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Why is Gin now not considered a feminine drink?
The idea that gin is a feminine drink is peculiar to say the least, and is the product of misogyny and marketing. Just as marketers today push products to one gender or the other even if both sexes could utilise or enjoy them, the notion that gin could be feminine or that it ever was, is easy to refute.
The 1751 Gin Act, introduced to deter backstreet distilling during the ‘Gin Craze’, prompted Daniel Defoe to comment: "The Distillers have found out a way to hit the palate of the Poor, by their new fashion'd compound Waters called Geneva, so that the common People seem not to value the French-brandy as usual, and even not to desire it".
Charles Dickens said of the 19th century habit; “Gin-drinking is a great vice in England, but wretchedness and dirt are a greater; and until you improve the homes of the poor, or persuade a half-famished wretch not to seek relief in the temporary oblivion of his own misery, with the pittance, which divided among his family would furnish a morsel of bread for each, gin-shops will increase in number and splendour.”
And Hogarth’s, Gin Lane 1751 engraving captured the urban desolation of streets overrun by a gin-soaked working class.
Gin it seems, began life in Britain as a ‘class’ drink, not a women’s drink.
In the United States in the early 19th century, alcohol was considered a necessary part of the American diet for both social and practical reasons; water supplies were sometimes polluted, coffee and tea were costly and milk was not always available. In contrast, the social construct of the time deemed it disrespectful for people, mostly men, to refuse alcohol. Women it seems, already did. It was the temperance movement of that period, which promoted stories of women to the forefront.
As has so often happens to women in history, they are either ignored or vilified. Gin is a great example.
Arguably the most horrific story which helped boost the anti-gin and anti-women campaigns was that of a young working mother named Judith Defour who with two others on January 29th 1734 murdered her baby and sold the clothes for sixteen pence; “the Coat and Stay for a Shilling, and the Petticoat and Stockings for a Groat. We parted the Money, and join'd for a Quartern of Gin”.
Nicknames for gin were also linked closely with women during these periods. “Mother Gin”, or “Mother’s Ruin”. Gin also became known as “Madam Geneva”, a term that helped the anti-gin campaigners to personify women with the spirit conjoining the devil with women. With most of London’s poor, both men and women, drunk on gin during this period, arguing that one gender favours gin over the other is ridiculous.
Considering all of this, and despite the obvious fact that men enjoyed too much of Mother’s Ruin during the Gin Craze, the label has stuck, until now.
Gin is no longer seen as the ruin of the working class as depicted by Hogarth, Dickens and others, as gin became the fore-runner of the resurgence of cocktails in the mid-Noughties.
Gin authority and co-founder of the Gin Foundry, Olivier Ward, says, “There was obviously a massive boom last year: there was a 27 per cent rise in sales”. This was itself brought about through aggressive and innovative marketing and investment from big players Diageo and Pernod with their Tanqueray and Beefeater brand extensions; Tanqueray No Ten and Beefeater 24, in addition to the launch of Hendrick’s in 1999 paving the way for artisanal brands to establish themselves.
While the 18th-century ‘gin craze’ was led by desperation, nowadays millennials are looking for a sophisticated product.
“People want something that imbues a sense of local provenance and gin does that.”
And it doesn’t matter, what gender you are.