RECENTLY, AT a sangeet function with my partner, I was reminded of just how blatantly and ignorantly sexist most of us continue to be in the face of change and evolution. We talk of a shining, burgeoning, advancing India that manufactures everything for everyone, and yet when it comes to manners and equality, we lag behind.
It all started when we approached the bar counter and the two young bar boys promptly asked us what we would like to drink. Well, they asked me what I would like. Karina, much to her surprise, was offered a choice: “hot toddy or mojito”. She enquired why they were suggesting her cocktails and pat came the reply: “because women like cocktails.” This cocky, laden-with-ignorance remark, aimed at someone who happens to work in the beverage industry as a professional taster, was definitely not the the right marketing move for the poor barkeep.
Somehow, and still calmly, she persisted, “…but what if I like straight drinks? And on the rocks?” For a minute, it seemed as if she had uttered something blasphemous, something so sacrilegious that the mixologist’s face contorted into an expression of disbelief and scorn. Who’d ever heard of a woman who doesn’t drink cocktails? Surely, this lady knew nothing about being a woman.
By this time, I was halfway through my G+T, which had taken no time to be served. But I was having a tougher time swallowing what had just been served up right in front of our eyes. That said, I shouldn’t have been so stunned, for it isn’t infrequent nor uncommon to be a spectator to such exchanges. In fact, every time we are seated at a restaurant, the drinks menu is only presented to the male(s) of the group, while women are handed the food menu. Or when I order an iced tea and she orders a beer, inadvertently and unfailingly, the beer is placed in front of me. The bill is also always presented to me—I wouldn’t mind were this to change—even if it was she who had taken charge of all proceedings for the evening, from making reservations to placing the order for both food and drinks.
And yet, it never really gets mentioned much, this attitude of preferential treatment meted out to the boys. Or rather, the stereotypical treatment that women are subjected to. We protest against it in every other industry, with marches, rallies, etc, and yet it so subtly slides by unsuspected in this industry. No surprise then that it took us the better part of a century to allow women to serve alcohol in our country.
The only place where a strict differentiation between men and women is required is when it comes to the issue of washrooms, as women can’t be expected to use men’s restrooms. Barring that one area, women are as vociferous and voracious as men, if not better. So F&B stalwarts, take note: pass the ladies the menu and spare them the sweet, fruity concoction treatment next time you find one seated across the bar from you.
The writer is a sommelier