Women who drink: feminism and alcohol

It never occurred to me that women were the first brewers of beer. Yet, so obvious. They were the bakers of the bread and the stokers of the fire, the homemakers. Beer was an integral part of the families’ diets. Women were making alcohol all over the world. Then men realised there was money and power to be had. This is what I learnt from Girly Drinks, A World History of Women and Alcohol by Mallory O’Meara

So, here is a story. When I was 18 years old I got drunk on a beach with a couple of boys, including my at that time boyfriend. Something new happened that night. I was made to feel ashamed for getting drunk. Because I was a girl. I railed against this attempt to control me, especially, the irony that this boyfriend was a problem drinker potentially on the way to alcoholism. He was drinking a goonie of Fruity Lexia a day. I mean gross! Cheap but gross. But so ingrained in the patriarchy, I lost a necklace on the beach that night. One I wore every day. I loved it. I thought this is my punishment for getting drunk. I held the two thoughts at the same time. Shame and anger.

Boys will be boys, yet girls partying like boys might bring down all of society

Mallory O’Meara, Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol

This is how the personal is political.

Pubs were an integral part of my 1970s childhood. In a small country town, there aren’t too many places to hang out. It was an important community space. Every year the ‘Christmas Tree’ was held a the pub, all the children were there, and Santa came and gave us presents. We ran amok in the pub’s grounds. We ate chips and drank sarsaparilla.

But, the pub was a segregated space. The men drank in the bar and the women and children in the ladies’ lounge. This was not the law. This was the culture. The law changed in Queensland in 1970. There are these legendary women who chained themselves to Brisbane’s Regatta bar in 1965.

To celebrate the reading of Girly Drinks, my mum and I went back to our family local, the Goombungee pub (The Pioneer Arms), and had a drink in the bar. It was fairly uneventful! The first two licensees of the pub from 1897 until 1905 were Mrs Annie Lovejoy and Mrs Louisa Wockner. This is consistent with Claire Wright’s book, Beyond the Ladies Lounge: Australia’s Female Publicans.

Australia turned its back on the British way where women aged 14 -40 could not hold a liquor licence and most women who held licences were widows. In Australia, the legislation was specifically open as women were seen to be the civilising force. Married women could not hold property but could have the property of a liquor licence. Wright calls hotelkeeping a ‘girls club’.

O’Meara traces the gendering of alcohol back to the Code of Hammurabi a Babylonian legal text composed during 1755–1750 BC. Not only does it look like a giant penis (as noted by O’Meara), but it also legalised patriarchy. We went from Ninkasi, a Sumerian beer goddess worshipped by the brewing priestesses who sang hymns (beer recipes) and drank beer to celebrate her to the 110th Hammurabi code: A “sister of a deity” who starts a bar or goes inside one to drink will be burnt at the stake. There is the root of my experiences of being made to feel ashamed for being a drunk girl, and being legally relegated to the ladies’ lounge in Queensland until 1970.

“Patriarchal oppression and misogynistic societal expectations play the biggest roles in a culture’s drinking habits. The double standard that drinking women face is deeply rooted in male anxieties about control and their fear of women acting like people, not property.

If you want to know how a society treats its women, all you have to do is look into the bottom of a glass.”

Mallory O’Meara, Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol

I have been telling everyone to read this book. It is well-researched and a fun rollicking read, told with humour and joy. It will make you thirsty. It will make you appreciate alcohol, the role of women in making it, reinventing it, selling it, and innovating as well as an insight into social and political history throughout the world that has used access to alcohol, and the production and selling of alcohol to control women’s lives.

O’Meara celebrates Hildegard of Bingen, an actual Saint, the first person to write scientifically about the preservative properties of hops in beer. The Widow Clicquot who sold champagne to the world and invented the remuage sur pupitres method of removing yeast debris from wine bottles. Bessie Williamson who ran the scotch whisky Laphroaig distillery that helped start the mania for single malt scotches. Thank you Bessie. Li Qingzhao, one of China’s greatest poets famous and infamous for her poetry about drinking wine. Any many more women we deserve to know about.

I love this photo of my grandmother on the far right, in her short skirt and what looks like a German beer. I don’t know where this is, an Ockboberfest?

“It’s commonplace today to make fun of women-centric book clubs, where there’s more wine drinking than book discussion, but for hundreds of years, the only place women could gather, drink, relax and socialize was in a neighbor’s kitchen, surrounded by other wives and mothers. There is a long-standing tradition of driving women to some sort of behavior, then mocking them for it. (Sort of like making beauty a women’s most powerful and important currency, then laughing about how long it takes her to get ready.)”

Mallory O’Meara, Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol

Proudly, not only does my book club enjoy a drink in a private home we also have our cuntail project.

The Pocket Bookclub raged against a book of literary cocktails that only included quotes from men. We embarked on a cunttail project, inventing a cunttail for every book we read in 2022. We made a literary cunttail book! What’s wrong with the word cunt? Nothing

Literary Cunttails 2022 is hand-drawn by Miriama and includes every recipe. Get a free copy.

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