Department of Rhetoric and Writing

The University of Texas at Austin

Girly Drinks and Heteronormativity

Image Credit: girly-drinks.com

Why do we think of certain drinks as “girly?” It's common to use this category when we talk about alcohol. Popular TV shows like Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother portray male characters being mocked for ordering girly drinks, or using their female partners as camouflage in order to obtain them.  Social media users label pictures of pink, umbrella-d beverages with the hashtag “#girlydrink.” Magazines publish articles giving their spin on girly drinks, like Cosmopolitan Magazine’s “Girly Drinks We’re Not Ashamed to Love.” 

As the title of the Cosmopolitan article implies, one risks social judgment by ordering a girly drink. This is particularly the case for men, as a debate visible in various online articles makes clear. Intoxicology.net puts forth a dogmatic “Top 10 Drinks a Man Should Never Order,” while complex.com contends that ordering a girly drink indicates manly confidence: “15 ‘Girly’ Drinks That a Confident Man Should Order.”  Ordering such a drink opens a heterosexual male to charges of femininity or even homosexuality, as one Twitter user implies by tweeting, along with the following picture, the words “confident in my sexuality.” 

 

Image credit: Heather Micene

The man drinking a girly drink represents a threat to heteronormative conceptions of masculinity, as the complex.com article explicitly acknowledges by describing the taste of a Mojito as “mint and freedom from heteronormativity.”

What makes a girly drink? The articles agree that the following drinks are girly: Sex on the Beach, Fuzzy Navel, Lemon Drop, Cosmopolitan, and Pina Colada. These drinks are sweet and colorful. They contain what the nursery rhyme characterizes girls as being made of: “sugar and spice and everything nice.”

Googling “girly drink” presents one with a fairly uniform set of images:

Image Credit: Screenshot by Deb Streusand

According to the internet, girly drinks are generally pink. They often have umbrellas in them or pieces of fruit attached to the rim of the glass. Most of the pictures here place the drinks against backgrounds that serve to emphasize their visual appeal.  These images position girly drinks as attractive to the consumer not only for their taste, but because they are pleasing to the eye.

Googling “manly drink,” a less idiomatic phrase, results in a more varied set of images, but most resemble this one:

Image Credit: tradebit.com

The drink is set against a fairly plain background, with the focus on the ice that will dilute the flavor of the manly drink, probably whiskey. On closer examination, the background appears to be a wall with peeling paint, suggestive of hardship. While the girly drink is appealing to look at, this image sells the manly drink as an exercise in endurance, made bearable by the saving grace of the ice.  This drink can peel paint! It’ll put hair on your chest!

The contrasting images reflect heteronormative perceptions of what it means to be “girly” and “manly.” The “girly” is sweet and visually attractive, while the “manly” is strong and rough. As the complex.com article indicates, there is movement in some cultural groups toward heterosexual men being “permitted” to drink girly drinks. Does this imply that it’s becoming okay for a man to be “girly,” or are girly drinks slowly becoming dissociated from “girly”-ness?

 

Comments

Comment: 

Great article! Visual rhetoric is great venue for these pertinent discussions.

As I am young, with a spry liver that is enthused by alcohol, I wonder if it is relevant to consider the difference in flavor between "manly" and "girly" drinks. Is gustatory rhetoric a thing?

As I've encountered them in my experience, "girly" cocktails are characterized by recipes that tend to mask alcohol with other strong flavors, like sugar-laden liqueurs. They tend to taste less like alcohol, and therefore, as one may reasonably contend, they taste better. A "manly" drink, like the one pictured in the artcle, has very little to mask the unique flavor of the alcohol. The most a "manly" drink consists of is the liquor and fizzy water, with perhaps some citrus to garnish. 

As a perpetuation of the gender-based categorization, the "manly" drink is thus characterized as requiring an acquired taste, something that requires work, accomplishment, and in social contexts, competition. All of these attributes appeal to the heteronormative concept of masculinity. 

I bring this up not to perpetuate this gender-based categorization, in which "manly" means good (of greater repute, more refined, etc.) and "girly" means bad (masking subtlety, taking the easy route, etc.). I only bring it up to suggest that the gender categorizations of alcohol involve the stereotyping of personal taste as much as appearance. 

As a means to diffuse this unfortunate element of drinking culture, I would suggest that all drinkers give a Whiskey Old Fashioned a try. As one of the oldest cocktails there are, the drink adds to whiskey a dab of simple sugar, a splash of bitters, a crushed orange slice. and a cocktail cherry. For those who are inclined towards the aesthetic of Fuzzy Navels and Sex(es?) on the Beach, the Old Fashioned can be presented with quite a bit of visual pizazz. And if it's prepared correctly, the cocktail maintains the complex flavors of the whiskey without making you think you've accidentally ordered a jug of turpentine.

Again, great article! Looking forward to the next! 

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