Monday, September 14, 2015

Gender Dynamics and Drinking?

I noticed something interesting when I was in Panama that got me thinking about the gender and cultural norms surrounding drinking. I know you're probably thinking that this seems a bit extreme (and you might be wondering if I ever turn off my inner feminine feminist critic, which is fair), but the behavior surrounding alcohol consumption in this Central American country was really striking.  

You see, every evening when dinner time rolled around, I naturally gravitated towards the extensive wine lists. *It was vacation, after all!* However,  the moment it was time to order a bottle of wine at dinner or a cocktail after hours, the formerly gregarious and friendly servers promptly turned their backs on me (literally!) and deferred to the opinion of my guy. Even if I was the one holding the menu and asking questions, I still had the same experience. You can probably guess that when it came time to taste the wine, it was once again only offered to the fellow to my right.

Now this kind of thing happens all the time back home, so I wasn't particularly offended when it happened abroad either. However, things took an interesting turn when we explored the Old City where many Panamanian traditions as old as the colonial buildings still pop up from time to time. The first incident occurred at a fantastic restaurant one evening where we had the most incredible meal (really, if you're ever in the area, check out Veggie Moon in Casco Viejo). When we ordered drinks to start off our dinner, the server swiftly whisked my glass away and disappeared into the kitchen. Perhaps he'd spotted a lipstick mark? Nope. It turns out, he was returning with a significantly smaller sized glass for me while leaving the veritable giant-sized wine goblet in front of my boyfriend's plate. How fascinating!

After some initial surprise, I became absolutely besotted by this idea. After all, it is a scientific fact that women do not digest alcohol as well as men do, not to mention that we are oftentimes significantly smaller. Therefore, while our male companions, friends, counterparts, family members or what-have-you sip away and barely become buzzed, we women oftentimes struggle to keep up. Indeed, if I see my boyfriend, father, brother or male friends finishing their drink, I find myself subconsciously thinking that I should finish up my glass as well. This is ridiculous, of course, because if I tried to keep up with any of them, I'd find myself under the table.

Is this anti-feminist of me to have enjoyed using the itty-bitty 'girly' wine glass? I don't think so at all; rather than feeling sloppy after drinking small barrels full of wine, I felt feminine and in control, able to match my drinking pace with that of my boyfriend's. In this case, a smaller glass for me made sense.

But how about the alcohol itself? Right after dinner, we strolled down the cobbled streets in search of a late-night cocktail, and happened upon a buzzing local bar. We headed up to the bar and ordered our drinks - mango daiquiri for me and a pina colada for him. I adore the fact that this six-foot-four man can order a pina colada without thinking anything of it, but the bartender clearly didn't agree, as she immediately burst into snorting laughter. Surprised, we asked her if that was wrong in our miss-mashed spanglish, to which she merely kept laughing as she walked away.

I guess the notion of "girly" drinks prevails even hundreds of miles away from home. What is it about sweet-flavored drinks that is deemed so "girly" and feminine? Why is it that a man's masculinity seems threatened if he orders something with sugar? Reading some articles after returning from home, it seems the consensus is that women are "not as strong" as men, so should be given the weaker, more diluted drinks.  Happily, there seems to be a backlash against this longstanding and absurd ideal as more and more men are embracing their masculinity while clutching their vodka cranberries and strawberry mojitos. I'll cheers to that.

Check out more information on gendered drinking dynamics here and here.


  1. Really interesting thoughts! I enjoyed reading this! You're really getting at the underlying problem that in many cultures certain things are deemed as "girly". This whole idea of labeling something as girly is just silly and close-minded. The smaller drinking glasses are interesting, but I like the idea of having choices. I'd be nice if I had the choice to choose the size of my drinking glass! I would probably choose the smaller size when drinking with the much larger/heavy drinkers in my life. What size of glass I drink out of or how sugary the drink I order is shouldn't say anything about my gender, just about my own personal preferences.

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