From Miss Hannigan to "Mother's Ruin," gin-drinking has long been associated with slovenly women. Now, its image is changing. But why—and do we even want it to?by Maeve Marsden / April 10, 2018 / Leave a comment
There’s something about the way Carol Burnett lurches into frame, bottle in hand, halfway through the 1982 film Annie; before you’re told anything about gin-loving tyrant Miss Agatha Hannigan you know her. You just know her. Not to take away from Ms Burnett’s well-documented acting chops or her impeccable comic timing, but like the orphan-makes-good narrative Annie is based on, the trope of the fallen gin-soaked woman is as familiarly Dickensian as they come.
Gin has been inextricably linked to gender for centuries. Mother’s Milk; Madame Genever; Mother’s Ruin—these are just a few of the many epithets showing that the intersection of gin and women is historical, and well, hysterical. I mean, it’s distilled grain base alcohol, juniper and botanicals for heaven’s sake—not créme de feminist. So, how did this little beverage come to be so feminised, and why is it—now gin is experiencing such an upsurge in popularity—that feminisation has fallen by the wayside?
At every hipster bar, and in homes around the world, masculine men-folk can be found quaffing the juniper juice and nattering in high-nerd about the qualities of various botanicals. We’ve come a long way from James Bond’s slavish devotion to a vodka martini so defiantly masculine he not only avoided the much superior gin version, he insisted on it being vigorously shaken—ruinous for a martini—for that extra bit of testosterone.
I don’t mean to make Sean Connery the fall guy here. As a bloke, he could have totally pulled off gin-drinking without too much backlash, even a few decades before its current explosion in popularity. Humphrey Bogart did in Casablanca, Tennessee Williams was partial, and so too was Gatsby. Women gin drinkers, though, were plagued by a stereotype that has been kicking around since the 18th century. Women working outside of the home, women having children out of wedlock and women earning a living as sex workers; the amalgamated moral outrage culminated in a boilerplate ‘fallen woman’, very often pictured gin-in-hand.
Gin first arrived on British shores with William of Orange, and the Dutchman’s timing was impeccable. French Brandy had been the staple liquor…