The Points Interview: Gina Barreca

Editor’s Note:  Continuing the attention to gender and drinking that we mustered up for women’s history month, Points is excited to welcome feminist author Gina Barreca as our twenty-second interview, talking about her recent anthology of writings by women on drinking, Make Mine a Double: Why Women Like Us Like To Drink (or Not) (University Press of New England, 2011).  Well-known as a syndicated columnist and radio commentator, Barreca is a historian of gender and humor as well as a gendered and humorous subject.  Her past scholarly books include They Used to Call Me Snow White But I Drifted: Women’s Strategic Use of Humor (Viking, 1991) and Babes in Boyland: A Personal History of Coeducation in the Ivy League (University Press of New England, 2011). When not hoisting a glass, she teaches English and Feminist Theory at the University of Connecticut.

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

University Press of New England, 2011

The 28 original pieces by terrific women writers–written especially for Make Mine A Double— celebrate parts of women’s lives that have been bottled up and sealed tight. Whether you look at the funny essays about women drinking or the equally funny essays about women not drinking, the book will cheer you, sustain you, and make you laugh out loud.  I felt it was important to create this collection because without being defined as such, the discussion of drinking has traditionally been the study of male drinking. We needed a new perspective. This volume helps us examine, for example, the fact that the attitudes behind sayings like “Lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine” are indeed the precursors to the neo-con anti-feminists of today.  They’re put forth by the “preservers” of the ideals of “pure womanhood”—a figment of our cultural imagination contrived by a society that exists by refusing to admit that many of its members are actually human beings capable of making choices and acting in their own best interests. Not that I’m bitter.  By clinking a glass against the glass ceiling, the pieces in Make Mine A Double celebrate the stories of wine, women, friendship, and feminism as they’ve never been heard before. We’re coming out of the wine cellar and telling the truth in a way that few women have permitted themselves to do.

What do you think a bunch of drug and alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about your book?
Older whiskey and younger women have always been the manifestation of a man’s accomplishment; that much we know. Historically, the bedrooms and the cellars of men of means were always fully stocked, while women, naturally, were meant to be in the kitchen—using only a little Burgundy for the Beef Bourgogne—and in the nursery where their breasts were manufacturing beverages to feed others.  One of the most appalling and often-repeated image of gendered drinking is from Hogarth’s “Gin Lane”: the woman who, bottle in one hand and baby in the other, has one breast flapping in the wind as her infant appears to be sliding off her arm; demon drink has captured her full attention. The idea is that women have never been able to handle liquor. A man can be in his cups, but a woman should always make sure her C-cup stays on straight.

And yet somehow women have always managed to drink.

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