Sunday, October 14, 2012

WINE AND WOMEN


I have always found it funny the way wine and women are associated together as vices- and by implication I suppose the message that goes out is that women who are around wine are of character that is suspect! Consider a social event where alcohol is served- how many women are offered a drink? Yes I know times are changing but generally, in India, women who drink are viewed in the most suspicious way!

Now, let me make this clear, I am not in any way promoting alcoholism – if drinking is bad then it should be bad for both men and women! However if drinking is something that we do at social events then  why exclude one group of adults from it? There is ofcourse that personal choice people can and do exercise by saying “ NO”  when offered a drink. 

I remember travelling alone to Kuala Lumpur a few years back. The stewardess was asking passengers for their drink preference. When she came to me ,the choices she presented were all fruit juices. So I asked her why she was not offering me any wine or beer or whatever? She seemed a bit surprised and then asked me if I would like to have any of those.  Though I am not a teetotaler I selected a fruit juice. Why? That was because of my co passengers – two conservative looking Tamil men on my left and two young fellows on my right!  All  these four strangers were eyeing me curiously during this exchange. Of course I was least bothered about what they thought about me but considering I was travelling alone, I did not want to expose myself to any bad behavior  that might be triggered from what was going on in their minds!

This is one of the biggest stereotypes that our society has when it comes to women who drink!  That they must be “ loose” ! This is something that both men and women think And probably the only reason why many women avoid drinking socially ! I had a very shocking experience once when a senior colleague of mine after an office event ( where he was drinking quite liberally) told me “ I never knew you drank. I have now lost all respect for you!”  This from a man, who regularly pollutes the environment with his chain smoking and indulges in all kinds of gossip about everyone ..  I was wondering what exactly did this word “respect “ mean for him? After that I have studiously avoided drinking until I was sure I was in a crowd where people would not attribute such screwed up meanings for the word ‘respect” !!  I guess that is also the reason why men avoid offering women alcohol at social events-the fear of being misunderstood. It is a special kind of friendship between the sexes that promotes this solidarity of having a “drink” together without getting misunderstood or being taken advantage of. I share that only with two of my colleagues.  At any other social events I drink only if my husband is with me and neither of us drink if we feel the crowd is not familiar  or is  conservative!

So, it was quite a funny experience last week when  travelling back from Pondicherry some of us decided to buy   wine. I was with two young female colleagues and they were absolutely insistent about not leaving the place without procuring some wine. So, I asked our driver to stop at a shop that sold alcohol. He seemed a bit uncertain..”Enna Madam?”  he muttered. But unable to bear the pestering from the back seat he pulled up near a shop and all three of us marched in.

The staff in the shop were rather surprised ( to put it mildly). And being women, we have a certain style of shopping that I guess men do not have!  We women as you may know, like to examine all the products that are on offer before we make the decision- the shop assistants in Nalli/ Pothys/ Fab India are quite used to that. But their counterparts in the liquor shop were completely baffled as we asked them to pull out bottles from the various shelves examined them ( the bottles I mean) inside the shop, took them outside, read the label, looked for expiry dates and asked for explanations about differences between dry wine and sweet wine! Not enough, a couple of us also made calls home to ask what should be bought.  When S called her father and asked “Daddy, do you want red or white wine”   the shop assistant looked shocked! And of course, I made my own contribution to this shock syndrome by carrying on a conversation with my better half and simultaneously asking for various brands and bottle sizes until I confused the sales guy completely!  Then we wanted the bottles packed safely-A examined the packaging closely before she exhibited her displeasure saying she wanted the packing changed. “Why is the neck of the bottle sticking out of the case” ? she asked. “ Madam, that is how it is – the bottle is too long for the case” the sales man offered timidly.  She asked for someone to look for a better package and finally when nothing better could be found she had to be content with this. All this while, the other seasoned customers in the shop were eyeing us closely –me with my  big bindi and the girls with their shrill voices and backpacks- guess we did not look like Silk Smitha! We emerged out triumphantly armed with plastic parcels as though we were carrying grocery bags!

While all of this was fun as we did it together, I doubt if any of us would have done it alone- the reasons being the same- we do not want to be misunderstood by a society that has different yardsticks for measuring what is right is for men and what is right for women. Unfortunately it is a “civilized” society that introduces these hypocrisies. In tribal communities both men and women drink during festivals.

And it is not just the stereotyping about women–there is another stereotype which exists about people who drink. Someone exclaimed“ You are vegetarian but you drink?”  Why not? Madira paan can be  compatible with satvik food too- just as  girls in Chennai wear a bindi/pottu with jeans!

So let’s get of this mind set- Cheers Girls !

14 comments:

anilkurup said...

Ha interesting facets of our hypocrisy.
But Did I feel a wee bit that perhaps, you have stereo typed yourself in the incident in the aircraft!
It is the hypocrisy of men and the ridiculous notions of orthodoxy or call it conventions of women that aids in these stereotyping isn't it?

The gods even in the Hindu Puranas have had wine. Wine drinking is even part of the cultural fabric of towns and societies.
Like Scotch being of the Scottish Highlands.

But as you and your husband widely do social drinking has to be with like minded ones not morons.

Jack said...

Meera,

Cheers to bringing out this hypocrisy so well. Hope that this kind of mind set will change for better soon.

Take care

Engram said...

Having drinks is an individual choice for either sex but then as you have described in your post you do come across some MCP in India who think that it is their prerogative only.They need to grow up and that's all i can comment about such people. Nice post Meera and thanks for sharing !!!

Shilpi Karnani said...

lovely post!!!loved the way you expressed the wine shopping incident.
.When I was in college n hd gone to a restraunt I remembr the waiter refusing drinks to a group of 3 females in their early twenties as they did not serve drinks to only-female group!!! I was shocked..Our society is really double standard!!they can expect a gal dressed in skimpy clothings to have a drink but cant imagine a gal dressed conservatively n still having a drink!!!!

http://shilpikarnani.blogspot.in/

SG said...

Excellent post. I want to make so many comments that will become a post by itself. So I refrain. I agree with everything you wrote. Very strange in India. If a woman drinks, she does not have good character. If a man just touch a glass, he is a drunkard. I love a glass of Merlot daily. Occasional hard liquor. But I will never go near Tasmac in Chennai. The very sight is disgusting.

One more thing in India. If a man is offered a drink and he declines, others will pressure him to drink. That is another nonsense.

By the way, what do you like? Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Pinot Noir. I assume you like red wine.

Meera Sundararajan said...

Thank you all for your response. @ Shilpi, it is shocking that women are not served liquor when they are alone- as if we are children!

@ SG you are right- I like red wine, vodka and sometimes rum.

@ Anil, I don't think I was stereotyping myself. I was just being cautious in the aircraft. I am not so careful while travelling west in a sector that is largely African, European or North American.

@ Engram, thanks for the kind words. Glad you agree.

@ Jack, yes hypocracy is something that is the bane of our society and probably the most difficult thing to change.

Christopher said...

Another lovely post Meera.

I don't believe in stereotyping women but its only a woman who would look at an expiry date on a wine bottle!! Wine is supposed to get better with age! That was hilarious to put it mildly.

Frankly, alcoholic preferences of my female friends have never had a bearing on my friendship with them or what I thought about them.

Your apprehension about possible misbehaviour by those men co-passengers on the aircraft reflect your own stereotype of men.

I am sure the salesmen will remember you for a long time!

Sykik said...

In Nigeria, women are also viewed as "loose" when they drink or smoke...so it's not just peculiar to your country....however, the ladies of the 21st century really don't care about what the society thinks.

KParthasarathi said...

Drinking in moderation is acceptable both for men and women.It is their choice.But women should take particular care of the company with whom they drink.It is advisable not to take drinks from bottles already opened or from glasses where it has been poured when one is away to restroom especially when there are strangers or alone even with acquaintances.
Character has nothing to with drinking.

SG said...

Now that we (me and LG) know what you prefer, please let us know in advance when you are visiting the San Francisco Bay Area. Will take you on a wine tasting tour. No. Not in the Napa Valley. It is pure commercial. We will take you to Livermore winery. Only 10 minutes from our home.

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ SG thanks for that offer- hopefully some day it will happen :)

@ KP everything in life needs to be done in moderation including eating or drinking. And yes, that was is a good advice that you are giving considering all the awful things that can happen to us women. But then most women ( particularly of my generation) never drink with strangers!

@Christopher- are you still sulking? About that expiry date thing- we women are thorough customers - we like to make sure that we do not get cheated ha ! Ha!

@ Skykik I am surprised that Nigeria like India..

rabel said...

nice post, meera! i am now working within the government system and i take advantage of the fact that i am so obviously an outsider in the gov crowd and imbibe freely at parties...i guess they probably expect it of me and think "these ngo types, no morals nothing..." - stereotyping again! :).

Rhapsody B. said...

Namaste.....
It's been a minute. I hope you are well and you and your family are all in good health.

hmmmmm, in a word on wine/women. PATRIARCHY

Leela Pal Chaudhuri said...

Oh yes and yes - especially in Chennai. In Calcutta, I was used to many of the 'aunties' - parents friends, indulge in social drinking without any verbal slander from anyone. I have myself, in Calcutta, as have my other friends of the female sex, gone into shops which sell liquor (a FAR cry from the TASMAC ones) to buy for parents who were behind the wheels of the car and couldn't park without anyone batting an eyelid, a scenario unimaginable at a TASMAC outlet in Madras/Chennai, in the South really. To quote an example, a few years ago a group of three of us women best friends (from college) went on a Karnataka road trip and stopped by at a 4 star hotel near Halebid if I remember correctly. At dinner one of us (all in our thirties) ordered a whisky and the waiter just could not get it. It took him a few minutes to accept that this was an Indian woman who wanted to a regular hard drink. I am sure he would not have reacted in a similar fashion to the women who were foreigners. So it's the hypocrisy that stems from this idea of 'Indian womanhood".

Post a Comment

 
;