Whiskey Bar


Ann Friedman complains about stereotypes and alcohol marketing:

I mean, sure, women’s bodies process alcohol differently than men’s, but whiskey is no more potent than vodka, which is perceived as a girl-friendly liquor. It’s clear that these comments are a symptom of old-school stereotypes and the relentlessly male-centered marketing of whiskey, bourbon, and scotch. I mean, looking at some of these ads, you’d think whiskey is something on the level of Axe or Maxim — something only a douchebag could love. (Yes, I used the d-word.) Firmly in the realm of “things for straight manly men.”

In the real world, I actually think a majority of the people I know who tend to take whiskey as their first-choice drink are women. That said, marketing aside I think the real underlying stereotype here isn’t so much about the alcoholic base (i.e., whiskey vs. vodka) as it about the sweetness of the drink. As an NYT article Ann links to says “I’ve noticed more than a tad of residual resistance to the notion that the female of the species can drink hard liquor unadorned by grenadine or chunks of oxidizing pineapple.”

On the other hand, Sara’s always telling me that there’s systematic gender differences that lead women to like sweet-tasting stuff more than men do. So I thought I’d try to look that up. This study says that male rats prefer mildly sweetened water whereas female rats like super-sweetened water. A similar result is notes in Jill Becker, et. al., Behavioral Endocrinology. The internet is full of references to this alleged greater female proclivity for sweet-tasting things, but the sources that cite specific references all seem to come back to a handful of studies done on rats. This is a bit curious since it seems like it should be possible to do some kind of research in this regard on human beings or, at least, primates.

What we may have here is a case where there’s a strong preexisting stereotype (girls like sweet stuff, including sweet cocktails) so the emergence of a slender reed of scientific basis for that belief (a handful of rat studies) swiftly becomes accepted as authoritative. You see this a lot, especially in the popular treatment of behavioral psychology. Any piece of research about gender differences in sexual preferences that can be construed in a stereotype-bolstering way seems to get immediate widespread media attention, while dissonant research doesn’t get much attention.