Review: “Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol” by Mallory O’Meara

Release Date: October 19, 2021
Publisher: Hanover Square Press
Genre: Non-Fiction

Description

Strawberry daiquiris. Skinny martinis. Vodka sodas with lime. These are the cocktails that come in sleek-stemmed glasses, bright colors and fruity flavors–these are the Girly Drinks.

From the earliest days of civilization, alcohol has been at the center of social rituals and cultures worldwide. But when exactly did drinking become a gendered act? And why have bars long been considered “places for men” when, without women, they might not even exist?

With whip-smart insight and boundless curiosity, Girly Drinks unveils an entire untold history of the female distillers, drinkers and brewers who have played a vital role in the creation and consumption of alcohol, from ancient Sumerian beer goddess Ninkasi to iconic 1920s bartender Ada Coleman. Filling a crucial gap in culinary history, O’Meara dismantles the long-standing patriarchal traditions at the heart of these very drinking cultures, in the hope that readers everywhere can look to each celebrated woman in this book–and proudly have what she’s having.

My Thoughts

On the face of it, Girly Drinks isn’t something I would normally pick up. I no longer drink more than maybe a glass of something low ABV every once in a blue moon; the way I see it, I did my lifetime’s worth of drinking done in my younger days. I’m not all that interested in a history of alcohol, frankly. But Mallory O’Meara is an auto-read author for me so almost as soon as the advanced reader copy arrived on my door I was reading it. 

Girly Drinks is bigger and deeper than just what kinds of alcohol women drink. It’s about why certain drinks are marketed toward women and why others aren’t, about how women revolutionized – and in many cases actually created from the ground up – the industries involved in producing different kinds of alcohols. She weaves in biographies of key women figures, highlighting queer women and/or women of color, and examines cultures all over the world, not just in the West. Her book digs into why alcohol’s social, spiritual, cultural, and nutritional benefits should not be ignored in favor of something as morally flimsy as “temperance,” as well as how colonial and patriarchal oppressions have their sticky fingers even in something like alcohol. 

I don’t read much nonfiction, even less nonfiction that isn’t about Black history, but O’Meara is one of those nonfiction authors for whom I make an exception. And for good reason. I love O’Meara’s pop history sensibilities (it’s a style of writing I veer toward in my own work) because it creates an entry point for readers who aren’t experienced in reading history or who aren’t interested in in-depth, scholarly work. She picks fascinating, under-discussed topics and people and delves into not only their culture significance but the larger social context they fit within and broke out of. She writes with an easy-going, engaging style that manages to stay this side of too casual. Her books are as entertaining as they are informative.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy.

Buy it at bookshop.org (affiliate link).

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