Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

'What on Earth Is She Drinking?' Doing Femininity through Drink Choice on the Girls' Night Out

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

'What on Earth Is She Drinking?' Doing Femininity through Drink Choice on the Girls' Night Out

Article excerpt

Introduction

Traditionally, public drinking has been a privilege reserved for men and appropriately situated within the masculinised space of the pub, and whilst men's alcohol consumption has long held positive associations with masculinity and toughness (Lyons and Willott, 2008), women's drinking--particularly in public--has historically been labelled a threat to health, respectability and femininity itself (Day, Gough and McFadden, 2004). Even as women's drinking becomes increasingly tolerated and normalised, there have long been clear distinctions between "men's drinks"--such as beer--and "women's drinks" (Towns, Parker and Chase, 2012). However, these gendered distinctions in terms of drinking spaces and beverage type are potentially beginning to blur, with researchers noting the expansion of an increasingly "feminised" Night Time Economy (NTE) where young people of both genders are expected to engage in hedonistic practices of alcohol consumption. With drinking potentially playing a key role in women's negotiations of pleasure, fun and sexual identities (Sheehan and Ridge, 2001), traditional understandings of gendered drinking divisions may be outdated, and the NTE has been conceptualised as a contemporary site in which women can reinscribe drinking with more positive meanings and rewrite the scripts of contemporary femininities (Hutton, 2006). However, it is important to understand the consequences of this supposed "feminisation" of the NTE for the young women who frequent these spaces, and explore the impacts of changing theorisations of drinking on women's embodied, everyday practices within nightlife venues. This essay will explore some of the ways in which young women may individually and collectively "feminise" their consumption practices in order to situate them within the boundaries of respectable femininities through continuing to subscribe to binary gendered distinctions that position some drinks as "manly" or "masculine" and others as "girly" or "feminine". Firstly, the theoretical frameworks behind conceptualisations of "appropriate" or respectable femininity will be explored, before moving on to consider the NTE--and specifically the "girls' night out"--as a site for the negotiation of contemporary femininities. The essay will then draw on semi-structured, in-depth interviews with young women (undertaken as part of my PhD project, the "Girls' Night Out Project") to consider the ways in which their consumption is "feminised" both individually, in terms of beverage choice, and collectively, through the positioning of practices such as sharing a bottle of wine as a way to "do" girliness as a female friendship group.

Doing Gender / Doing Drinking

As Skeggs argues, "women are not feminine by default ... femininity is a carefully constructed appearance and/or form of conduct" (1997, p. 107). It is widely recognised that gender is something we "do" rather than something we are born with, meaning bodies become gendered through social and cultural--rather than biological--processes. According to Butler (1990), gender is performative in that bodies become gendered through this continual "doing" of masculinities or femininities, creating the false impression that gender is fixed and natural. Individuals are thus expected to perform the characteristics, behaviours and practices associated with "doing" masculinity or femininity (Rahman and Jackson, 2010) in order to be successfully read as male or female. It follows from this that some ways of doing masculinity or femininity may be read as more normative or "appropriate" than others. For women, traditionally, appropriate femininity has long been associated with passivity (Korobov, 2011), lack of agency (Wilkins, 2004) and respectability (Skeggs, 1997), where feminine respectability can be associated with a control over one's sexuality and sexual behaviour, often embodied through marriage and motherhood (Lees, 1989). As Budgeon notes, women are required to "discipline and survey their own bodies by engaging in practices which produce their own docile' bodies according to the dictates of idealized constructions of feminine embodiment" (2003, p. …

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