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Just a bubbly personality

(L. Brisson)
By Beth Teitell
Globe Staff / September 15, 2011

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Who: Gina Barreca

What: She’s a professor of English and feminist theory at the University of Connecticut and also a humorist who enjoys a nice glass of Champagne. The author of “They Used to Call Me Snow White But I Drifted’’ and “It’s Not that I’m Bitter’’ has just edited an essay collection, “Make Mine A Double: Why Women Like Us Like to Drink (Or Not).’’

Q. You describe your book as a “call to feminists everywhere to say ‘salut.’ ’’ I must confess that I never before thought of drinking in terms of gender politics. What gave you the idea to explore the differences?

A. I was at a Modern Language Association party and I was talking with a group of women - these were middle-age lady professors, not a bunch of people who were scared about what their colleagues would think, but solid, big-mouthed broads - and we were all having a glass of something, and trying to explain to each other why we were drinking. I’ll just have one more, it’s been a long day. Meanwhile, all these guys are bellying up to the bar and they are not making excuses. If anything, they are competing to see how much [free] liquor they can get down before they have to buy their own.

Q. Why do women feel guilty about having a drink? A study just came out saying light drinking can lead to healthy aging.

A. Without going into the whole suffragette history, I really did think that this has to do with when a woman decides to have a drink she is doing it for no other reason to make herself happy. She can’t say she’s doing it for the family. It’s not like, ‘I’m making cookies for the family and I’ll eat 17.’ There’s no justification - you can’t say it’s for anyone but you.

Q. I think a creative mom could make the argument that the pre-bedtime ritual cocktail makes her more patient, but I see your point. But women don’t really talk about this very much.

A. We will talk about heartbreak. While we’re on the checkout line at Stop & Shop we’ll talk to someone whose name we don’t know about what internal organ we just had removed, but when it comes to drinking we get all girlish.

Q. So are you saying it’s out of self-defense? We don’t want to be judged?

A. I thought about all these male writers - Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Malcolm Lowry, just to name few - and how they write about drinking. In their books, men who drink are rugged individualists who are locked in a noble struggle. But every time a woman in a book takes a drink, a kitten dies. We’re Martha from ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ or Blanche from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ I’m tired of that punishing, retributive attitude.

Q. The distinction reminds me of your theory about men and women and humor.

A. Men and women laugh at different things. Women hate “The Three Stooges.’’ Women don’t tell jokes. We will remember the name of our best friend’s dog from junior high, but we will not remember the punch line from a joke we heard last night. It’s not because women are morons. If a woman tells you something funny, she is going to tell you a story. Men want the funny part - either a joke or a Xerox of some body part. If a woman’s body part is being photographed, Blue Cross is picking up the cost.

Q. Three of the essays in your book are wonderful meditations on the decision to not drink, but overall, the book celebrates the activity. Is that the point of the collection?

A. Drinking is not something you should always have to apologize for. Do you remember the Modess [sanitary pad] commercials? They said “Modess . . . because.’’ Half the world bleeds once a month, but we have to pretend it’s not there.

Beth Teitell can be reached at bteitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.

WHO
Gina Barreca
WHAT
She’s a professor of English and feminist theory at the University of Connecticut and also a humorist who enjoys a nice glass of Champagne. The author of “They Used to Call Me Snow White But I Drifted’’ and “It’s Not that I’m Bitter’’ has just edited an essay collection, “Make Mine a Double: Why Women Like Us Like to Drink (Or Not).’’