Pubs & Cafes: Gendered Spaces, Normative and Divergent

This week, my readings focused mainly on the role that gender plays in creating spaces like the pub and cafe, how certain perceptions and expectations of masculinity and femininity are perpetuated as well as contested in these ‘gendered’ spaces. Using as guides Bernadette Scott’s (2006) article on ‘Scottish Cafe Society’ and Emslie and Hunt’s (2013) article on the relationship between alcohol consumption and male midlife friendships, I will look at how the space of the pub and cafe are gendered in normative and divergent ways. This will be a necessarily brief consideration, but an interesting one, I hope, nonetheless.

The general perception of pubs and cafes, and indeed the one that I find myself subconsciously buying into, is that pubs are male spaces where being loud and drinking are encouraged and that cafes are more effeminate spaces considered more polite or proper but also associated with extravagant spending on fancy specialty drinks and coffees. However accurate or inaccurate these perceptions are, they are continuously reinforced by the dominant narratives of gender performativity within these spaces – what I mean is that the way society has crafted aspects of masculinity and femininity feed into and align with these stereotypes. It creates a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Pubs are interesting because they perpetuate ideas of heavy alcohol consumption and raucous men loudly teasing and interacting, but they are also spaces that provide men room to be outside of these expectations. Emslie and Hunt, for example, report in their article the vital role pubs play in the forging friendships for middle-aged men who have few other socially-acceptable gathering spaces. The men they interviewed admitted that the pub is a space that, though the expectations of drinking still weigh heavily into your role in the space, men can ‘open up’ in. A man who has had a few drinks is more likely to share more emotionally, and a man who has similarly had a few drinks is more likely to be open to listening and giving advice. Masculinity is hegemonically constructed but equally deconstructed in these spaces. They argue through these interviews that pubs, for all their reputation and very real health hazards, must be considered carefully because they are also key spaces of support and community for men who would otherwise struggle to find such things.

Cafes are the feminine counterpart to the pub and have been taking Scotland, as well as the rest of the UK and parts of Europe, by storm with their popularity. Indeed, one of their selling points, according to Scott, is their being a socially acceptable public gathering space outside of the traditional pub. The cafe is accepted as a feminine space, a more hipster hangout, and one undoubtedly influenced by American mass media. Coffee is perceived as healthier than alcohol, and health nuts also usually have the exciting option of various smoothies, blended drinks, and variations on original lattes. Cafes, just like pubs, grow their regulars, as ‘familiarity breeds consumption’ (Scott, 62) – the more acceptable cafe-going is, the more people will go, the more routine it becomes.

Scott makes an interesting claim that the ‘rise in coffee consumption as a lifestyle statement’ directly contrasts:

‘Scottish pub culture with its traditional male dominance and associated negative imagery and signs… [It] could be come secondary to the branded coffee house in terms of consumer priority… [T]he growth of cafe society could be rationalised by the current feminisation of social space … based on the premise that in general females prefer to patronise non-smoky and clean [spaces] for their leisure time pursuits’ (62).

Again, however assumptive this statement may be, one can easily see the pervasiveness of gender-role perceptions. Women prefer clean spaces, men are fine with dirty ones. Males dominate this negatively-associated alcohol house, females dominate the posh acceptable coffee house. These spaces seem irrevocably associated with one or the other – yet they are also spaces of fluidity that allow norms to be challenged. Pubs and cafes together allow us to glimpse into an apparently simple binary only to realize these distinctions between gendered spaces are far more complex (and far less complete) than we at first assume.

 

References

Emslie, Carol, Kate Hunt, and Antonia Lyons. “The Role of Alcohol in Forging and Maintaining
Friendships amongst Scottish Men in Midlife.” Health Psychology 32.1 (2013): 33-41. Web.
Scott, Bernadette. “Scottish Café Society: Contemporary Consumption Issues and Lifestyle
Identities.” International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management 18.1 (2006):
60-68. Web.
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