On Stereotyping Whiskey-Drinking Women, and Asking Better Questions
She asks what it would be like if men were stereotyped in the same way that women are, a question stemming from an all too common experience:
In the whirlwind weeks immediately following the launch of my book last fall, my fancy publicist inundated me with a slew of email requests that most writers only dream about. I whooped and hollered over coffee after reading messages such as, "CBS This Morning wants to talk to you." Later, I'd hop into a cab, coiffed and pumped for a television appearance, ready to talk whiskey.
And then this would happen: "What does it mean to be a women in whiskey?" or, "What kinds of whiskey do women drink?" or the nebulous, "What can you tell us about women and whiskey?"
But I didn't write a book about women and whiskey. I wrote a book about whiskey. So by the tenth woman-and-whiskey-themed interview, I began feeling ornery:
"What's it like to be a woman in whiskey?"
How the hell would I know otherwise.
To flip the script, she goes on to identify a number of male whiskey-drinking personas—The Pappy Obsessive, The Whiskey EOE (Expert on Everything), The Non-Believer—all spot on and hilarious.
But I want to stay on the kinds of questions she got, just by virtue of being a woman in a "man's" domain.
You might say that highlighting "women in whiskey" is the cornerstone of what we're trying to do here at Women Who Whiskey. But our intention is not so much to draw it out as a special phenomenon to be inspected like a foreign object; rather we hope to socialize the idea of women in whiskey until it becomes so mundane that people stop asking these kinds of incredulous (and incredibly daft) questions.
Steamrolling a woman's desire to speak to—with expertise—an issue of substance that's important to her, only to marvel at her very interest in that topic in the first place, is both condescending, and frankly, not a very good use of deductive reasoning.
While we certainly don't have the same level of public visibility or expertise as Heather Greene, we're all too familiar with the treatment she's endured in being seen as a novelty rather than a legitimate source of thought.
If a woman is on your show (or being interviewed for your article) in her capacity as a woman who drinks whiskey (whether professionally or recreationally), maybe your first question should not be "So! Women actually drink brown liquor?"* It seems that the answer to that is fairly self-evident, and it's concerning if that's a conclusion that isn't easily reached.
The media, in particular, could stand to learn a thing or two about reporting on trend issues in an intelligent way, without just repeating the catalytic part of the news over and over again, as if they were the first to break the story. I suppose that if the easy novel side of the story is still selling papers, why bother spending more time and effort (and money) reporting on the actual substance?
But maybe if the news coverage were a little more intelligent, and a little less focused on the novelty, we'd stop getting these kinds of asinine questions from the broader male population as well.
While the frequency with which this happens has diminished over the years, I still encounter the occasional skeptical male bartender, who, when I order a whiskey, neat, perplexedly tilts his head to the side, and asks if I wouldn't like a glass of white wine instead. Just the other day, our Portland Chapter Co-President, Christine, was offered a cocktail menu when she ordered a whiskey. Her response—"Put my fucking whiskey in a glass."—pretty much sums up how I feel about that anecdote.
Not to mention male bystanders who think that my ordering a whiskey authorizes them to have, and share, their opinion on the matter. It's not always a condescending and rude "Sure you can handle that?" More often than not men actually express admiration and awe, which at first seems less insidious, but when you think about it, is actually worse. Imagine how he would react if I expressed admiration and awe at his being able to make it to the bar and order a drink, all by himself, or anything else that's really no less remarkable than a woman drinking whiskey.
When will men cease to be shocked by the fact that we do the same things that they do?
In fact, it's starting to look more and more like anything they can do, we can do better.
*This was an actual first question posed to us during a live television segment.