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 !