13 and is going from a girl culture obsessed with Princesses to one that's infatuated with drinking. Young kids talk about "doing a shot" at age 8 or 9, even if they don't actually understand what a shot of liquor is yet.

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